Image: Slendertone Systems Arm Toner
The Slendertone Systems Arm Toner claims to use clinically demonstrated EMS technology, allowing you to strengthen and tone the triceps muscles of the upper arms.
updated 10/9/2009 9:05:21 AM ET 2009-10-09T13:05:21

When it comes to exercise, most of us are looking for a shortcut, a way to lose weight and firm up without spending endless hours in the gym.

So a funky pair of sneakers that promises to tone the butt and calves sounds appealing. The same for weighted sleeves and stylish ankle weights, or a belt that creators say can shape abdominals, butt and arms.

But how well do such "exercise cheats" measure up to their claims that they'll do the work for you? We sent four products to four experts for their evaluation.

Banglz Wrist Weights, Ankle Weights, from fitnessUwear (starting at $24.95)
The manufacturer says the fashionable, weighted bangles and anklets help the body burn more calories and build muscle. Wear them during everyday activities or for fitness training. The wrist weights help strengthen arms, shoulders, chest and core. The ankle weights work the legs, hips and glutes. Wrist weights come at 1/2 pound ($24.95) or 1 pound ($27.95); ankle weights at 1 pound ($27.95) or 2 pounds ($41.95).

The expert: "I loved the ankle weights," said Leigh Anne Richards, general manager of MetroFitness, a health club in Montgomery, Ala. "I could immediately tell that it was affecting my legs and glutes."

Richards, who has a master's degree in exercise science, said she walked around in them for hours, at work and at home, and could really feel the workout.

As for the wrist weights? "I really could not tell that much of a difference with those unless I was doing some form of exercise such as kickboxing," she said. "Granted, I am in good physical shape."

The verdict: The wrist weights were too light to feel any benefit from just walking around with them, she said. "However, I did think the ankle weights could really be beneficial for the lower body as people move around during the day."

Skechers Shape-ups (starting at $110)
Chunky fashionable sneakers designed to promote weight loss, firm calf and butt muscles, improve posture and strengthen the back. They have a soft kinetic wedge insert and a rolling bottom to simulate walking barefoot on the sand. Several styles and colors available for men and women.

The expert: "I must say that they are actually kind of cute," said Michele Olson, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University-Montgomery in Alabama.

Her first impression, though, was the heaviness of the shoe. She had to get used to the clunky feeling.

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"I could feel it working in my calves and the arches of my feet," she said. "I had to keep my balance in check."

Olson said she was expending more energy, but isn't sure if that was because of the shoe's weight (similar to strapping on ankle weights) or the shape of the sole.

As for posture, she didn't feel much difference, but as a former gymnast, she has no issues there.

The verdict: "Maybe. I think if you are trying to shape up, it's more important what you do in the shoes than any shoe per se," she said. "If you like wearing these shoes walking, that's fine.

"If you are looking for weight loss from wearing them every day, I don't see that happening."

BodyTogs ($69.95/pair for arms, $79.95/pair for legs)
Weighted "sleeves" thin enough to be worn under regular clothing. Developed by a bariatric physician, they add 4 to 7 pounds to help you burn more calories, lose weight and improve overall fitness. The company says wearing BodyTogs on forearms and legs for up to 10 hours a day may be as effective as a two-mile run.

The expert:  "We saw an increase in heart rate with the BodyTogs," said Frank Wyatt, an associate professor of kinesiology at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. He had two students wear the product while walking on a treadmill for 20 minutes.

But while the students were expending more energy and burning more calories with the sleeves on, they complained that they were "awkward, hot and scratchy," he said. The students said that wearing them for day-to-day activities was unlikely because they were uncomfortable.

The verdict: Wyatt said he would need more time and test subjects to do a complete assessment. But the initial findings showed "increased work" from wearing the BodyTogs, he said.

Slendertone (from $99 to $179.99)
Slendertone is a belt that uses Electronic Muscle Stimulation technology to create deep yet comfortable contractions in all three of the major abdominal muscles.

Gentle signals get sent through medical-grade gel pads, the company says. The products include three garments that are worn directly against the skin, targeting muscles in the arms, core and butt. You control the intensity and duration.

The expert:  "It kind of feels like a tingling sensation," said Tim Derrick, an associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State in Ames, who wore the ab-toning belt for 20 minutes while walking the halls.

Derrick said he read the six-week clinical study that was done on the belt and it was "fairly sound." More than 90 percent of the participants felt more firmness in their abs.

But he said the product alone was unlikely to make someone slender; he noted that the company says that for best results, it should be combined with healthy eating and regular, moderate exercise.

"It's probably not going to give you a six-pack," he said. "The contractions are not that strong. If you're lying on your back and it stimulates your abdominals, it's not going to make you do a sit-up. It would be better to just do sit-ups, but it's more work."

The verdict: "It's not going to help a weightlifter," he said. "Someone who like me doesn't have time to work out, it would probably benefit them, in terms of increased strength and endurance."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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