August 28, 2009

Beware the Infomercial

Photo: Lusi

Ever found yourself tempted by an infomercial for workout equipment? I know I have. I see the cheesy ad and I start to laugh, yet by the end, I find myself mesmerized, secretly yearning for a new miracle fitness solution.

It’s just hard not to envy those people exercising in the commercials. I want their lean muscular legs, their strong capable arms, their cute butts and washboard abs and sparkly white teeth! (It’s not clear to me how one gets white teeth from exercise equipment, but it seems to be part of the package).

And the equipment looks so practical and fun. It folds and stows and adjusts to different heights; you can use it eight different ways; it comes with three handy accessories; it works every major muscle group in your body—and just costs $19.99 a month!

Although it seems curious: why do the commercials never mention how many months you have to keep paying for? Do people really not care?

Honey, did you just buy a vinyl seat, eight elastic bands, and four adjustable aluminum rods for four thousand dollars?

Four thousand dollars? Is that how much it actually costs? Why yes dear, I guess I did! But it will exercise our entire bodies in only 15 minutes. And don’t worry, our payments are only $19.99 a month!

But even knowing how much they cost, and no matter how tempting these things look, I could never bring myself buy an infomercial product. I was raised by skeptical parents who instilled in me a simple rule that I am powerless to disobey: if a product is only sold only on TV, you must not buy it. If it was really any good they would sell it in regular stores.

Is this actually true? Perhaps not. There are probably plenty of exceptions, which I hope you'll tell me about in the comments. But for those of you who did not grow up in a cynical household, here are a five good reasons to think carefully before dialing that phone when you see an exercise infomercial:

1. It’s Not The Product That Makes Those Exercisers Look So Good.

That guy who looks like he could bench press a Ford Explorer or do squats with a refrigerator balanced on his head? He is a fitness model. It's his job to look like that for every project--whether he's promoting a kickboxing DVD, a chin-up bar, or performing in a gay porn video. And trust me, he did not get that way by using stretchy elastic bands or 10 lb kettlebells.

2. High Quality Exercise Systems With Many Moving Parts Are Expensive to Build.

If the infomercial product does exactly what the $20,000 system at the gym does but it only costs $159? That’s because it’s crappy! Paint will flake off, parts will squeak, it won’t feel stable, and the whole thing will probably fall apart minutes after the warranty expires.

3. Exercise Equipment Does Not Come With a Container of Willpower.

Do you fantasize that with a new piece of equipment, exercise will suddenly become fun? It won’t. In fact, twenty minutes after you set it up, the novelty will wear off, and you may find the new piece of equipment much less fun than running, walking, biking, swimming, tennis, rollerskating, or other options you may already have available. So before investing a lot of money, figure out if you’d really use the thing.

4. They are Lying When They Say it’s a Limited Time Offer.

This stuff will only get cheaper if you wait and you’ll get even more “And that’s not alls!” So don’t yield to a sudden impulse and a fake deadline; take some time to think it over.

5. Product Research is a Pain But You Need To Do It.

To find suitable home exercise equipment, you have to look beyond television marketing pitches. Ask a gym rat or consult a personal trainer or read consumer magazines or check fitness web forums. Or go to a real live fitness retailer and try stuff out! There are a lot of great home workout options, but so much of it depends on your interests, budget, space, and commitment. It's worth investing a little time in your search.

Ever bought anything from an infomercial, or been tempted?


  1. Until I read this, I totally forgot about the Ab-Flex that I bought a dozen years ago when I was beginning my whole fitness-thing.

    I saw a half-hour infomercial at a friend's house, and I HAD to have one! It looked like a rocket ship; you'd lie flat on your back (or sit straight in a chair for the advanced version) grab the "wings" and press the body of it (with variable resistance rubber bands) against your abs.

    Amazingly enough, this thing was FANTASTIC for my level of fitness at the time. I had horrible lower back problems, and the Ab Flex really did tighten my abs without putting any stress on my back.

    Did it give me six-pack abs? No. But it did bring me to the next fitness level without injury.

    Alas, the Ab Flex is no longer with me. I "outgrew" it for more challenging exercises. Then my kids played with it as a rocket ship for a while. Then I donated it to a neighborhood rummage sale. I hope it has started someone else on the road to fitness.

  2. Thanks to a combination of pregnancy heartburn and wicked head cold, I was up all night last night. I found myself getting really sucked in to that "10-minute trainer" infomercial. There is a reason those things are on so late at night when our reasoning abilities are whacked!

    That said, I find Naomi's story really inspiring!

  3. I'm like you; tempted every single time I see an infomercial. I own a gym, so if I'm talking MY wallet back into my pocket during one of these cheese-fests I can only imagine what everyone else goes through.

    Here's another clue that they're selling B.S.: Any time they say something resembling "In only 15 minutes a day, three times a week...." yet they look like a fitness magazine cover model, run for the hills.

    One truly great infomercial product, though: the Total Gym. I actually bought the commercial model for my gym and it's a pretty darn good piece of equipment.

  4. I work out at my gym in the early mornings, and it is a total hoot to see fitness equipment infomercials playing on all the TVs. It never ceases to entertain me, when I am dying of heavy squats or burpees, to look up and see that hey! I could be getting all the same benefits in 15 minutes once a week!

    Except, not.

  5. I usually go here for fitness equipment reviews and I go here for new fangled diets on the market reviews

  6. What is fascinating now is the chain of mall stores that feature the "as seen on TV!" crap. You actually get to feel this stuff up in a store first. One can see why it sells so cheap.

  7. I haven't bought infomercial exercise equipment, but I've bought three items of kitchen equipment and I have to say, I use them all the time! The one is starting to fall apart after 5 years, but the others are still going strong!

  8. The AB FLEX (d'mamma & I are totally sisters from another mister. in myriad ways)


    I forked out cash for the FLEX.

    and liked it.

    until I realized that LIKE had nothing to do with my actually motivating to use it.

    my FLEX? now happily owned and not being use by one of my editors.

  9. I have a confession to make: I actually willingly watch these infomercials. (When there's nothing on that I really want to watch.)

    They serve as a type of motivation. I watch and Believe when the announcer drills into my head over and over again that (this) Exercise Will Make Me Thin! And Tan! Not forgetting, of course, the white teeth.

    Plus, the models on these things seem to have access to the most amazingly strong Prozac.

  10. No, I haven't actually bought anything from a TV commercial.

  11. I used to want that Gazelle thing that the guy with the ponytale was selling - it looked like so much fun! But deep down I knew it was probably all rickety and wouldn't hold up my weight. Just as well...I didn't need to spend that money anyway.

  12. if a product is only sold only on TV, you must not buy it. If it was really any good they would sell it in regular stores.

    Hey! Are we related? Because I TOTALL got that from my parents!

    That said, I forked out good money for some Turbo Jam DVDs, and I must admit that I LOVE them. Unfortunately for the BeachBody company though, other people did NOT love them, and so instead of paying full price on the BeachBody website I now get mine for (much, MUCH) cheaper off of Amazon or

    But I still love them.

  13. I've never bought fitness equipment, but I am the happy owner of the Magic Bullet (does everything in the in the kitchen in FIVE MINUTES OR LESS), which also happens to be my favorite infomercial - and one that I will actually watch on purpose.

    I really, really want a Sham Wow thing, too, but I am resisting.

    Oooh - and once, late at night, I bought these things that you put on your feet that is supposed to draw the toxins out of your body through the feet & make you healthier. I've never used them, so I can't tell you if they work.

  14. And apparently I am so excited about my DVDs that I can't even spell TOTALLY.

  15. I've watched friends buy fitness equipment from informercials and borrowed it, just to be sure that it was as bad as I assumed. (They always were.) But once, many years ago I made a purchase myself. I bought an Ab Slide. I loved it then and I still love it now.

  16. I have bought products from Beachbody and, for the most part, have been very happy with them. I also, about 5 years ago, bought the Supreme Pilates, kind of a modified reformer/tower. I used it often and liked it a lot, but then we move to a smaller place and I had nowhere to put it. I also started using a REAL reformer, and have probably outgrown my little home version.
    But, having said that, most of the products sold on TV are junk.

  17. Gazelle, don't get the sham-wow. From personal accounts of friends who own it an this video, it is no good.

    Nah, I've never bought anything off of an infomercial.

  18. My favorite infomercial:the Hawaii Chair. For a good laugh, watch Ellen Degeneres test it out on Youtube.

  19. I was thinking just as Leah said. There is a chain of these "As Seen On TV" stores where you can buy many of the infomercial products. I have friends who are on their third Silver Bullet? Why did they need three in just a few years? Because they're crappy. Why did they keep buying them? Who knows?

    Nope.. never been tempted.

  20. I bought the step system from Jane Fonda waaaayyyyy back-when. This was before they started popping up in stores and gym step-classes. I really liked it although I thought it was over-priced. I became really sick of the video's music and the instructors' peppy phrases and pep-talks. I finally sold the teal-and-pink things at a yard sale last year (I threw in the videos...leg-warmers and all...for free).

  21. Most of these commercials I can watch and laugh at. Can see the flaws.

    But -is it the Perfect PullUp?? The one with the moving bar so you do inverted pull ups? Every time I see that commercial I yearn for one. And they sell them at my local Tarjay-where I can talk myself out of them.

    What is it with these contraptions?

  22. Shelley, I loved the Gazelle. It's the only piece of exercise equipment I've bought off an infommercial, and it was actually really good quality and fun to use. Very sturdy too - I was nearly 300 pounds when I got it and my husband was 325 or so, and it felt really solid. It was a good machine for getting me to move and gaining stamina so that I could move up to going to the gym. Owned it for about 2 years, and the only reason I got rid of it was that I was moving 3,000 miles away and didn't want to pay to move it. Got a gym membership instead. But I'm one of those people who loves going to the gym.

  23. The thing that's great is that none (absolutely none) of the models get that way by using the equiptment. Besides, none of them do it for only 20 minutes per day on that machine alone. It's silly, but it plays into all of our wants...look great with little effort. So funny. (It took me a LONG time to not be sucked in too!)

  24. Sounds like I'm not the only one who was raised with the "don't buy it off the TV" rule.

    But it's great to hear there are some success stories out there too!

  25. You mean that if I buy that thing that looks like a mix between modern art and a mideval device for bad guys to use won't make me fit in just 6 minutes with little or no effort?

    Well burst my bubble.

    But I can't help watching the commercials... They are so fun to watch where the people seem excited to the point they may faint at any moment.

    And Remember that it's all about "no effort" at Foolsfitness!- Alan

  26. LOL! My friend has gotten sucked in to every work out infomercial out there... Turbo Jam, PX90 or whatever... it's almost entertaining to see what she'll buy next. I'll just stick to running personally.

  27. I would love to see the "Ultimate Infomercial product and commercial.
    Take some too thin metal tubing, plastic parts, cables that become twisted and frayed, ultra cheap vinyl covering, a 20 DVD set to follow along with the "system", female dancers using the equipment for 10 minutes 3 days a week while doing high pulls with a 5 pound KB, A CD of crappy workout music, testimonials from women about the weight loss, muscle toning, sexual increases, natural appetite suppressing benefits and toss it all into a box making it all available for a lifetime of easy monthly payments through a special credit card offered by the company selling the stuff.
    Hey! Where do I sign up!

  28. TOO FUNNY! last night, I watched the ENTIRE HALF HOUR of the golden country classic hits infomercial for time/life. yes, i actually though i needed it once i saw that johnny cash was on it. nevermind that i can download his songs on itunes or whereever else. i don't even know what captivated me, to be honest. i don't like country. i don't like country from the 50's and 60's. so why? i don't know. it was a pretty darned good infomercial if it had me at "ring of fire."
    ps. didn't buy it. no worries.

  29. It was an informercial that started me on my journey of fitness and eating properly. I was sitting in my living room putting on my make up - distressed because I was frustrated at being put on anxiety medication that zapped the life out of me and added 50 lbs. I saw a Firm informercial. I ordered it, got it, began and could only do about 10 minutes of the workout - kept at it, in a year and a half I lost 82 lbs got off my meds and now I am very active, I run, take karate, and lift heavy weights. I maintain my weight stay active and am in my 50's - I wouldn't knock anything that gets someone off the couch :)


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