Feature Article - March 2005
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Fresh Fitness Checkup

Fitness equipment and programming: One doesn't work without the other, and both are changing

By Kyle Ryan

The idea behind it sounds enticing: A long, vibrating belt connected to a motor literally shakes the fat around a person's midsection until it breaks down and dissipates—no personal exertion necessary. The vibrating-belt machine sounded too good to be true, and like a lot of miraculous fitness inventions, it was. Scientists dismissed the machines' claims as quackery not long after their peak in the middle 20th century, even speculating that they could be harmful.

In the information age, ideas and theories come and go with startling speed. Just in the past decade, fitness practices have changed considerably.

"Ten years ago, the things we thought about fitness and training, 50 percent of them aren't true anymore," says Sherry Catlin, fitness instructor and IDEA Health & Fitness Association's 2004 Program Director of the Year.

She remembers old strength-training classes that used 16 pieces of equipment because instructors only knew five exercises to do with each one. Now some classes use a medicine ball—that's it.

Catlin's memories sound less preposterous than the old vibrating- belt machines, but even those still linger on the Internet. For a few hundred dollars, consumers can buy new and improved versions, which also claim to stimulate acupressure points.

"I wouldn't expect to see those in clubs again, though," Catlin says, laughing.