As research and technology continues to reach new grounds, covering previously unchartered territories, it becomes more and more evident exactly how much research, technology and the geniuses behind such works are changing (and forever bettering) our industry. Let’s take a look back, however, at some of the industry’s greatest fads – that is, the equipment and “training regimes” that sparked life and short-lived inspiration into so many individuals, with no proven science or backing to reinforce their respective benefits.
Power Balance Bracelets:
Tracing back a few years, Power Balance Bracelet were The Thing! If you were a school kid and didn’t own and wear one of these “high-tech” devices, then it was perceived to be a no-brainer that you wouldn’t be excelling during P.E class or on the monkey bars. Research since then (2011) has highlight that this all-encompassing, performance change bracelet is nothing more than a placebo. For what it’s worth, the research measured change in performance of balance, flexibility, strength and power – all of which are significant variables under general performance umbrella. Nothing beats hard work and structured planning.
Another questionable, yet highly lucrative invention is the shake weight. In my opinion, there’s no wonder that several TV shows, such as South Park, have used the topic of the Shake Weight as a spoof. Nonetheless, more the two million units were sold in the first year, so clearly people truly believed in the logic behind this device. Contrary to popular belief, however, research comparing the shake weight with a normal dumbbell throughout a range of maximal contraction tests has highlighted that not only did the shake weight fail to produce higher maximal contractions than the dumbbell, it also was unable to exhibit a maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) over 60% – the minimum level required to increase muscular strength. The spoofs were funny nonetheless, so for that at least, we thank the inventors.
Looking to tone up that ‘V’ and get leaner, not only around the abdominal wall, but also on the sides? Then look no further than the Ab Circle, right? Unfortunately not. If that were the case, then you’d think that every gym would contain this machine in order to assist participants with their goals. A paper by Willardson et al (2010) underlined the shortcomings of the Ab Circle, highlighting that in comparison to more traditional exercises (abdominal crunch, side bridge, quadruped), the device elicited similar or even poorer levels of muscle activation (measured for anterior, posterior and lateral trunk musculature). This among others, is just another reinforcement of the importance and significant benefits of specific strength training. If you’re looking at increasing your core/trunk strength and lean muscle mass around the general abdominal area, then look at the benefits that research does highlight (i.e. Stuart McGill’s work on trunk stiffness) in order to achieve these goals.
This apparatus also claimed to be an integral part of one’s lifestyle and training regime, should they want to get ripped and toned. Did you know that you can even add weight to it? Unbelievable! Does it work however?
Much like the Ab Circle, the AB Roller is scientifically proven not to elicit greater activity of the abdominal and oblique muscles (upper rectus abdominus, lower rectus abdominus and external oblique) when compared to a traditional trunk curl (Hildenbrand & Noble, 2004), once again reinforcing the same argument about the benefits of high-quality strength training and the longevity associated with it. On a side note also, this particular research paper highlighted that both the ABslide and FitBall (also tested) resulted in greater involvement of the hip flexors, which is generally an undesirable feature of abdominal exercises. Understanding muscle and joint requirements throughout each movement in exercise is an integral part of prescription and training, so it’s important to try and think in this manner rather than allowing the deception of exercises visually to decide what you do and don’t do.
In addition to that, we know in this day and age that the abdominal crunch/sit up action primarily involves lumbar flexion, thus compressing the lumbar segments. Furthermore, we don’t need to be, and shouldn’t be primarily using our hip flexor muscles to facilitate such exercises. Simply put, both of these are going against the grain of what current research is highlighting with regards to best practice for individual performance and health benefits.
To think that this barely even touches the surface of the industry’s fitness fads is somewhat bewildering and very concerning. I may personally be biased, as a Performance Coach, as to the benefits of strength training due to a multitude of variables including metabolic and cardiovascular health, injury prevention and mental well-being. The wealth of research covering all of these topics, plus much, much more, however, simply does not lie. Whether you delve more specifically into training and activating the “core”, or focus on injury prevention and rehabilitation, specificity, individualisation and periodisation are where you should be looking with regards to research success and benefits of exercise. Consult the friendly Performance Coaches at Absolute for a scientific and research-based approach with regards to health and performance.
Written by Performance Coach Jonathan Stahl
- Hildenbrand, K. & Noble, L. (2004). Abdominal Muscle Activity While Performing Trunk- Flexion Exercises Using the Ab Roller, ABslide, FitBall, and Conventionally Performed Trunk Curls. Journal of Athletic Training, 39(1), 37-43.
- Glenn, J.M., Cook, I., Di Brezzo, R., Gray, M. & Vincenzo, J.L. (2012). Comparison of the Shake Weight modality exercises when compared to traditional dumbbells. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 11, 703-708.
- Porcari, J., Hazuga, R., Foster, C., Doberstein, S., Becker, J., Kline, D., Mickschl, T. & Dodge, C. (2011). Can the Power Balance Bracelet Improve Balance, Flexibility, Strength & Power? Journal of Sport Science & Medicine, 10(1), 230-231