(This is a 10 part series in which I am reviewing some of the products sold as exercise equipment, fitness solutions, etc. on infomercials, magazine ads, and cable shopping networks. Unlike most of the ads for these products, this isn’t based on a double blind, major university backed study. It is simply my professional opinion based on my fitness experience and knowledge in the hopes that it will save you some time, aggravation and money.)
I stated in an earlier post in this series that I could do an entire series on abdominal gimmicks alone. At number four is yet another one and with only three more remaining, two of which are also abdominal gimmicks, it may make you wonder if all abdominal equipment is junk or is there any abdominal equipment ever worth buying. I will answer both of these questions before this post is finished, but first things first.
Let’s Play Ball
The Bender Ball is the creation of a “master trainer” by the name of….? You guessed it – Bender. The Bender Ball is a small, 9 inch ball that is placed in the lumbar curve (small of the back) to make abdominal crunches 408% more effective by increasing flexion and extension of the torso. 408%? How exactly do you quantify that? You can’t but that helps sell product. What they won’t tell you about are the legitimate studies that examined the effectiveness of the Bender Ball on abdominal muscle activation. What did those studies find? That the Bender Ball was only slightly more effective (less than 50%) than some traditional abdominal exercises such as the basic floor crunch, bicycle crunch, or crunches performed on a foam roller. The only slight differences (more than 50% effectiveness) were found in the varying levels of extension that could be achieved in certain individuals. The amount of extension however is the biggest concern with this small ball.
Put Your Back In To It
Most of us are born with an “S” curve in our spine. It varies from person to person but a normal healthy spine begins at the base of the skull, bends slightly forward, bends back slightly again in the torso or thoracic region, and bends forward again in the abdominal/hip region, thus causing a concave curve in the lower back (lumbar) region. This “S” essentially functions as a spring that keeps us upright against the ever present forces of gravity. The lumbar region is notoriously associated with low back disorders of all types, from muscle spasms to herniated discs. The reason? Among other things: not enough or too much curve, tight psoas muscles that cause an anterior hip tilt (sitting too long) and convex (flat with very little curve) low back, weak abdominals that do not balance the strength required to oppose the back muscles, etc. Any one of these scenarios can lead to an already compromised muscle imbalance, thus making normal flexion and extension difficult or painful. Throw in a ball designed to increase extension and subsequent increased flexion and you have a spinal disaster in the making. And all for what? A flat, chiseled midsection that could be obtained much safer and more efficiently by much more effective and cost friendly means.
Abdominal devices are plentiful because their demand is so high. However, rational thought is thrown out the window when emotions are running high so be smart about how you train your abs and what you use if anything at all – devices are not necessary. Remember, the flat stomach look has less to do with the amount of abdominal exercises you do or how much they burn the muscles and more about what your overall approach to health and fitness is. Want a flat stomach? 1) Stop buying into overhyped, unproven methods and gimmicks 2) pay more attention to what you eat and drink 3) get moving hard and fast 4) resistance train. Failure to do ALL of these things and a flat stomach you will never have – guaranteed. Plus, your back will remind you in due time if you don’t.
Stay tuned for future posts with the remaining 3.
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.
In case you’ve missed them, here are My Top 10 Most Useless Pieces of Exercise Equipment so far: