Many exercise devices no better than mat, leave your wallet flat

Want to blast away belly fat? Lose one size in 10 days? Claims like these continue to crowd the airwaves 11 years after actor Chuck Norris brought the Total Gym into living rooms everywhere.

Recent offerings for exercise devices advertised in infomercials range from an ab machine that looks like a lounge chair to a freestanding personal-sized ballet bar.

Are any of them worth buying? To test the claims made by manufacturers, Consumer Reports tested 10 exercise devices sold through infomercials on television or the Web, measuring muscle activity and calories burned by panelists, and also getting staff members' impressions.

CR concluded that the weight loss touted in testimonials is more likely because of the reduced-calorie diet plans most manufacturers recommend than the devices themselves. Losing one pound of fat solely by exercising with the machines, using recommended workout guidelines, would take a 165-pound person anywhere from one month to nine months.

CR found that while any piece of equipment that motivates someone to exercise may hold some value, in most cases, the same or better results can be achieved through simple exercises requiring little or no equipment.

Abdominal Exercises

Ab Lounge XL ($210) -- This mesh chair mimics the motion of a jackknife sit-up. The signature jackknife move engaged the target muscles, but for most tested muscle groups, it was not as tough as a full jackknife done on the floor. CR's take: Good range of motion, and can provide a good workout, but not a lot more useful than a floor mat.

Ab-Doer Xtreme ($150) -- Recently discontinued, CR found it at Target,, Wal-Mart and elsewhere. This chair with rotating handles for low-level torso resistance engaged abs less effectively than nonequipment exercises, though two of its recommended moves engaged obliques better. CR's take: Users won't shed much weight in 30 days without the recommended strict diet. Overall, basic ab and oblique moves can strengthen stomach muscles at least as well.

The Bean ($50) -- On average, results were similar to those with no equipment for this inflatable device that targets abdominal and oblique muscles. CR's take: It might strengthen abs, but the Bean alone won't get you lean.

Red Exerciser DX ($160) -- This swivel chair with adjustable resistance works core muscles. CR's take: Good for obliques, but the manufacturer's claims about losing four inches off the midsection in two weeks aren't going anywhere without a serious diet such as the 1,300-calorie-a-day diet that comes with the machine.

Bun and Thigh Machines

AirClimber ($140) -- A 20-minute workout on this freestanding stair-stepper is comparable to a 4.2-mph walk/jog. CR's take: A brisk daily walk and light weights or an exercise band for upper-body strengthening works just as well.

Leg Magic Professional ($180) -- This device has a horizontal sliding track to work the butt and inner and outer thighs. CR's take: Strengthens inner thighs, but will not result in slimmer legs without cutting calories, getting more aerobic exercise, or both.

Urban Rebounder ($150) -- The intermediate workout on this minitrampoline for bouncing, aerobics and running in place burned about as many calories as jogging at 5.6 mph. CR experts found the device easy to use and a nice change from typical aerobic exercise. CR's take: A good alternative to running, but more than the recommended 15 minutes is required to burn a lot of calories.

Total-Body Exercisers

Easy Shaper Ultimate ($215) -- The padded seat with moving back support is used to perform upper- and lower-body exercises in different positions. The "Bun and Ab Lift" routine burned fewer calories than CR's nonequipment circuit of lunges, crunches and modified push-ups. CR's take: Simple circuit training is apt to be more effective, more comfortable and less expensive.

Fluidity Bar ($200) -- The advanced workout on this floor-standing ballet bar with attached mat burned fewer calories than the no-equipment circuit-training routine. CR's take: A pricey but potentially enjoyable alternative to strength training, plus stretching. But its heft could make it hard to store.

Bun & Thigh Doer ($300) -- This exerciser, also recently discontinued, that focuses on muscles of the inner, outer and back thighs bruised CR's tester. One of the resistance bands unhooked itself from the frame during the initial product evaluation, striking the user on the upper thigh. Two other units exhibited the same design flaw. CR's take: Because of risk of injury, CR didn't proceed with testing and does not recommend this device for anyone.

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