Electronic Waist Trimmers and Other Fitness Gadgets
In the health and fitness market, there is always something new. A new diet, a new fitness trend, a new recovery method, and of course new fitness gadgets, guaranteed to work or your money back! But is it even worth the initial outlay of money and time invested in using or wearing it? We aim to find out about a few.
Activity trackers: do they really help you stay fit?
Today’s activity trackers are old-fashioned pedometers on steroids. The earliest electronic activity trackers were bicycle computers that measured speed and distance and were available in the early 1990s. These gradually morphed into the activity trackers that flooded the market in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Most of today’s activity trackers can be synced to a smartphone via apps specifically made for the different brands of activity trackers available. Many of these apps allow personal fitness information to be shared with insurers, which can result in cost savings for employees who participate in their company’s plan.
These trackers measure everything from heart rate, sleep patterns, calorie intake/burn, to step count, distance traveled, elevation changes, and much more, all of which can be stored on smartphones or desktop/laptop computers.
But does all of this tracking actually increase activity level and, in turn, fitness level? A couple of scientific studies suggest that in the long-term, the use of an activity tracker doesn’t improve fitness levels or the overall health of the wearer.
A 2016 University of Pittsburgh study, “Effect of Wearable Technology Combined With a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-Term Weight Loss,” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that self-monitoring was more effective than an activity tracker when it came to weight loss.
During the two-year study, 470 adults, classified as overweight, followed a strict diet with limited caloric intake, strove to log 100 minutes of moderate to intense physical exercise per week, and participated in weekly group counseling. After six months, all of the study participants lost some weight.
For the next year and a half, half of the participants wore cutting-edge fitness trackers while the other half monitored their diet and exercise on their own without the help of digital technology. Surprisingly, at the end of the study, the fitness tracker group lost only 7.7 pounds while the group that self-monitored lost almost double that at 13 pounds.
A similar study in the British journal The Lancet, “Effectiveness of activity trackers with or without incentives to increase physical activity (TRIPPA): a randomized controlled trial,” also published in 2016 came to a similar conclusion.
Of course, activity trackers can be very important tools, but users shouldn’t assume that they are the key to long-term health and wellness.
Electric muscle stimulation devices: can they really build muscle?
Although it has been around since the mid-1970s, electric muscle stimulation (EMS) has enjoyed a resurgence since being marketed to the general public as a viable way to lose pounds and inches and develop muscle all while not actually having to exercise. Being endorsed by professional athletes has helped EMS explode in the health/fitness market. Often the subject of late-night infomercials, the reasoning behind it initially seems compelling.
During EMS, an external electrical impulse stimulates your muscle to contract, just like the internal impulse prompted by your nervous system. It seems that these repeated contractions, over time and even at higher impulse levels, would strengthen and build muscle.
There is certainly some truth in claims made for using EMS, especially in populations that are unable to engage in physical exercises such as those who have suffered strokes or spinal cord injuries. And it can be used to supplement a regimen that includes regular exercise and healthy eating.
Because EMS units are considered devices that come under the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administrations’ Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the FDA regulates the sale of them in the United States. Companies selling EMS devices must comply with FDA premarket regulatory requirements before they are permitted to legally sell their EMS products.
Currently, most EMS units approved by the FDA are those used by medical professionals in clinical settings. There is one over-the-counter EMS unit marketed to the general public—Slendertone Flex—that is FDA-approved.
The use of unregulated devices has resulted in burns, shocks, skin irritation, bruising and pain, some injuries even requiring hospitalization. Some EMS units were found to interfere with implanted devices such as defibrillators and pacemakers.
Unfortunately, at this time there is no scientific evidence backing marketers’ claims that EMS is the easy way to a six-pack. The FDA notes that “no EMS devices have been cleared at this time for weight loss, girth reduction, or for obtaining ‘rock hard’ abs.”
Elevation training masks: high-altitude hype?
No doubt you know that many elite and highly trained athletes spend at least part of their time training at altitude to improve athletic performance.
At altitudes above 5,000 feet, the air is “thinner,” meaning that there are fewer oxygen molecules per volume of air. Athletes who train at altitude, often at 7,000 to 8,000 feet, are taking in less oxygen than their muscles require to function.
To adapt to the decrease in oxygen that comes from training at altitude, the body increases the production of red blood cells to help transport more oxygen to the muscles. This physiological change usually lasts for 10 to 20 days, giving athletes plenty of time to return to sea level competition where the benefits of altitude training can be reaped.
Elevation training masks attempt to replicate high-altitude conditions for those who don’t live and train at altitude. The mask, which is worn over the nose and mouth secured by straps that go around the back of the head, restricts oxygen consumption during exercise. These masks claim to increase endurance, aerobic capacity, and lung function.
According to the study “Effect of Wearing the Elevation Training Mask on Aerobic Capacity, Lung Function, and Hematological Variables,” published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine in 2016, wearing an elevation training mask can increase aerobic capacity, but it didn’t improve lung function nor did it result in any changes in hematological function.
Researchers noted that further studies are needed to determine whether these improvements in aerobic capacity translate to improved athletic performance.
The research also suggests that elevation training masks are more beneficial for respiratory muscle training (RMT) rather than simulating high-altitude training conditions.
Ab wheel: simple and effective?
As far as fitness gadgets go, you will find few things more simple or inexpensive than the ab wheel aka power wheel. Nothing more than a wheel (sometimes two) with handlebars on either side, the ab wheel costs around $10-15.
Although a number of variations and different types of moves can be found online, the basic use for the ab wheel is to roll your body out to a plank position and then back in again. Sounds simple, right? In theory, it is but, in practice, it is more difficult than it sounds.
A 2006 study, “Electromyographic analysis of traditional and non-traditional exercises: implications for rehabilitation and training,” published in the journal Physical Therapy, rated the ab wheel one of the best tools for engaging the upper and lower rectus abdominis, internal oblique and latissimus dorsi muscles. The ab wheel was also one of the best in engaging the external obliques as well as the rectus femoris muscle.
Despite the benefits, ab wheel exercises are strenuous and can be dangerous for those who haven’t built up enough core and upper body strength to do them successfully. When done incorrectly, ab wheel exercises can work your lats more than your core and also create lower back issues.
It is suggested that you increase your core strength by doing planks and plank variations before incorporating an ab wheel into your fitness regimen. When you are ready though, it can add a lot of bang for your buck.
The bottom line
The internet makes it easy to explore the veracity of claims made by companies marketing fitness products to the public. Before adding a new gadget—some of which have substantial price tags—to your daily/weekly fitness regimen research the science—or lack of it—behind the claims. In the long run, it can save you money, time and space in your home gym.
Learn about how electric waist trimmers and other muscle simulation gadgets can benefit your workout and your muscle gain.
- Effect of Neuromuscular Electrical Muscle Stimulation on Energy Expenditure in Healthy Adults, web site, Feb 01, 2011 ,
- Effect of Wearable Technology Combined with a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-Term Weight Loss, web site, Sep 20, 2016 ,
- Effectiveness of activity trackers with and without incentives to increase physical activity (TRIPPA): a randomised controlled trial, web site, Dec 01, 2016 ,
- Why the Ab Wheel Is Such a Challenging and Effective Workout Tool, web site, Dec 06, 2018 ,
- Electromyographic analysis of traditional and nontraditional abdominal exercises: implications for rehabilitation and training., web site, May 01, 2006 ,
- Why Do Athletes Train at High Altitudes?, web site, Aug 09, 2010 ,
- How high-altitude training can benefit elite endurance athletes like runners and swimmers, web site, Nov 21, 2016 ,
- Effect of Wearing the Elevation Training Mask on Aerobic Capacity, Lung Function, and Hematological Variables, web site, May 23, 2016 ,