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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?
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Electronic Muscle Stimulators: Ab Stimulating Machines continued...

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.

Inversion Boots

They first came to public attention in the 1970s as a way to supposedly alleviate chronic back pain. Today, inversion boots -- as well as inversion "racks" -- are resurfacing as a way to not only relieve pain, but to tone and condition muscles involved in posture and core strength.

How They Work:  The boots, which are really ankle supports strapped to your lower leg, are designed to hook into a "rack" that allows you to invert your body up to 40 degrees. (Think a patio chaise longue that puts your legs in the air while pushing your head toward the ground). For the real pros, the boots are hooked into a rack that literally leave you dangling in the air, your head about 2 feet off the ground.

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