Categorized | seriously dumb

A whole new dimension of demented exercise machines

Many moons ago, when this blog was still new and fresh, I wrote a post about the world’s most demented exercise machine, a startlingly stupid mobile treadmill that allowed you to treadmill your way around the neighborhood. Of course, the Einstein’s who introduced the mobile treadmill did not sufficiently differentiate their thousand dollar contraption from, oh, just putting on a pair of shoes and running down the street for free and they promptly erased all reference to the idea from the cyberuniverse.

Just when you thought it was safe or sane to go to the gym, FBE Spa in Los Angeles as well as a host of hucksters around the country want to shake you out of your comfort zone with “The Whole Body Vibration Machine.” Like the zaniest of product ideas, you have to see it to believe it . . .

The Whole Body Vibration Machine

Stand on this vibrating contraption thing for an hour each day and you, too, can have a perfect body. No hard work, no sweat, no heavy lifting. 10 minutes on this vibration doohickeywhompus is equal to one hour of an intense workout! You do, however, risk early-onset dementia from all that brain-shaking.

Yes, you, too, can have the body and the brain damage of a professional boxer! Except without the body.

And just in case you are one of those negative-thought type cynics, the ad copy (“Shake into Shape!”) will remove any doubt:

Our exclusive top of the line version, the EOS 6600, provides an easy and healthy way to lose weight and tone muscles effectively by changing strong rotating energy into vibrating energy to rapidly decompose fat. In other words, it creates the type of muscle tension you experience when lifting something heavy and alternatively contracts and releases this point at an extremely rapid pace. In fact, only 10 minutes on this machine is equal to running for an hour!

Changing strong rotating energy into vibrating energy? Now if this were ad copy for a sex toy, count me as a believer. (Of course, for all those who remember rope climbing in gym just at the onset of puberty, this shake-and-baker is bound to bring back unpleasant, long-suppressed memories.)

I said it in my original post about the mobile treadmill: If your fitness product sounds like an Onion headline, then that’s what it should be.

Since I said it all and said it so much better 11 months ago, let me just cut and paste my observations about exercise and fitness products here. As Oscar Wilde once said, if it’s worth saying once, it’s worth saying a hundred times:

Try chewing this one, too (and don’t talk with your brain full): why does product innovation in the exercise industry look like this constant race to the bottom of the idea barrel? How do people make money off of this stuff?

I’ve actually got an answer. Because this is a serious business blog. Really.

It’s because exercise, fitness, and weight loss are simple. Move (run, walk, swim, bike), lift, eat sensibly. That’s it. No PhDs or Suzanne Sommers required. Pennies a day.

But people can’t do simple, so they buy fancy, which allows them to run, walk, swim, move, and lift more expensively and clumsily.

But since they can’t do simple, they can’t do fancy, either. So they buy next year’s fancy, which allows them to run, walk, swim, move, and lift more expensively and clumsily.

Failure is the formula for success in the exercise and diet market. Not just failure, but product failure.

Because people fail at running and walking, entrepreneurs can sell them treadmills.

Because people fail at treadmills, some entrepreneurs think they can sell them moving treadmills.

(That’s why moving stationary bikes probably ain’t such a bad idea, after all.)

The problem with the moving treadmills is, well, they’re too obviously built on this principle of failure. Like Kierkegaard’s virtuoso ice skater, exercise and diet products are always skirting the very outermost edge of the thinnest ice, always coming close to saying, “if you really had what it took to be (fit, thin, take your pick), you wouldn’t be buying this machine.” Always just on this side of a practical joke.

So, the moving treadmills aren’t a bad idea for quite the reason you believe. They’re bad because they take a standard principle of exercise product development (“sell fancy to the folks who can’t do simple”) and make it too obvious.

So why do folks like this succeed? Because they’re selling a promise, not a product. People are willing to risk buying a product that doesn’t work because they want to believe the promise, that they can easily lose weight and get fit without effort. And no matter how many times experience proves to them that these products don’t work, they never lose their faith that the next product may just deliver on the promise, no matter how unlikely.

The folks marketing this shake-a-riffic Monty Python comedy routine to consumers are banking on a universal rule:

The only thing we learn from experience . . . is that we never learn from experience.

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