Selling fitness on TV

Over a recent weekend, I watched more television than normal. I could not believe all of the infomercials that I saw pertaining to fitness. At one point, there were four different infomercials on at the same time, and that doesn’t even count the Snuggie infomercial. This may not come as a shock to the average cough potato, but I was surprised. The worst part about all of these infomercials was the boldness of their lies. Most fitness products sold through infomercials do not deliver on the promises they make. This week, I want to address the reasons why these products cannot give you the results that you want so that you won’t waste your money on bad products.

The product that sent me over the edge was a chair for Pilates. It is basically a step stool with pedals attached to it. Whether or not it is a quality piece of exercise equipment is beside the point. My biggest complaint is the way they market it. This infomercial is built around the idea of spot reduction and the fallacy that you can work your stomach to get a smaller waist. This idea has been proven wrong in study after study.

Spot reduction has been used to sell exercise equipment and fitness programs for years. There have been ab-chairs, bun firmers, thigh trainers and who knows what else. Working only certain areas of your body may make them stronger, but it will not help you lose fat from those parts. The easiest way to understand how we lose fat is to think about peeling an onion. The skin comes off from all parts of the onion at once. This is very similar to fat loss. Fat is reduced all over the body, not just from one area. So if you want to lose fat from your stomach, working the muscles in your thighs is just as important as doing your 1,000 crunches.

Another product I saw was for some sort of ab-zapper. This is a belt that essentially shocks your abdominals into a contraction. In the infomercial you see someone strap this belt on, turn it on and then watch the abs ripple and flex without the need for crunches. It looks easy, the model is in great shape and it takes almost no time. What could be wrong with it?

These devices have been around for decades and none of them delivers results. Shocking a muscle will not make it stronger, nor will it make you lose fat. Muscles contract when a tiny electrical signal is sent from the brain to the muscle. This causes a series of events that result in the muscle contracting and using energy. This device causes a contraction by sending a much higher amount of electricity into the muscle. This causes a contraction but doesn’t use up energy. This means you are not burning any fat by wearing the ab belt. The other thing the infomercial leaves out is what it feels like to use the belt. In order to cause a contraction, you need a significant amount of electricity. Simply put, it hurts!

Lastly, I want to point out a product that does look worthwhile. I have seen lots of infomercials for a three-month fitness program that appears to be good. It seems to be effective and looks similar to what an authentic personal-training program offers. What sets this apart from the other products is that it addresses nutrition, strength training and aerobic exercise. Any quality fitness program will have all three of these areas. If any of them are ignored, you will not get the results that you want. If you look at the other two products, they completely ignore nutrition and aerobic exercise. Thousands will be fooled into buying those products, not get the results they expected and then blame themselves. These products are set up to fail. It is impossible for them to deliver meaningful results.

Infomercials have been used to sell fitness gadgets and exercise programs for years. While most of us do not buy from them, plenty of people do. Unfortunately this usually results in frustration. The next time you are tempted to purchase a fitness solution, remember the three areas that have to be addressed: nutrition, strength training and aerobic exercise. If it does not have all three, then leave it alone.

Jared Carter, CSCS, is the owner of Move Forward Fitness Personal Training Studio, 1616 Walnut St. Visit to sign up for his free newsletter, or reach him at (215) 399-3541 or [email protected].