Ab developers (the new breed of Electronic Muscle Stimulators)

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I have an idea. I think I’m going to go into the kite business.


I know there’s going to be a much enhanced interest in fitness programs in January, so I want to have something unique, something with great appeal to the overweight masses. Yeah, I think I’ll create the Ben Franklin weight loss kite. Here’s how it works. You fly it in a thunderstorm with the cord attached to whatever body parts you want to reduce. Lightning hits and ZZZZZAP, you’re lean! Ridiculous?


OF COURSE IT’S RIDICULOUS!!!! If you know, however, that my kite idea is absurd, why are you so ready to believe those infomercials when they promise you great abs in minutes with electric currents running through you? If the goal is to shoot lightning from your fingertips, maybe there’s some merit in hooking yourself up to a light socket, but if the goal involves “abs,” use the electricity for the CD player and the light while you eat healthy meals, work all the muscles of the body with functional exercise, and do something aerobic.


The AB things are taking over! I defy anyone to flip through 30 channels of TV before 8 AM on Saturday and escape seeing at least 8 or 9 promises for miraculous results by strapping something onto your waist. The claims get crazier and crazier. “A few minutes with the ab zapper is equal to 800 situps!” I don’t think a weight loss kite is any more far fetched.


In ridding you of the gullibility-inducing belief that an infomercial is designed to deliver honest information, the first thing I should address is that “situps” have long been the greatest mistake of men with pot bellies looking to reduce their waistlines. I’ve often told the story of “Watermelon Man,” the man I knew who looked like he ate a whole watermelon and it lodged itself in his belly. Watermelon man would do 500 situps a day, and in 3 years, he never lost a single inch! Why? Well, he was working those abs, hitting ’em hard every day, and while he probably had the greatest looking abdominal muscles in the world, nobody could see them! He wasn’t doing anything to get rid of the fat that kept those abs buried. As a matter of fact, he probably stimulated muscle growth expanding the girth of his waist! That should illustrate that even if these new infomercial ab devices did create a fitness-promoting muscle response, they wouldn’t do anything to reduce the waist! In case that illustration wasn’t enough to convince you, let’s step into the world of research.


John Porcari, a researcher at University of Wisconsin, La Crosse was sanctioned by the American Council on Exercise to test the effectiveness of these Electronic Muscle Stimulators (EMS). Twenty nine college aged healthy males were recruited for the study. 17 of them followed the recommended protocol. The remaining 12 were not hooked up to any actual electric current. The end result? Well, the end result was . . . there was no result! No loss of bodyfat, no increase in muscle, no significant change in any area. So do they work? Well, they do work to contract muscle, but they do so without involving the neural network that controls muscle contraction in response to exercise, thus, they can’t possibly replace “800 situps” or any other type of physical exercise. EMS units have found their place in rehab and in preventing limbs from atrophying after severe injury or paralysis, but they certainly do not work to reduce the waist!


I know it’s tempting. I know the infomercials make them look incredible. I know it would be nice if they really worked. Unfortunately, the only thing they really do is make a whole lot of money for the people selling them.


It’s simply the newest infomercial product wave. We went through the elliptical gliders, we’ve seen enough hair removal products (which by the way don’t work anywhere near as well as Nair which you can get in any drug store) to provide us a hairless lifetime, and we’ve seen the fat blocking pills work their magic in a glass of oil. After the shows are out there long enough, the market becomes saturated, people become desensitized to the same old stale program, and it’s time for the infomercial companies to unleash their next wave.


Please, for your own sake, have your guard up when viewing these shows. Don’t buy a product unless you know someone who has been satisfied with its use, and don’t believe the “limited time, call now” offers. Believe me, if the products are selling, they’ll manufacture more. These companies do not turn away business. I’d also suggest you try the product out before you invest in it. If the company quotes “research” in their show, call and ask them to fax or e-mail you abstracts on the research studies referenced. If they don’t follow through, there’s a reason!


I’ve worked with infomercial companies, and each one assured me they weren’t like “the others.” They are, however, stuck in a paradigm that generates huge returns when they have a “home run.” That baseball analogy has nothing to do with actual product value, but is awarded to those shows that generate hundreds of millions of dollars, and all of those shows seem to incorporate a fair amount of deception. I have my own beliefs, one of them being, you don’t have to mislead to move products, provided, of course, those products have value. Any time I tried to share that belief with infomercial producers, my words fell flat and the paradigm prevailed. If you are tempted to believe that an infomercial exists to help you find fitness, just approach that temptation with careful apprehension and a promise to better understand the offering before trusting the information delivered in the show. Remember the old story of the frog and the scorpion.


A frog was about to cross a stream, and a scorpion called out, “hey, Frog, can I have a ride across? I have to get to the other side.” The frog, being good natured but well acquainted with the hazards of scorpions felt compelled to refuse. “I’d like to help, but I know who you are. You’re a scorpion, and if I let you on my back you’ll bite me and I’ll die.”


The scorpion pleaded with the frog, using a mix of logic and emotion. “I really have to get across, and if I were to bite you, we’d both drown. You have nothing to fear and you’d be doing a good deed.


The frog gave in and the scorpion climbed upon his slimy green back. The frog leaped into the water and just about halfway across the stream the scorpion raised his tail and stung the frog. As they were both going down into the waters that would take their lives the frog asked a simple question, “why?” The scorpion replied, “because I’m a scorpion, and that’s what scorpions do.”


Infomercial producers are expert at getting people to go to the phone, but they’re far from expert in helping people getting results. I’m in the business of getting people the results they’ve always wanted. Can the two businesses merge? I’m not sure. With cautious optimism, I’ll say time will tell, but I’ll remember the words, “we’re infomercial producers, and that’s what infomercial producers do,” just to avoid any false hope or sense of disappointment.


The best news is you don’t NEED any products. There are some that do have some value, but rarely if ever does the value match the promotional hype. You can get results . . . any results . . . with nothing more than a pair of dumbbells, a good pair of walking or running shoes, and a commitment to supportive eating!

He’s been called The Father of Personal Training, The Master of Body Transformation and America’s Most In-Demand Fitness Professional. But what truly defines Phil Kaplan is his undying defense of the Fitness Truth, unwavering support of Personal Trainers, and undeniable passion for helping people improve their lives.

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