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Stroke of luck? Shake Weight (kind of) works to tone arms

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What it is: Shake Weight, $19.95 plus $9.95 postage and handling.

What it claims to do: According to the Shake Weight's website, the Shake Weight is a “revolutionary new way to shape and tone your arms, shoulders and chest,” providing “incredible results” in just six minutes a day by utilizing a new workout technology known as “dynamic inertia.”

Our experience: I first encountered this rather suggestive exercise gadget on Ellen, who repeatedly played the commercials and pumped away at the phallic-shaped device while facetiously claiming it was “working out muscles I have never worked out in my life.” "Saturday Night Live" also took a swipe at the Shake Weight, parodying its slightly pornographic TV commercial with a special Shake Weight Commercial DVD — just for men. It seemed everybody and their brother had taken a shot at the Shake Weight’s priapic gyrations. But what I wanted to know was — did the thing actually work?

Shaped like a streamlined dumbbell, the 2.5-pound hard plastic Shake Weight has springs on either end which allow the user to “shake” the weight back and forth in a rapid motion that’s led to several misconceptions, No.1 being that the device is battery-operated. Sadly, that was not the case. This was one of those exercise gadgets that required actual exercise. Not to worry, though — the Shake Weight promised results in only six minutes a day.

I used the Shake Weight for about four weeks (usually after a run) and to be truthful, I was not completely diligent about using it every single day (although I was pretty diligent about closing the blinds before I popped in the DVD each time). There’s no other way to say this, but using the Shake Weight just looks nasty. It looks nasty when Lindsey, the muscular toothpick in the puce tank top, demonstrates it in the video; it looks nasty while you’re doing it. It even started to sound nasty after a few weeks. “Now squeeze it tight. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze! That’s right, now shake it. Shake, shake, shake! Come on, keep it going. All the way up and all the way down. Niiiiiiiiice job.”

If you can set aside the suggestiveness, though, there is a workout to be had with the Shake Weight. The DVD has you do basic weight training exercises for your shoulders, triceps, biceps, and chest — exercises that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent any time lifting free weights at the gym. What’s different is that a special Shake Weight exercise has been added in for each muscle group (some, like the behind-the-back tricep shake seem rather awkwardly inserted into the routine). I did them all, though, contracting my biceps and chest to shake the plastic dumbbell in front of me, hip hinging forward to “shake it!” beside my butt.

And in answer to Lindsey’s constant query: Yes, I did feel the burn. In my biceps, my triceps, my shoulders — and, the one time I forgot to close the blinds and saw a neighbor peering in at me — in my face.

What the experts say: Jeff Roberts, an exercise physiologist and manager of the Cardiovascular Health and Wellness Center at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland, Wash., says he’s never encountered the Shake Weight or its principle of “dynamic inertia,” but would love to see the scientific studies they mention in the advertising material, especially since they tout “incredible results” with just a two and a half pound weight.

“On the website, it says you get strong, sexy, sculpted arms — they’re promoting strong arms — but I just don’t see how shaking a 2.5 pound weight could do that," Roberts says. "I’m skeptical. It’s not a lot of weight, not a lot of resistance.”

If someone has never exercised before, however, the Shake Weight might have an effect, he admits. “If they’ve done nothing at all, if they’re totally sedentary and at the low end of physical fitness, it probably would help,” he says.

As for other concerns, Roberts says those who use the Shake Weight may want to be wary of repetitive motion injuries, especially if they’re using it a lot. “It’s probably safe from a cardiovascular standpoint but people might develop a soft tissue injury from the repetitive motion in their wrist, elbow or shoulder, like an inflammation of the tendon.”

Bottom line: Jokes aside, the Shake Weight does get you thinking about toned biceps, triceps and shoulders. As for whether it helps you achieve them, I will say that after a month, I was seeing a bit more definition in my arms, although I can’t say whether this was due to the running (and the accompanying weight loss) or the Shake Weight itself. My gut says it was probably a combination of all three.

Will I continue to use the Shake Weight? Probably not. But I do think it’s a good springboard for getting people back on the free weight wagon (I’ve already pulled mine out of the closet) and I have to give them, uh, strokes for that.