Exercise Infomercials: We Try Before You Buy

Some products look good on television, but how do they do in real life?

Jan. 21, 2010 — -- It's late. You're sitting on your couch watching TV, about to slip off to sleep when you see it: someone balancing, sweating or lunging their way to a great body, smiling all the while, all in the comfort of their home.

But as good as those exercise products look in their infomercials, how do they really work in the real world?

I got my hands on some of them to see for myself. See my verdict below.

Click here to check out some earlier "Good Morning America" reports on infomercial products.

I want to preface these grades with a disclaimer: There are different workouts and equipment for every type of person and I evaluated these products on my own wants and needs for getting fit. I am a middle-of-the-road, 5'7", 142-pound, athletic, 38-year-old woman who always is working (struggling) to stay fit and healthy. These are my personal opinions.

Shake Weight: B+

I love this product -- it causes my triceps and biceps to burn without stressing my shoulders. I leave it in the kitchen and pick it up for a micro-workout when I'm waiting for the microwave or talking on the phone. I can grab two minutes here or a minute there and feel a little burn while doing other things. When I've spent some serious time with the Shake Weight, it makes my arms sore in a good way.One caveat: Don't let anyone see you using this thing, it looks obscene and ridiculous.

The Firm Wave C-

The "firm" videos are incredibly popular and this one adds a crescent shaped workout board to the mix. The board is an added prop to use for stepping, lunging and crunching, but generally I felt like this was only a slight upgrade from a 1980's step-aerobic class that used a standard flat board.

The exercises that had me rocking on the board while doing upper-body exercises didn't particularly engage my core or cause me to work harder balancing myself. I experimented doing the same exercises standing still or just moving side to side on the flat ground and I felt the same level of exertion. I understand the principles of stabilization and engaging your core, but this product didn't get me to the same state of instability as a device like a wobble board that demands whole body muscle recruitment.

Bottom-line: The Wave seemed gimmicky and didn't actually add to my perceived exertion.

The infomercial promises that this workout will burn fat three times faster than regular cardio workouts because of the "speed slimming intervals", but I wonder how that works. Interval training is based on going to nearly max intensity and depleting energy stores, but when I did the Firm Wave workouts, the sets of exercises and the reps within them were too short for me to get really gassed. Some of the strength exercises did take me to a "burn," but it wasn't extreme or consistent throughout the workout. I am not super-fit, so I don't think it's me, it just seemed low-intensity.

I liked some of the benefits of having an angled surface to work on (great for doing squats and keeping my heels slightly elevated for less stress on my knees) but generally doing ab workouts on the hard, curved plastic was more painful than doing them on a yoga mat or ball because the plastic was uncomfortable. I also found the exercises that had me lying over the wave on my stomach impossible because of the way the curved hard plastic dug into my pelvic bones.

Bottom line: I thought the Wave element of this workout was gimmicky, the routines lacked intensity and the board, at times, hurt my hands, back and stomach, causing me to quit exercises before I hit fatigue.

After being contacted by "Good Morning America" about my review, a spokesman for The Firm Wave e-mailed the following response:

Unlike a traditional step that focuses only on cardio using a stable surface, The WAVE has two sides and is a total personal home gym -- with more than 100 unique exercises to burn fat and sculpt lean muscles. When using the unstable side of the WAVE as a rocker, your core muscles are constantly engaged, providing an intensely effective workout that delivers results.

Power Trainer Pull-Up Bar: A-

If you want to get a ripped upper body, it's all about pull-ups, push-ups and triceps dips. You can do all of those with the Power Trainer Pro. It's a pull-up bar that fits on a standard door jam, it's sturdy and it has soft, grippy handles. And there are lots of handles for diversifying your pull up routines to target slightly different arm, chest and back muscles.

This thing easily held my weight and felt sturdy. I didn't like having to assemble it myself and that made me a little nervous the first few times I used it, but even my mediocre assembly skills seemed to hold, and the bar has worked fine. It's a simple device that works well.

P90X: B+

[Author's Note: The workout routine of the P90X was misidentified in the original "Good Morning America" report. Below is the corrected information.]

This fitness DVD is extreme. The concept is 60-90 minutes of cardio, plyometrics and strength exercises each day with one rest day each week. If you aren't serious about fitness, this video is overkill.

I consider myself someone willing to train hard, but I had to start really slowly with these workouts. It consists of the basics of push-ups, pull-ups, squats and lunges. It doesn't require lots of weights. A pull-up bar is practically a must, although I know people who've done this with rubber resistance bands and swear by it.

There are also intense yoga, scaled back martial arts, and ab workouts that confuse your muscles, preventing them from getting too familiiar with any one routine.

One thing I really liked about these DVDs is the set of options for doing the workouts: You can watch with the instructor commentary and music on, or you can turn either or both off and just use visual cues while you listen to your own music or prefer silence.

This is not for fitness beginners or anyone who's not willing to commit. It's pricey and if you aren't paying serious attention you could hurt yourself. But if you really want to get fit, this video is a serious workout with likeable instructors, decent variety and proven results.

Booty Pop: C

When all else fails, fake it. Apparently, that's the Booty Pop plan for enhancing the gluteus maximus. Like a padded bra for your buns, this undergarment makes your rear look like you have been maxing out on squats and lunges.

I found it gave an extra inch or 1/2 inch of ... well ... booty pop. But under dresses or any thin fabric, it looked like two pigs fighting under a blanket.

OK ... I just love that expression and it is an extreme visual, but the shape of the Booty Pop pads were very obvious under sheer clothing, and God forbid someone cops a feel. To the touch, Booty Pop is an obvious falsie.

After my review, Booty Pop co-creators Susan Bloomstone and Lisa Reisler gave "GMA" the following statement:

Booty Pop is designed to look great under almost all fabrics. Booty Pop looks best and gives the ultimate curves and lift in jeans, pants, skirts and dresses. Booty Pop looks and feels so natural that no one will know your Booty Pop secret!

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