By Sean Hyson, C.S.C.S.
Lame fitness gadgets didn't begin and end with Suzanne Somers' Buttmaster. From the day man first strived to become pec-tacular, businessmen dreamed up ineffective gizmos with one simple goal: separating a dumbbell from his money. So we combed through the dusty Men's Fitness attic and found what we believe are the 12 worst fitness inventions of all time.
"SANITIZED" TAPE WORMS
What the hell was it? Parasites. After swallowing them, they'd nest in your gut and feed off digesting food.
Debut: 100-some-odd years ago
The promise: You'll lose weight! These crawlers, bragged an old-timey ad, were "Friends for a fair form. Jar packed and easy to swallow."
Our verdict: "You also would have lost vitamins, minerals, and intestinal tissue," says fitness expert Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., author of Mind/Body Fitness. Plus, had you ingested these mail-order monstrosities, you surely would've become the object of such groaners as, "Hey, what's eating you?"
THE DUMBBELL CANE
What the hell was it? A cane with, well, a metal dumbbell attached.
The promise: "It can be swung in various ways as you walk, with apparent unconsciousness," boasted the not-quite-grammatically-correct advertisement, allowing for a seemingly effortless workout. Sure, it made swingers look like dandies, but at least they were diesel.
Our verdict: A glorified bludgeon (which would never clear today's airport security). "A waif may have found the weight enough to increase muscle," notes Seabourne, "but the average male needs a few more pounds to feel the burn."
THE PROSTATE-GLAND WARMER
What the hell was it? A nine-foot-long electric cord with a 4 1/4-inch butt plug on one end and a blue light bulb on the other . . . just use your imagination.
The promise: Upon insertion, the plug will somehow stimulate "the abdominal brain." It's working when the light bulb lights up.
Our verdict: Made your ass look like a blue-light special. This is one invention you'd hate to have been caught road-testing. Besides, adds Seabourne, "Your prostate is plenty warm to begin with."
DR. LAWTON'S GUARANTEED FAT REDUCER
What the hell was it? A round slab of soft rubber with a metal handle.
Debut: Early 1920s
The promise: You can rub body fat off and into the bloodstream (thereby "improving circulation") with this oversize eraser tip.
Our verdict: Useless. Of course, rubbers supposedly got their money back if it didn't work as promised in 11 days (assuming Dr. Lawton wasn't down in Rio with their cash). If any fat actually was burned by this, it was due solely to the caloric expenditure of rubbing with the thing. "A better idea," says Seabourne, "would have been to walk around the block."
What the hell was it? A disc with wheels designed to capitalize on "The Twist" dance craze.
The promise: Twisting like Chubby Checker while on this particleboard disc (sold by Jack LaLanne in his catalog) will burn more calories than sitting down to watch the Chubster do it on Ed Sullivan.
Our verdict: We're stunned that a man named Chubby could even have inadvertently spawned an exercise craze. The Twister was "basically a bathroom scale on ball bearings," confides good sport Dan LaLanne, ol' Jack's son.
What the hell was it? Magnets stuck on thick gauze that would be wrapped around limbs.
The promise: Pain relief and increased blood circulation will occur as the magnets "attract" the iron in your blood.
Our verdict: Even the most iron-rich blood doesn't budge-all that these magnets would have attracted was laughter. Amazingly, "These suckers made a comeback in 2001 to 'cure' joint and muscular ailments," says Seabourne. "But most proved to have little benefit beyond the placebo effect."
What the hell was it? A gizmo that, via its "contact pads," electrically shocked the body.
The promise: Sore muscles will be soothed by surges of electricity. Because, you know, nothing says "relaxation" like .
Our verdict: Shockingly, more than 400,000 Relaxacizors were sold before they were banned for aggravating such preexisting medical conditions as hernias, ulcers, and epilepsy. "Legitimate electronic muscle stimulators are great for rehabbing injured muscles," says Seabourne, "but only a trained physical therapist should administer them." As for relaxation, geez, just jump into a hot tub. (Without any electric appliances, mind you.)
THE AUTOMATIC EXERCISER
What the hell was it? A collection of pulleys, ropes, and chains attached by handles and straps to a bowling-ball-size weight-the WWI-era predecessor to Bowflex. The weight lifted the user while he sat there, relaxed (probably because he was finally separated from his dumbbell cane).
Debut: Late 1910s
The promise: "Double your strength, , and lengthen your life."
Our verdict: Production ended in the '20s, probably because no one bought any, and the few that were sold didn't work. "Any device that can be used to provide resistance to muscles at different angles without injuring the participant has merit," says Seabourne. "But if the muscles themselves aren't doing the work, it doesn't belong in the same class as the Bowflex."
THE BATTLE CREEK VIBRATORY CHAIR
What the hell was it? A spasmodic seat that shook the sitter violently-until he relented and stood up. Conceived by Corn Flakes creator and bowel redeemer John Harvey Kellogg, this one was featured at his Michigan sanitarium.
Debut: Circa 1900
The promise: Being shaken, not stirred, will stimulate intestinal contractions and, therefore, leave you with a cleaner colon.
Our verdict: Sitters surely felt like Wile E. Coyote on "ACME Earthquake Pills." Reminds us of English nannies and baby-shaking scandals. "You might as well have sat on a hansom cab over a back-country road," says Seabourne.
THE SLIM SLIDE FITNESS QUEST
What the hell was it? This "quest" involved, essentially, wearing booties and sliding back and forth on a piece of plastic.
Debut: Totally '80s
The promise: Lunging and slipping like a drunken sorority girl on a freshly waxed floor will build a heroic body.
Our verdict: You would have looked hopelessly foolish, and had the instructional video to prove it. "It trained a bunch of lower-body muscles," says Seabourne, "but it was so boring, it just never caught on." Seabourne does note, however, that this device actually had merit-if you wanted to be a sprint skater: "Used in a cross-training format, it's awesome."
THE IMPERIAL BELT MASSAGER EXERCISE MACHINE
What the hell was it? A motorized belt that fit around the waist, vibrating the midsection.
The promise: Having your booty shaken for you at G-force speeds will literally flap the fat away.
Our verdict: Seems like many a comic device on . "Any machine that does the work for you won't work," says Seabourne. "It's like people who let motorized exercise bikes pedal them."
THE MOLBY REVOLVING HAMMOCK
What the hell was it? A hammock that bore no small resemblance to the rack, complete with chin strap and leg shackles. (Think Pulp Fiction's The Gimp getting medieval on your ass.)
The promise: "Make your spine young!" ads exclaimed. Yes, you too can have "all the keen relish of a healthful existence" when you tangle yourself in a net like a mackerel. The apparatus rolls you from side to side, supposedly straightening your back and improving circulation.
Our verdict: If that is the case, Seabourne wonders, "Why don't the people who ride those 'spinning teacups' at look like Arnold?"
NOTE: Fitness editor Sean Hyson never tried any of these inventions, including the Prostate-Gland Warmer. (Or so he claims.)