Buyer Beware

Starter Kit

Late-night infomercials promising six-pack abs and an awesome physique in two days might be tempting — but step away from the phone. David Swain, Ph.D., F.A.C.S.M., an associate professor and the director of the Wellness Institute and Research Center at Old Dominion University in Virginia, says if an assertion sounds too good to be true, it probably is. “There is still no ‘miracle machine’ that will give you the body of a fitness model in just a few minutes per day,” Swain says. He recommends keeping your credit card in your wallet if you can answer yes to any of the questions below:

Does it promise excessive calorie burn? It’s impossible to burn, say, twice the number of calories on a specialty machine as on a treadmill. The body has a natural limit on how many calories can be burned in a given exercise session. Does it promise to get you fit fast? Brief bouts of high-intensity exercise can improve maximum power more than low-intensity exercise, but it can’t improve all areas of fitness in a few minutes.

Will it target your fat-burning zones? According to the intensity zones on some machines, you don’t have to work as hard to burn fat. But Swain says that weight loss — what some interpret as “fat-burning” — comes from total calorie expenditure. it’s the combination of intensity and duration that counts.

Does it promise to reduce your gut? Spot reduction is a fantasy, Swain says. Machines that only train the abdominal muscles won’t remove fat from the stomach; only total-body exercise and weight loss will eventually yield those results.