My Week With Passive Exercise: Losing Weight Without Working Out?

Photo: Corbis

I think everyone can agree that exercising kind of sucks. It has its good points, to be sure — the physical after-effects are great (you can even look like a superball full of muscles if you want to). It is fun to make cool new gym friends, I have been told. I exercise because I don’t want my legs to look like a half-eaten bowl of Jell-O. I run. I do “ballet barre.” Sometimes I contemplate going to a class called “Barry’s Boot Camp.” But even I can admit that these activities are secretly horrible, that running out of breath is a bore, and that “Barry’s Boot Camp” just sounds mean and upsetting.

So what if you could get the after-effects of exercise without actually, you know, doing a spin class on a Sunday when you could be sleeping? Can you really get skinny from just laying on the floor? I am here to find out just before the summer!  Using a mixture of spa treatments and odd things I bought on Amazon, I will investigate whether one can get the effects (milk) of exercise without buying the cow (ha!).

Basically, I will do a series of things that some people call “passive exercise,” i.e. tricks and tools that promise to make you slim without actually requiring time at the gym. Are these products pipe dreams or do they really work?  I will find out.

“No Gym Required” Shoes

When Sketchers Shape Up shoes were victims of a class action lawsuit  because their entire technological basis was specious (they did not cause people to tone up or lose weight as they claimed and they caused “back problems”) no one was more upset than me, aside from the President of Sketchers. I was an early adopter of those shoes and I thought they were working! I thought they were turning my Jell-O legs into real legs. I didn’t even care that they looked weird and that people looked at me weirdly when I wore them on the street.

Thus, when I found “No Gym Required” shoes while trying to find illegal and possibly used Sketchers on the internet, I was so excited. They are also unattractive sneakers with weight-loss claims attached to them, yet instead of the Shape Up’s uneven insole-of-injury — which purportedly threw you off balance in beneficial ways — they just have weights in their insole. (And gyms have weights!  Do you see how it is no gym required?)  You are supposed to wear the shoes around to do regular activities like walking but because they are really heavy (two pounds per foot) you also “burn extra calories.” On the website, they just look like regular white sneakers with lime green accents. No one has filed a class action lawsuit against them yet!  Sign me up!

When I finally got the shoes in the mail, I was astounded at their heaviness. The sole is so full of weight that your actual foot sits relatively high off the ground. They are like those Isabel Marant wedge sneakers except far more orthopedic looking, possibly because of the aforementioned lime green accents. I decided to wear them on a walk to get an iced coffee.

I was so incredibly tired after my walk to my local Dunkin’ Donuts, I could barely believe it. How is walking in weighted shoes so tough? I was even walking rather slowly, as is my custom. However, one trip to the store became my workout of the day, which is a real time saver. And thus, I am kind of a fan of these shoes. I really think they are working.  My whole leg burned the next day (which is consistent with NGR’s rather ambitious promise of working out every single area of the leg). My foot’s arch hurt in a slightly worrying way but I don’t care. At $59.99, they are sort of a bargain.

Pro: Makes even simple tasks difficult.

Con: My arch hurts.

Fat Girl Slim “Lean Machine”

Bliss Spa, a nationwide spa chain, now offers a new treatment called the “Lean Machine.” It apparently “visibly reduces the appearance of cellulite” and comes with a little leg massager that you can take home with you. Considering I once slathered my legs with baby oil and vacuumed them with a dust-buster (for a journalism experiment that I eventually refused to do because I didn’t want to show a picture of my thighs on the internet) this sounds easy and fun! Sign me up, ok?

So, I headed over to Bliss in midtown with a song in my heart. An aesthetician brushed my body with a body brush (This is apparently what Stacy Kiebler, Betty Grable of our time, does routinely ) and then put a cream called “Fat Girl Slim” on my legs (I don’t know). Then she taught me how to use the “Lean Machine” device, which is sort of like a vacuum that sucks up your cellulite and readjusts it. After the treatment, I definitely felt like the leg that was sucked up looked slightly more taut. When I used the device at home, I was not as good at it. I kept sucking up the back of my leg in a way that was painful, kind of like a forceful pinch. Bliss recommends you use the leg massager everyday until you start noticing “visible results.” Then you can transition to using it three times a week. At $195 for the machine and 30-minute instructional treatment, the system isn’t cheap, nor entirely different from a dust-buster, but it is much easier to use.

Pro: Stacy Keibler/legs.

Con: Is the back of a leg more susceptible to pain than the front of a leg?

Belly Burner Belt

Have you ever seen an ab belt on an infomercial and thought, “That looks amazing?” Me too. That’s why I bought the Belly Burner belt on Amazon, which maintains that you will become a “fat burning machine” just by wearing a black wrestling belt. It even shows a “Thermagraphic Test” (What is this? Can someone tell me? They do not explain it) on the back of the box. There are two pictures, both faintly of abs, that seem to have been subjected to Weather Channel-style satellite vision. The first picture is a person without the Belly Burner on. They have blue abs. The second picture is a person with the Belly Burner on. They have red abs. Did someone say “Sign me up?”  Sign me up!

When I finally receive the Belly Burner in the U.S. mail, I realize it is just a gigantic neoprene belt. It is literally for someone with a 50-inch waist or more! But no matter, I put it on (it has adjustable Velcro), strapped on “No Gym Required” shoes, and headed down to the Container Store with my mom, who was visiting (you are supposed to wear the belt while doing physical activity, such as walking, and what is a better destination than the Container Store, where we could actually lift innumerable organizational tubs?). As soon as I stepped outside, I started sweating profusely all around my midsection. It was nearly 90 degrees outside. According to the Belly Burner box, the belt is creating a “sauna” around your waist that is “melting inches off.” You could also see the belt bulkily peaking out of my clothes. It made me look like I had a severe case of scoliosis. After twenty minutes of torture, and before I even arrived at the Container Store, I took the belt off. If you like sweating in a specific area, for $19.99, this is probably a good deal. Even if the science behind it makes little-to-no sense.

Pro: It does create a sauna around your waist.

Con: Scoliosis.

Seaweed Wrap

The $98 dollar Seaweed Wrap at Dorit Baxter, a spa in New York City, promises to “minimize fat and water weight while toning and tightening” all while a person just lays on a table. It sounds so much easier than Bikram Yoga. Sign me up, please!

When I arrived for my hour-long treatment, I was ushered into a darkened room and directed to lay on a table. There I was massaged in slimming oil, slathered in seaweed (which was apparently from France) and wrapped up in a space blanket (and several more blankets for that matter) like a burrito. Then they left me to sweat into the seaweed. It was actually very pleasant up until the burrito part which was extremely warm (although I suppose that is the point). After twenty minutes or so inside the burrito, I was instructed to take a shower and wash off the seaweed. All that sweating did seem to pay off!  My arms, especially, looked more defined.

Pro: Burrito.

Con: Burrito.

So what have I learned? All exercise, including passive exercise, is hard work. You still have to carve time out of your day to do it, and isn’t that the worst part about exercise? Plus you have to sweat so much to get anything done. There is no free lunch, it turns out.

Passive Exercise: Fitness Without Working Out?