Exercise equipment put to the test

LOS ANGELES Fitness machines in TV infomercials promise to make exercise fun and easy. Consumer Reports tested several heavily advertised devices. Some promise a cardiovascular workout. And others claim to strengthen your abs.

While panelists worked out, Sue Booth measured their muscle activity and the number of calories burned. And she compared the workout they got on a standard treadmill -- and using nothing more than a floor mat.

The $100 Ab Rocket proved slightly less effective than traditional abdominal exercises. Even less effective is the $230 Rock'n Go. None of the panelists who tried it said they'd buy it.

"It didn't feel like I was doing any exercise at all while I was using it," said Eugene Chin.

"I don't think it is even worth it if it were free. No exercise at all," said Dirk Klingner.

Two of the cardiovascular exercisers gave a pretty good workout. The $200 Cardio Twister and the $80 Rock'n Roll Stepper burned about the same number of calories as walking briskly on a flat treadmill. The Bowflex TreadClimber turned out to be even more effective.

"Walking on the TreadClimber at the highest speed burns about the same amount of calories as running on a treadmill at six miles per hour," said Sue Booth.

But the panelists had to really concentrate to stay on the belts. At $2,500 the Bowflex TreadClimber is also the most expensive machine in the tests.

Consumer Reports says that before you buy any exercise equipment, ask about return policies, and be wary of promises like a 30-day money-back guarantee. That sounds good, but returning the product won't be easy if it is heavy or bulky.


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