As a certified personal trainer, yoga and Pilates instructor, and weight-loss coach, I pride myself on being able to sniff out which fitness trends work — and which fall short. When I see a gimmick or a product that doesn’t look right, I start to investigate. The last thing I want is for my clients or followers to waste money on trendy products or worse, get injured by using them.
Expensive equipment can be a deterrent for committing to an fitness routine, which is why I prefer people focus on basic, accessible exercises. Not to mention that some of the products you see on infomercials and social media aren’t even that effective — just a waste of time and money!
I always encourage my clients to make their own decisions and to be their own expert when it comes to their bodies. At the end of the day, you know what feels best for you and if something is working or not. But there are some products and trends that are better left on the shelf. Here’s why.
I tried an ab wheel 10 years ago and threw out my back — I’m not kidding! My low back was so sensitive and sore that when I used an ab wheel I almost collapsed in pain after my third repetition. In theory, the wheel works your entire core, requiring you to contract your upper and lower abs and both the internal and external obliques. However, in practice it’s near impossible to properly use the wheel with correct muscle engagement unless your core is already super strong and you’re very aware of how to engage the right muscles as you move forward and backward. I’d recommend working on planks or other exercises from a plank position to target similar muscles as the ab wheel, but with more control and less risk of injury.
Unless you enjoy cardio, feel good after you do it, and are happy with your results, an hour of cardio is just way too long! Your body does not need to be taxed in this way in order to lose weight or burn calories. Research shows that a mix of cardio and strength training is more effective for weight loss and building a strong physique than cardio alone. So, unless you truly enjoy a heart-pumping hour of cardio, you can skip these long workouts. Instead, try HIIT workouts, which can get your cardio done in half the time, and add strength workouts into your routine.
I’ve seen so many influencers on social media using waist trainers and some of my clients ask me about them, too. The truth is, they don’t actually work your ab muscles! They support your body so that you “remember” to engage your abs because you have to in order to squeeze into them, but they don’t work your abs any more than you do by simply keeping them engaged during exercise. Unless you need the reminder to keep your abs pulled in, I recommend Pilates and core work to tone the midsection instead of spending money on a waist trainer.
These are shoes that promise to train your calves by forcing them to engage more and ultimately become stronger. However, the bottom of the shoe is elevated in a way that does not work with your body’s alignment. Take orthotics, for example, that are molded to your feet or customized for certain feet dimensions. These support not only your feet, but also your ankles, knees, hips and low back. But calf-training shoes can throw all of this off. They focus only on making the calves work more when you walk, which is a gimmick! If you want to build your calves, do calf raises and work the muscle during strength training instead.
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Every time I see commercials for this product, I want to scream! This is another one of those things that in theory sounds great. You get to sit down and ride a bike, burning calories and improving circulation in your lower body. You can even get work done while you do it! Sounds great, right? However, because the range of motion is so small, the only real improvement in mobility is around your knee joint and a slight amount of quad and hamstring engagement. I also find that it deters people from standing up and moving around throughout the day, which is important for our circulation and posture. I’d much rather my clients get up and walk around for five minutes once an hour than pedal on one of these for 50 minutes.
One of my clients refused to start doing virtual yoga classes because she didn’t have the yoga cushion that the instructor told her to sit on. It’s true, especially for those who are less flexible, that sitting up on a pillow for seated postures can help you go deeper into the poses. But while yoga cushions look fancy, any pillow will do the trick! As a yoga instructor myself, I recommend that my clients just grab a pillow off of their couch or bed to sit on during their yoga practice, instead of wasting money on an expensive yoga cushion.
Stephanie Mansour is a contributing health and fitness writer for TODAY. She is a certified personal trainer, yoga and Pilates instructor and weight-loss coach for women. She hosts “Step It Up with Steph” on PBS. Join her complimentary health and weight-loss challenge and follow her for daily inspiration on Instagram and in her new app.
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