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Passive Exercise: Whole-Body Vibration and More

Working out while not really working is the concept behind a trend known as passive exercise. But does it really work?

Chi Machines continued...

Quist likens it to the "jiggly belts" used in the 1950s, which simply caused your body to shake.

"I don't think they ever proved scientifically that those belts did anything for weight loss, and I think the effect is similar with the Chi machines," says Quist.

Bryant agrees:"Part of the thinking here centers on the Eastern philosophies of energy centers and those are being stimulated by this movement activity, but I have not seen anything even  close to science on that," he says.

He adds that if you just lie on the floor and kick your legs, you would probably get a similar circulatory effect, along with some muscle toning.

Electronic Muscle Stimulators: Ab Stimulating Machines

It's hard to miss the ads for these products -- svelte, toned guys and gals in bikinis, showing off their "six pack" abs, ostensibly delivered courtesy of electronic ab stimulation.

How They Work: You strap on a wide belt wired to a battery. Stimulation is provided by tiny electrical "shocks" delivered at timed intervals, designed to stimulate muscle contractions. 

The Promise: You'll not only have stronger, firmer, more visible abs in 30 days, but you can achieve this without ever getting off your couch, some manufacturers say. One company says you can tone all the muscles in your abdomen in a few weeks using the machine just 30 minutes a day -- while you "watch TV, fold laundry, or help your kids with their homework."

What the Experts Say: According to Bryant, the principal behind ab stimulators comes directly from physical therapy, where it's used to help contract injured muscles. However, he cautions that what works on a damaged muscle will have minimal effects, at best, on a healthy one.

"While you may see some mild improvement, the only way to see 'six pack abs' is to lose the belly fat -- and these stimulators will not help you to do that," says Bryant.

Quist adds that the amount of stimulation necessary to tone healthy muscles would be so great that you would likely burn or injure yourself in the process. "I see no real value for healthy muscles," says Quist.

Varlotta agrees. "If you go back to the basic principals of muscle stimulation, it's to help bring nutrients into the injured area and increase blood supply," he says. "But the studies have failed to show any increase in strength or endurance. So, from a healing standpoint, it may help if you have an injury, but that's about it."

Moreover, in 2003, the makers of three ab stimulators -- Fast Abs, Ab Tronic, and Ab Energizer --agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges brought against them for false advertising claims.

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