Visit Japan in late December and you'll find most households are busy doing ōsoji, roughly translating to "big cleaning". Just as Western cultures have the concept of spring cleaning, Japan has the tradition of tidying up the home in preparation for New Year's Day, the biggest and most important holiday of the Japanese calendar.This means that around the end of the year, trash collection areas (there's one on every street) start to get full with all the flotsam and jetsam of the previous 12 months. You'll see a lot of bundled magazines and manga books, corroded pots and pans, and broken appliances appearing in the trash overnight.
It was during this season that I was on a chilly jog through a backstreet of Yokohama. I turned a corner and saw something leaning against the trash collection point and from 100 meters away I instantly knew what it was. As I trotted up to it I pulled out my phone and snapped some photos. Behold!
What is this odd flying saucer contraption? It's none other than the infomercial fitness gadget the Ab Circle Pro! I had never seen one in the wild before, and was fortunate to capture this magnificent specimen at the end of its life-cycle.
Here the creature is in all its late-night-informercial splendor, photographed with its symbiotic partner, bikini model Jennifer Nicole Lee:
I hate this thing for a lot of reasons big and small. Let's start with the obvious and work our way up.
This product is stupid
The Ab Circle has you resting on your knees, swinging your hips left and right along a circular track. This movement calls on your abdominus rectus, internal and external oblique muscles, and additional support from the serratus anterior and the core in general. That's all well and good, but what the commercial doesn't tell you is that these muscles are quite easily accessed by dozens of exercises that don't require a hundred dollar contraption, that will in fact deliver better toning in less time.
The Ab Circle's lack of resistance (you're only working against a bit of gravity and the friction of the plastic roller on the track) means that adequately stimulating the target muscle takes several minutes of swinging. In that time you could have hit your entire core both smarter and harder. For example, the three exercise combo below done for 3 sets of 20 reps each would take about 5 minutes and leave you gasping with muscle fatigue across your obliques and abs. Don't take my word on this, try it yourself!
(3 sets x 20 reps each - Alternating Cross Crunch / Leg Shears / X-Sits)
This product lies
The Ab Circle promises to reduce love handles and flatten the stomach. It never states it outright, but it wants you to make the conclusion that the place where you're feeling muscle burn will somehow be translated into fat loss in that area. This is simply not how the body works. Anyone with the most rudimentary understanding of anatomy knows this, and it's a sure bet that the Ab Circle team knows this as well. Despite being careful in their wording they ran afoul of the Fair Trade Commission and ended losing a 25-million-dollar class action lawsuit. I'm sure they lost a lot of sleep about that 25 million as they slept on the piles of profit many multiples larger than that.
I don't know know how someone gets up every day and puts their energy and intellect into selling a dishonest product. I find it contemptible.
This product is wasteful
Everything about the Ab Circle results in waste. Wasted energy spent harvesting the metals and plastics, wasted use of human inventiveness and problem solving, wasted time, money and effort by the people attempting to use this to get fitness results, and at the end of the day, literal waste, as this thing is headed to a landfill where it will rust and decompose for decades to come.
This product kills the human spirit
There's something in people I call "the spark". This is that little microburst of energy that comes when we get a peek at a world where we're living closer to our ideals. Maybe it's imagining a job that provides meaning and satisfaction, or envisioning the body you see in the mirror looking as strong and capable as the mind inside it.
The spark is precious. It's the thing that keeps people up late working on the pet-projects that become new businesses. It's the drive that leads an out of shape person to say "enough is enough" and start the process of making real change. When nurtured the spark becomes the kindling that leads to the bonfire.
The Ab Circle and its ilk take the spark and spit on it. They use that innate drive to be a better person and reroute it towards vacuous consumerism. And when the product fails, as it inevitably will, the take away from the disappointed person is that the spark is an illusion, that it's something that should doused and buried and forgotten.
The reality is that this drive improve to is our single most powerful, important quality. It's what makes life worth living. Don't spend your time and money on things that don't cultivate your inner spark.
"The Ab Circle and its ilk take the spark and spit on it. They use that innate drive to be a better person and reroute it towards vacuous consumerism."
I've been writing this type of post for years, and I'll continue to write them. These products and their advertisements are relentless, it's my own personal mission to be just as relentless calling out these crappy, gimmicky, wasteful approaches to fitness.
Doing research for this post, I discovered that the Ab Circle is no longer being manufactured, although it appears they continue to sell their old stock until the very last bit of profit is extracted from the public. But have no fear, your ineffective ab product industry is alive and well. Just ask the makers of the Ab Slider, The Ab Wave, The Ab-doer Twist! and the Ab Coaster, among many many others.
I have little hope that these products will ever go away, but I do get a glimmer of happiness knowing that we're part of a movement of people who are whole-heartedly rejecting the quick fix approach to fitness and are making real change in the world. Why settle for an Ab Circle when you can have a full REVOLUTION!