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No Quick Fixes for 'Ab' Flab

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Scoring high on all measures was the Hoist Multi-Gym H210, followed by the Body Solid Multi-Station EXM-1500S. The H210 goes for a pricey $1,700, while the EXM-1500S was rated a CR Best Buy at $700. The least expensive machine, the Total Gym 1000 for $200, ranked in the middle as good overall, but it is limited to about half of a user's body weight and therefore may be inadequate for stronger users, according to the magazine.

Some home devices -- particularly those that cost less than $200 - may also not be built to last. Len Kravitz, PhD, assistant professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico, advises users to become familiar with a product's warranty and return policy. Consumers often must foot the shipping bill for returning a device, and some companies tack on a restocking fee. It is also a good idea to check the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any consumer problems with the manufacturer.

Overall, no machine can beat peer pressure as a motivator, says CC Cunningham, MS, a certified personal trainer from Chicago. Having a workout partner, going to a gym where others are exercising, or getting a personal trainer can help people stay on track. "The reason personal training is successful is we're your conscience," she says. "It's not the info we give, or the piece of equipment we use, but it's holding you responsible. There's nothing about a Thighmaster that makes you show up."

Sarah Yang is a freelance writer in El Cerrito, Calif., who has written for The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Examiner. She is a frequent contributor to WebMD.

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