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As Seen on TV: Fitness Infomercial Gadgets to the Test

Our channel-surfing investigative reporter answers the siren call of late-night infomercials to find out which gadgets shape, slim, stir, poach, and primp as promised.

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As Seen on TV

Whenever I watch an infomercial, I sit there rapt, as the woman on the screen struggles with the same traumas of being female that I do: lopsided boobs, bra bulge, unwanted facial hair (as if any such growth other than your eyebrows is wanted, really), an avalanche of plastic lids tumbling out of her cabinet, and blobby upper arms that flap like grand-opening flags outside a car dealership, to name a few. Her moments of un­utter­able frustration are always filmed in black and white. Then, just as when Dorothy lands in Oz, we see a burst of Technicolor as our heroine employs the cheesy-name miracle gadget that instantly solves her problem.

So when FITNESS asked me to indulge my craving for infomercial products to my heart's content, I was thrilled. Now I could satisfy my curiosity as well as yours. Here's the lowdown on what made me fitter and prettier, helped me eat healthier, and got me out the door faster, as well as what reaffirmed the adage "If it sounds too good to be true, it's not worth $19.95 plus shipping and handling."

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Beyond the ThighMaster: The Ab Doer Twist

In my opinion a great abdominal device is one that does the exercises for you. If I can't have that, I would like one that makes them marginally more enjoyable so I at least want to do them.

The first contraption to arrive was the Ab Doer Twist, a sort of swivel chair with a flexible back rod and high armrests that allows you to pivot away your muffin top by targeting those often-missed oblique muscles along the sides of your waist. Not complicated. And I did feel the sit-and-cinch sensation as I ran through the recommended exercises, just like the girl in the infomercial.

Only the thing is huge, bigger than any piece of furniture in my house except the sofa. Sure, you can use it to firm other muscles -- it comes with resistance bands and a DVD that shows you how to get a total-body workout -- but there are far better ways to whip yourself into shape than dancing around a big orange throne.

Should You Buy?

The Ab Doer Twist ($215,
No. It might shrink your waist, but it definitely shrinks your space.

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The Perfect Situp

Meanwhile, the more compact Perfect Situp...wasn't. The device is a sort of backrest with metal strips that connect to stir­rups and a neck support. The idea is that it makes crunches and the like both dummy-proof and doubly challenging because of the added resistance. The neck support was uncomfortable, and despite a cool clicking alert when you hit optimal crunch height, the device didn't improve my form much. A hanger attachment meant it did stow nicely in my closet, where I could ignore it more easily.

Should You Buy?

Perfect Situp ($99,
No. Just get down and give me 20.

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Moving on, I set my sights higher: arm flab. My upper arms are not at the give-myself-a-black-eye-when-I-wave stage yet, but my twin daughters, who are 8, love to squeeze them and say in a mock baby voice, "Who's got the cutest squishy arms?" That, my dears, would be me.

My triceps definitely burned using the SpinGym -- not so much a gym as it is a set of heavy silver rings on either end of a cord with a weight in the middle -- as I pulled to make the cord wind and unwind in a firming mix of momentum and resistance. Not a bad little thing to toss into your travel bag for a quick arm workout, though I think rubber resistance bands would do just as well and not set off airport metal detectors.

Should You Buy?

SpinGym ($30,
Maybe. Pricier than plain old resistance bands, it's still a handy arm shaper.

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The Door Gym

The next gadget I tried was a removable chin-up bar that you can rest securely on most door frames or use on the floor for push-ups and sit-ups. Thanks to the Door Gym, I can now almost do one pull-up, and I have actually been cranking out more push-ups because holding the bar is easier on my wrists. Of course you still have to do the exercises. It won't help if it's sitting in your closet, in which it will fit quite well. I was hoping for a quick, cheaty route to Madonna arms. (More on that later.)

Should You Buy?

Door Gym ($47,
Maybe. This could inspire you to do more pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups.

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Gaiam Mini Stepper

I had always fantasized about having my own cardio machine, and the Gaiam Mini Stepper had the benefit of being tiny. It's a stairclimber about the size of your microwave, with resistance bands, so you can march along and crank out biceps curls to burn calories. While the Mini Stepper offers only an up or down motion, for its price I got a good workout in front of an entire season of Downton Abbey on Netflix.

Should You Buy?

Gaiam Mini Stepper ($79,
Yes. Get compact cardio when you can't make it to the gym.

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3-Minute Legs

The silliest contraption, however, had to be 3-Minute Legs, an inverted-V-shaped hobbyhorse on wheels that supports you as you squat and lunge and adds resis­tance with rubber banding. My daughters were peeing in their pants laughing at me as I bopped up and down on this thing. I am five foot nine, so even on the tallest setting, it didn't spot me quite enough.

"Mommy, you could just do lunges without this thing, right?" Sasha asked.


Should You Buy?

3-Minute Legs ($114,
No. You shouldn't have to pay for a free lunge.

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Adventures in Fast(er) Food: EZ Cracker

Judging from the number of infomercials devoted to egg-related products, you would think Americans are just one more piece of eggshell in our food away from a nervous breakdown. Enter the EZ Cracker, a gizmo that's supposed to separate yolks from whites all neat and tidy. Mine worked half the time, but when it didn't, it made a bigger mess than the tap-it-on-the-countertop method.

Should You Buy?

EZ Cracker ($10,
No. It's one more thing to clean when making omelets.

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Egg Genie

Yet it was love at first bite with the Egg Genie, an electric cooker that can hard-boil, soft-boil, or poach eggs like Julia Child. I loaded my eggs into the Genie, added a tiny bit of water, plugged it in and made great hard- and soft-boiled eggs. No timing anything, no placing them carefully into the pot. Egg salad for all!

Should You Buy?

Egg Genie ($20,
Yes. Make fancy eggs without the fuss.

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Later that week I was making soup. I popped the battery-powered RoboStir into the pot and turned it on, and its three prongs began twirling in a circle. Lo and behold, the soup stirred itself! I went ahead and steamed my broccoli and made chicken nuggets for the kids -- and plum forgot about the soup. Though it was no fault of the RoboStir, the soup burned, and I had to chuck it and scrape the crud off the bottom of the saucepan. I think that if I'd had to stir the soup myself, I'd have noticed that the flame was too high. The point is, you still need to pay attention, in which case you may as well stir.

Should You Buy?

RoboStir ($11,
Maybe. It's not quite set-it-and-forget-it.

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NuWave Oven

What I needed was something even more idiotproof. Just then, the NuWave Oven arrived. The see-through countertop oven cooks foods faster than conventional ones by using infrared heat, which doesn't dry out the food, enabling you to use less fat. I'm a bad cook (refer to the RoboStir), but with this thing I could not screw up if I tried. I used the enclosed cook­book to roast a chicken, bake apples and lamb chops, and cook squash, all in roughly two-thirds the time the dishes normally take.

When I had to send the NuWave off to be photographed, my daughters asked when it was coming back, because, they said, they wanted to have a mom like the ones on TV. Who can cook. Harumph.

Should You Buy?

NuWave Oven ($150,
Yes. Unleash the Iron Chef in you with less time and zero skill.

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The Price of Beauty and Booty: The FaceTrainer

I won't waste too much time on the straight-to-trash failures: The self-explanatory Hair Dryer Stand, which broke instantly and wasn't tall enough to actually dry hair. The Easy Feet suction-to-your-bathtub foot scrubber, which was more Easy Tickler. Or the three different hair removers that worked no better than a $6 bottle of Nair.

But indulge me for a minute with this one: the FaceTrainer. The heavy scuba-suit-like mask made me look like a Mexican wrestler. I had to pucker my lips to bring them up through the awkwardly designed opening, which made it hard to breathe, let alone do any of the exercises that were supposed to smooth away my wrinkles. These included the Surprised Puppy Dog Face and one in which you put your hands across your neck like a choking victim. If you can last past one session, you're a tougher, potentially tauter broad than I am.

Should You Buy?

FaceTrainer ($199,
No. Facial exercises may lead to fewer fine lines over time, but you won't last in this mask.

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Velform Arm Wrap

And I think I'm officially ready to throw in the towel in my search for an over­night arm-jiggle cure. The Velform Arm Wrap, which is like an upper-arm girdle, promised results in 30 days if I would wear it for 30 minutes daily. I stopped at day three and instead opened up my Instant Arm Lift with the anticipation I usually reserve for watching which celeb is going to fall on live Dancing with the Stars.

Should You Buy?

Velform Arm Wrap ($36,
No. Go with nothing up your sleeve.

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Instant Arm Lift

Instant Arm Lift is a clear adhesive tape that you use essentially to fold your blobby chicken wings back onto them­selves so that your arms appear thinner and more toned.

The tape curled up and stuck to itself; it took several pieces to even get it on. Once I did, my arm looked like it had on a too-tight clear belt -- squeezed in where the tape was, with flesh spilling out on either side. Forget it. The only good thing I'll say about it is that it removed my arm hair with less mess and stink -- but more pain -- than the Depil Silk I tested earlier.

Should You Buy?

Instant Arm Lift ($12,
No. Skip it and spend the money on a set of dumbbells.

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Ahh Bra

I was eager to try the Ahh Bra, a more promising blob tamer. This hook-free pullover bra, made of a pantyhose-like material, is totally comfy and created no bra bulge; the fabric smushes you down evenly in the back and on the sides, leaving a smooth line instead of sausage rolls. The problem is, it does the same thing in the front, turning my C cups into a uniboob. As I walked down the street, my breasts undulated like water balloons. I think the "Ahh" part was more about the reaction I got from men than a relief of discomfort.

Should You Buy?

Ahh Bra ($60,
No. For that price, get fitted for a quality bra you love.

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Cami Secret

As for the Cami Secret, a clip-to-your-bra triangle of cleavage camouflage, I questioned the need for such a product. If I didn't want to treat the world to a peek, I'd just wear a shirt that's not so whorey. But if you have a top that's a bit too low and wearing a full cami is truly a hardship, this is for you.

Should You Buy?

Cami Secret ($10 for a set of six,
Maybe. It's no more easy-on than a full camisole.

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Booty Pop

I have to admit, though, that I was lured by Booty Pop's promise to endow me with "a Hollywood backside that turns heads!" I wore the faux foam cheeks under jean shorts, and my popped booty looked natural as I swished past the fellas in the maintenance crew. I felt no eyes following my behind. Later, out to dinner with a friend, I told her I was wear­ing a prosthetic ass. "It's like a good boob job," she said approvingly. "You'd never know."

The question is, do you really care enough about your booty popping to wear tushy padding? I don't.

Should You Buy?

Booty Pop ($28 to $40,
Maybe. This will give you convincing curves -- if you're that committed.

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And while we're at it, save your $40 and skip the PajamaJeans. I wanted to love them ("Looks like denim but feels like pj's!"), but they just didn't look as good as real jeans, which, unless I've been seriously overdoing the snacks, tend to be fairly comfort­able already.

Should You Buy?

PajamaJeans ($40,
No. Just break in your real denim or opt for jeggings.

So $1,858 later I have fewer black-and-white moments than before: I'm stairstepping through prime-time TV, acing my eggs every morning, and NuWaving dinners at night. More important, I'm cured of my urge to call now while operators are standing by. And that's priceless.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July/August 2012.

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What do you think? Review this slideshow!

zannarem wrote:

Spin Gym appears to be nothing more than a fancy Op-Yop. A toy I had growing up. It did nothing for my arms.

11/20/2013 11:06:29 AM Report Abuse
tiptoegsxr wrote:

Mrs. Stephanie Dolgoff, you did an awesome job writing this article! It was so entertaining and funny! There were some products that you talked about, that I often wondered if I should buy it. You need to keep writing!

7/18/2012 07:42:48 PM Report Abuse
izabelalundberg wrote:

This article did little to help me understand what these products do or how well they work. For example, how can I know how well the Velform Arm Wrap works if Ms. Dolgoff tried it for only 3 of the recommended 30 days? Who can help me find the real value? Shouldn't that be you? Shouldn't your focus be on performance over entertainment? How is Ms. Dolgoff qualified beyond channel surfing? Your use of her whimsical approach seems antithetical to the mission of FITNESS magazine.

7/18/2012 06:41:00 PM Report Abuse
robynsc1 wrote:

this article made my day. whoever wrote this article is hilarious and has a future in stand-up. i have tears in my eyes. i don't even remember what to buy and what not, but i thoroughly enjoyed this article!

7/18/2012 12:09:30 PM Report Abuse
jcabrown wrote:

This was great! Very informative yet funny and fun to read. I think this should be a regular feature, but with readers asking you to test the "too good to be true" products. It would be wonderful to have a trusted source vetting some of the products out there!

7/9/2012 12:30:20 PM Report Abuse

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