Woman watching infomercial

What works, what doesn't

It's that time of year again - when night and weekend television is filled with infomercial fitness products. Watch the TV spots enough times, and you'll start reaching for your phone to make that call.

These products look tempting with all their before-and-after photos and scientific graphs, but how do you know if they'll work for you? Use these tips before making a purchase and check out some of our favorite (and least favorite) options.

Before making a purchase

There are a few criteria you should keep in mind before caving in to the grand promises of infomercial fitness products:

Commercials run at night for a reason -- you're tired, your inhibitions are lowered and you're more likely to make a purchase. If you see a product you'd like to try while watching TV at night, avoid making an immediate buy. Sleep on it and ask yourself if you really need the product in the morning.

Many infomercial products and programs can work -- but only if you use them! If you're not the type of person who is likely to work out at home, shelling out a lot of cash for home-based products and programs won't suddenly change your fitness-style inclinations. Always make a plan for using the product before making the purchase.

Space can be a factor. If the product you want to buy is big and bulky, make sure you have a place to put it. If your only option is the garage or the guest bedroom, think twice before investing. Will you really put it to use if you have to spend your workouts in an isolated location?

Be wary of the big promises. Getting fit takes time, energy, motivation and persistence. If there's an infomercial product that promises big results without much time or effort, it's probably not as great as it sounds.

The good

If you're going to be working out at home and you need a little help along the way, consider the following infomercial products:

The Wave by The Firm

The Wave by The Firm

The Wave is essentially a combination step/balance product that allows you to perform a number of cardio and resistance exercises. The product's flexibility is exactly why it qualifies as "good." You can use it in conjunction with the provided workout videos or you can incorporate the Wave into your own workout routine. For only $50. it's also affordable, portable and easily storable.

P90X

Beachbody workout programs

Most of the Beachbody workout programs, like P90X, P90X2, ChaLEAN Xtreme, Hip Hop Abs, Turbo Jam and 10-Minute Trainer, are programs that will be effective if you stick with them. The fact is, they get you up off the couch and get you moving, which is what fitness and weight loss is all about. It's important to note, though, that these programs are also quite difficult and may not be appropriate for all individuals. If you're motivated enough to work out at home and stick with the program, there's no real reason not to try them.

Power trainer proPower Trainer Pro

If you like performing pushups, situps and pullups at home, or if you plan on trying a program like P90X that incorporates many of these movements, you may want to pick up the Power Trainer Pro. This doorway pullup bar can also be used for hanging ab work and floor exercises like pushups and situps. The benefit is its flexibility and compact size, which enables you to use it in a variety of ways without taking up too much space.

The bad

Some infomercial equipment just shouldn't be bought. Avoid any items that focus on a single body part or claim you'll slim down and tone your entire body while just working your abs. Also, when you exercise, you want to be able to move your muscles in their full range of motion, so any equipment that looks like it limits movement should stay off your must-purchase list. Here are a few items you should avoid:

Ab Doer TwistAb Doer Twist

There's no reason you need to shell out $200 for the Ab Doer Twist. Pick up an exercise ball and a yoga mat for less than $50 and you can perform all the ab exercises you want.

Flat ab exercises: Top 4 tummy toners >>

Chest Magic

Chest Magic

Any infomercial that claims traditional pushups and pullups are designed for men and aren't appropriate for women should immediately be removed from the "credible" list. Chest Magic isn't worth the money.

Stamina treadmillsStamina bikes and treadmills

Stamina bikes and treadmills aren't very sturdy and don't provide enough variability to fit a wide range of body sizes. This means you'll be forced to use a shortened range of motion on equipment that's not very durable or comfortable.

5 Exercise machines to avoid >>

The ugly

Really? People buy these things? Unless you're buying it as a gag gift, these pieces of equipment probably aren't going to do you a whole lot of good: 

Spin GymSpin Gym

The Spin Gym claims you can tone your entire upper body by simply pulling on a cord. There may be some truth to their claims, but the equipment is flimsy, it requires a shortened range of motion and it doesn't hold a candle to good old-fashioned pushups, pullups and dumbbell exercises.

Free flexorFree Flexor

The Free Flexor is like the Shake Weight 2.0 -- it may be moderately effective at strengthening and toning your arms, but it's so ridiculous (not to mention, um, the way it looks) that no one could possibly use it without laughing. Gag gift? Yes. Serious workout tool? Probably not.

5 Fitness fads to avoid in the New Year >>

More fitness tips and trends

Thinner thighs: 6 moves to leaner legs
Get the most out of your gym membership
10 Fitness tips for winter workouts

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