Some fitness fads are just bad, while others offer a good workout with a little novelty and extra expense. But don’t expect anything to work miracles.
Here’s the secret of exercise: you have to get up and, for the best results, move until you sweat and feel your muscles tiring. Then you do it again. And again. The latest fitness craze can provide a little thrill and novelty, but often the newest exercise trends are a distraction and plain silly.
In the bad fitness fads camp: products that do nothing or are quickly abandoned.
- Vibrating belt. Back in the 1960s, people bought a big bulky strap you put around your waist to jiggle your belly fat away. Surprise: it didn’t work. Higher-tech versions have come back with names like Vibro-Belt and The Flex Belt. The bottom line is that you don’t lose belly fat by sitting. This is one of the silliest entries in exercise fads history.
- Thighmaster. This device, popularized by actress Suzanne Somers, went between your thighs. You squeezed. In infomercials through the late 1980s and early 1990s, you got to see people squeezing while they watched TV. That didn’t work well to improve overall fitness. But the Thighmaster remains famous.
- The Shake Weight. Instead of lifting a dumbbell to tone your arms, you would shake this little vertical weight. The motion required made men look highly indecent in public. No one could be sure the device built arm muscles, but it did get lots of laughs on late-night TV. Let’s call this the dirtiest entry in the exercise fads annals.
- Ab Roller. Doing sit-ups and crunches tones the abdominal muscles. If you jumped in on the idea of an Ab Roller when it was the latest fitness craze, you still did sit-ups and crunches, but somehow you felt like you were getting more bang for your time. There were many variations, ranging from an Ab Wheel to Ab Coaster. The short answer is that the crunches do the work.
- 8-Minute Abs. In the 1980s, a slew of videos promised you that doing abdominal exercises for eight minutes a day would give you an impressive six pack (back then, you didn’t hear as much about your “core”). There was no magic to the eight minutes, though doing ab exercises regularly does in fact, strengthen them.
- Toning Shoes. This idea — odd-looking shoes that promise to help tone your body while you walk — remains one of the current fitness fads. Getting good arch support in a sandal is an excellent idea, as it will allow you to walk longer. The shoes make your legs work as if you’re going uphill, which means you work harder. But no flip flop is a good idea. Most people are “over-pronators” — meaning that their feet roll inward too much as they walk, and flip flops won’t stop that. If you have lower back pain or a hip problem, these shoes could cause you more pain.
Effective, technically in the category of good fitness fads, but probably not the way you’ll keep exercising over a lifetime:
- Boot camps. In the 1990s, someone invented the idea of pretending you were in the Marines in order to get fit in a month or so. Ex-military officers often taught the classes, which involved intense exercise with little rest. Boot camps have had a recent surge in popularity. Whether they’re worth the trouble depends on your desire to be motivated in this particular way. Exercising intensely definitely has benefits. But if you’re going to abandon your exercise discipline after a month, you would be better off starting off slow. Some people say that going whole hog brings you to a new fitness level that is so rewarding you’re motivated to stay fit.
- The Bowflex Home Gym. This apparatus become popular in the early 1990s, with sales fueled by a couldn’t-be-avoided infomercial, and reached fad status in the 2000s. A combination of polymer rods gave you resistance as you pulled, offering a workout without conventional weights. But too many of them fell into disuse, like other elaborate pieces of home gym equipment that became the latest fitness craze.
- Tae Bo. Combining Taekwondo, a martial art, and boxing, Tae Bo is an aerobic exercise routine invented by fitness guru Billy Blanks. People bought the video, then flocked to gyms offering “cardio-boxing,” which was similar. This is actually a good workout, despite all the faddishness.
In the end, of course, the best exercise routines are the ones you’ll keep up. You need to aim for a combination of aerobics, muscle building, and stretching, and find ways to build exercise into your daily life. Walking and cycling rather than driving and using stairs rather than escalators or elevators are two great strategies that deserve to be more popular. The main lesson of exercise fads history is simple: you do the work.
April 08, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN