Do fitness products actually work?
With swimsuit season upon us, many have likely thrown in the towel and consigned themselves to a summer of baggy t-shirts and sweatpants. But for the rest, the prospect of being seen shirtless at the pool or on the beach has put fitness top of mind. Inevitably, this has many of us scrambling for some kind of fitness product to accelerate the process.
For instance, your sister's beach wedding is happening in two weeks in Maui. A new pill promises to help you lose 10 pounds in one week. Naturally, you ignore the fine print and warnings and purchase a bottle of the magic weight-loss serum and await your transformation. And then come the hives and the dehydration.
Needless to say, not all fitness products deliver on their promises of a slim, strong body. Fortunately, however, some products do work, leaving customers with fit bodies and the knowledge to sustain a healthy lifestyle indefinitely. But how can fitness-hungry consumers determine which products work and which ones don't?
Luckily, as exercise science takes strides forward, we're able to see which fitness products actually work and flag those products that are useless or even harmful. Here is how some of the most common fitness products shape up (pun intended):
Do they work?
Fitness trackers, from glorified pedometers to smartwatches that feature heart rate monitors and GPS tracking, are now gracing wrists and waistbands everywhere. While there is definitely a cool factor that comes with the ability to capture every step you take and every hour of sleep you get, and then have that information automatically uploaded to an online profile, the positive effects of this technology are less obvious.
A recent study by a duo of Cal Poly professors set out to determine how accurately the FitBit Charge HR, one of the leading fitness tracker brands, data about people's fitness. The study found that the Charge HR was routinely off from test subjects' actual heart rate:
"During moderate to high intensity exercise, the Charge HR recorded a heart rate that differed from the ECG by an average of 15.5 bpm."
Does this inaccuracy affect all fitness trackers? Experts seem to agree that this is true. David Pogue of Scientific American commented:
"We're almost certainly ascribing more precision to these devices than they deserve. If you wear three brands of fitness band, you'll rack up three different step counts by the end of each day. And don't get sleep scientists started on the accuracy of those sleep graphs; according to researchers, it's brain waves, not wrist movement, that indicate what stage of sleep you're in."
So if fitness trackers can't be trusted for dependable data about your fitness, are they a complete waste of money? Maybe not, says Pogue.
"What the fitness bands do is to keep these issues front-of-mind," he says. "There it is, every time you turn on your phone: the latest stats on your progress. Most also show the results of friends who wear the same brand; it's fitness through humiliation."
So fitness trackers provide an elaborate reminder, an expensive version of placing a rubber band around your wrist. That's not to be discounted. If most of us don't realize just how much time we spend being sedentary-and most of us don't-then maybe that reminder is worth the equivalent of a few months at the gym.
Price: $50-$200 per month
Do they work?
Every time you turn around, there is another Vasa or 24-hour Fitness popping up near you, and it seems to come complete with an army of gym rats ready to fill it. Studies estimate that more than 54 million American have paid gym memberships. Last year alone, those people made more than 5 billion visits to the more than 34,000 fitness centers across the country. If gym memberships work for all of these people, surely it must work for you, right?
It depends. The gym experience comes with its own pros and cons. First, the typical gym usually gives you a greater variety of equipment and machines than you're likely to have in your garage. Second, getting away to the gym also provides an environment where you can just focus on working out and not worry about family members, mobile devices, or other distractions ruining your workout-that is, if you can get away to the gym.
"For most of us, the time spent traveling and stashing our belongings is nearly equal to the time spent on the gym floor," says personal trainer Jolie Guenther. "If you're already strapped for time, relying on a gym membership for your daily workout isn't always going to be a realistic option."
And then, says Guenther, there are the inconveniences trying to use community-owned equipment:
"Particularly during peak times, you're likely to find yourself waiting for equipment and limited to 20 or 25 minutes per session...With capacity and usage limitations, a gym membership may not be the most effective use of your time in meeting specific training goals."
Do they work?
Granted, this is a vast category, comprised of everything from protein powder to fish oil pills. This makes it hard to say whether all of them are worth your time or not. But research on health supplements has found that some types are more effective than others.
For instance, in studies, testosterone boosters mostly underperformed, showing little to no change in hormone levels, no notable difference in body and muscle composition.
On the other hand, creatine, which is designed to provide greater energy and endurance during workouts and faster healing afterwards, is surefire winner. Julie Evans of Men's Fitness reports:
"[Creatine] may help you work out harder and longer, and recover faster. And when used during resistance training, creatine has been shown to increase total body and lean body mass. Of the 300 or so studies that have investigated creatine for its ability to enhance athletic performance, about 70 percent have found statistically significant gains."
Obviously, some health supplements can be well worth the investment. Some trainers would even say that some supplements are a must if you're looking to improve your physique. To make sure you're spending on the right ones, skip the overblown claims made on commercials and online ads and go straight to third-party sources. Also, know that, because some supplement products are so new, reliable research might not be available. You might want to wait until solid research can be done on these supplements before using them.
Does it work?
Again, this is such a broad category that it's hard to make any blanket statement. But if you peruse the online recommendations of personal trainers and other fitness professionals, you see certain pieces of equipment mentioned again and again.
For instance, across the board, trainers stand by pull up bars that attach to doorframes, jump ropes, punching bags, adjustable dumbbells, and exercise bands, which range in price from $10 to $300. With these affordable yet powerful tools, experts says, people can get a quality workout right in their own home.
But what about larger, pricier exercise equipment? It turns out that these deliver mixed results. According to fitness blogger Ben Greenfield:
When price is taken into consideration, an exercise bike, the lowest priced machine on the list, delivers the biggest potential calorie burn. Treadmills actually offer the highest potential calorie burn, but quality treadmills can also cost $2,500 and beyond.
Price: $50 per hour (avg.)
Do they work?
Again, it depends. Almost across the board, fitness experts agree that personal trainers are worth the cost. They provide much-needed accountability and motivation when it comes to eating and working out right.
"Do you want to face your trainer and tell her that you didn't work out yesterday?" asks Kimberly Winkowitsch at Money Talks News. "Sure, you can get this accountability from a dedicated friend who works out with you, but this is the trainer's job. He or she has a vested interest in seeing that you complete your workouts."
Good personal trainers can also be invaluable in teaching you how to get maximum benefit from your workout time, says Louise Atkinson of the Daily Mail. "All my initial sessions with [my personal trainer] were spent undoing the bad training habits I'd picked up over the years. He watched over my every move. You really feel the difference when you do exercises properly."
Of course, as with all of the previously mentioned equipment and supplements, not all personal trainers are effective ones. Luckily, experts say there are unmistakable ways to identify lackluster personal trainers.
"A big part of a trainer's job is to come up with a program that will help you reach your goals...If he's not recording data, he can't tell if the program is working...A good trainer constantly writes information down-exercises, weights, sets, reps, tempos-and uses it to figure out what works best for you."
Krahn explains that a good trainer is constantly assessing your strengths, weaknesses, and improvements, every four to eight weeks. Conversely, a less effective trainer will spend more time talking than recording this vital information.
Of course, the hardest work of fitness will always consistently eating right and working out. But a close second just might be all of the homework that should be done before you invest in a new supplement, gym membership, or piece of equipment. Fortunately, the Internet provides more information than ever from credible professionals to help you make an educated choice that will help you make all that hard work worth it.