Consumer Reports rates TV-hawked equipment

As is now standard, Consumer Reports' January issue focuses again on health and fitness, this time targeting what it calls "TV Exercise Devices" including those from Nautilus, Icon, Total Gym, Tony Little and Body by Jake.

As is now standard, Consumer Reports' January issue focuses again on health and fitness, this time targeting what it calls "TV Exercise Devices" including those from Nautilus, Icon, Total Gym, Tony Little and Body by Jake.

The advertising-free, independent magazine -- which began arriving on subscribers' desks last week -- devotes six pages to the TV gear but also includes a summary of some of its past reviews, including its June 2003 treadmill issue (with a note to look for its treadmill updates next month -- we warned you) and even information from a rather ancient home gym rating done nearly three years ago.

"If you believe that an exercise machine can reshape your body in two weeks, have we got an AMAZING! offer for you," wrote the magazine in the lead-in to its article.

"Many of the claims are overblown," the article continues, "some of the pitchmen may not be quite as devoted as you think, and some of the machines are not very effective. But several -- generally the most expensive -- are worth considering."

First, the article tells its readers, wisely, how to choose a machine by considering preferred workouts, adding up costs, asking about return policies, looking for disclaimers, avoiding "cheaping out," and taking time to shop. It also explains that the ratings weren't just done by its lab technicians and engineers but also involved an "expert" from the non-profit American Council on Exercise and an ACE-certified trainer. CR also added that its staff involved had an advanced degree in ergonomics and biomechanics. To further explain its thoroughness, the magazine said it had a group of consumers of different shapes and sizes use the machine and describe the experience, then it also tested users hooked up to gas analyzers to check out manufacturers' claims about exertion and calorie burn. It categorized results by type of exercise, then for each one described the product and summarized its claims, as well as what CR called "the reality" and "the bottom line."

"I was pleased to see that Consumer Reports engaged industry professionals (ACE) to help them with their research," Gregg Hammann, CEO of The Nautilus Group, told SNEWS. "Consumers are becoming more aware of the benefits of proper exercise. It can be confusing, however, to choose what is right for them and there are a lot of products that do not meet the expectations or claims. The more we can continue to educate and inform people, the better choices they can make."

Aerobic Devices (CR's name, not ours):
Treadclimber by Nautilus (TC3000) -- Although it earned No. 1 in this category, its only competition was Tony Little's Gazelle Freestyle Elite (which the magazine called "hype, hype, hype," by the way). Regarding the Treadclimber, CR said its claim to burn calories at twice the rate as other treadmills is exaggerated although it does indeed burn more. And its weight loss claims (17 pounds in four weeks) require a very low-calorie diet. Still, it called the workout "excellent" with less impact than running and easy to learn and use. "Expensive," the magazine concludes.

Hammann added that he thought the article seemed accurate overall, but the company was disappointed the magazine contradicted the calorie claims of the Treadclimber. "We would have been happy to send them our study if they would have asked," he said. "We did an independent study through an outside firm to ensure we were statistically accurate and unbiased."

Strength Trainers
Nautilus again comes out on top, this time with its Bowflex Power Pro XTLU. Nevertheless, CR has a few nits to pick, saying the rods take some getting used to, that a user must pull down completely to get the marked weight, and that it took two hours for its engineer to set up the machine. "Effective but pricy," the conclusion, although "more compact and easier to move than a home gym."

Rated next was the Crossbow by Weider (Ed Note: Ironic considering the just-concluded patent-infringement lawsuit between Nautilus and Icon/Weider that still is pending appeals) that the magazine calls "similar in design and use to the Bowflex." "The video is good but it doesn't stress proper technique as much as the Bowflex's," was another point. CR said the Crossbow was effective, costs less than the Bowflex, but its sample had a quality-control issue.

Next came the Total Gym. Reality: "It doesn't duplicate all other (exercise) devices," despite claims, and "very fit people may need to add more resistance." Still, CR calls it easy to use, versatile and a "viable strength-training alternative," especially for those of low to moderate fitness. Again came the conclusion: "But pricey."

On that list were also the Gyrotonic Transformer ("Pricey for what you get") and the Body by Jake Total Body Trainer ("OK for less fit exercisers but not much for the money").

Also rated were "Bun and Thigh Devices" and "Abdominal Devices," none of which did very well.

Summarized former ratings
In a boxed article, CR said, "Few if any infomercial exercise machines live up to all their hype," and went on to point out its top treadmills from a June 2003 article (True, Landice, Life Fitness, Precor and Vision) and mentions the Body-Solid EXM 1500S home gym as an alternative (from a March 2001 rating).

"Other types of exercise machines may lack glitz," the magazine wrote, "but they often deliver at least as much benefit, sometimes for less money."

SNEWS View: We all know that Consumer Reports is aimed pretty squarely at middle America. For years, all the fitness equipment ratings it did looked only at stuff that cost less than a few hundred dollars. That's probably behind its seeming obsession with "pricey" as the tag on just about everything in the article that had much to offer. We know CR has to pay attention to the TV gear since its reader is a boob-tube kinda person, and we're sure it gets a lot of letters asking about this stuff. We however can't wait to see what comes up next month for treadmills.


Vision takes Consumer Reports' Best Buy rating

In its first year in a Consumer Reports treadmill review, Vision Fitness nabbed the company's "Best Buy" rating, while both True, Landice and Precor were the only three of 15 to take the top "excellent" rating in all three categories ranked. "We're excited," Vision Fitness more