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This is a re-release of my original Ab Circle Pro article which I published in 2010 on a different website. At the time, the article went viral within the fitness industry and was referenced by regulatory agencies in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

The company was fined $25 million dollars in 2012 by the Federal Trade Commission for making false claims which eventually contributed to the company going out of business.

I have been asked numerous times to republish the article since the device is still being sold on the second-hand market.


Infomercial hype or help?

The Ab Circle Pro is a home exercise machine promoted by Jennifer Nicole Lee through infomercials, websites, and TV shopping networks.

According to advertisements, it combines cardiovascular and abdominal exercise to target the abdominal, oblique, hip, and thigh muscles and help you lose belly fat.

The two main exercises shown in promotional materials include a side to side swinging pendulum motion for the mid-section and a forward and backwards movement purportedly for the hips and thighs.

Promoters claim the product delivers “faster results than anything else around.” Emotional testimonials are interspersed throughout the pitch to further underscore and personify key marketing messages.

While this makes for effective sales copy, an independent (unbiased/non-commercial) critical analysis of Ab Circle Pro marketing claims is warranted. Therefore, the purpose of this review is to:

  • Categorically evaluate each Ab Circle Pro claim from a science-based perspective
  • Discuss consumer complaint records
  • Provide an overall summary of findings and make recommendations

Accuracy of review

To ensure accuracy of marketing claims in this review, I transcribed a 10 minute Ab Circle Pro infomercial which was posted to YouTube. All of the following product claims are taken verbatim from the clip.

Claim 1: “The most innovative piece of exercise equipment ever”

It is merely the opinion of the company that this is the most innovative piece of exercise equipment ever. No objective scale exists for quantifying the “innovativeness” of a product.

Claim 2: “With the Ab Circle Pro System, we guarantee you’ll lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in just 2 weeks”

The company was very meticulous with the wording of this claim. If you look carefully, they explicitly state “with the Ab Circle Pro SYSTEM you will lose 10 pounds in two weeks.

According to the website, “the complete Ab Circle Pro SYSTEM includes the machine, a reduced calorie diet, and express workout DVD.” However, the infomercial disproportionately promotes the machine by mentioning the product by name 28 times (once every 21 seconds), compared to only six times for the ‘System” (once every 1 minute 40 seconds).

If you’re not paying close attention to the phrasing, you might be led to believe the Ab Circle Pro machine ALONE will result in 10 pounds of weight loss.

Promoters claim you can lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in two weeks? This begs the question: “10 pounds of WHAT?”

Notice the units of measure are conspicuously absent. From a legal standpoint, it would be an unrealistic and misleading statement to say you could lose 10 pounds of STORED BODY FAT in two weeks. Losing “weight” on the scale is ambiguous and gives no indication of the actual composition of lost weight (i.e., how much water, muscle glycogen [stored carbohydrate], muscle, and fat).

Losing 10 pounds of stored body fat, on the other hand, is an entirely different ball of butter.

As an exercise physiologist, I like to use numbers to illustrate the difficulty of FAT loss.

  • One pound (~1/2 kg) of stored body fat = 3500 calories (14,700 kJ) worth of stored energy
  • 3,500 calories x 10 lb of fat = 35,000 calories (147,000 kJ) in 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of fat
  • 35,000 calories ÷ 14 days (2 weeks) = 2,500 calorie (10,500 kJ) deficit required per day

*Metric conversion: 1 calorie = 4.2 kilojoules

Based on this calculation, you must expend (via physical activity) an additional 2500 calories (or eat 2500 less) over and above the amount of calories you need to maintain your current fat stores EACH day for 14 days in order to lose 10 pounds of stored body fat.

Alternatively, you could eat 2,500 calories per day less than your daily energy requirements—or a combination of moving more and eating less.

According to Associate Professor Amanda Salis from the University of Sydney’s Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders, “the average 140-pound (64 kg) woman needs around 2500 calories per day or less to meet her energy requirements (and therefore maintain her weight), so this doesn’t leave much lettuce to enjoy every day.”

Safe and healthy fat loss should be around 1 to 2 pounds (about ½ to 1 kg) per week accomplished by decreasing daily food intake by about 250 calories and increasing energy expenditure by 250 calories per day.

As a general rule of thumb, many health practitioners discourage rapid weight loss and generally recommend dieters not reduce calories to less than 1,200 calories per day without supervision by a qualified physician or registered dietitian.

Calorie counting aside, even small dietary changes can have a lasting effect on weight loss.

“If you cut out foods or caloric beverages you consume when you’re not physically hungry, and if your diet is reasonably healthy (i.e., it includes adequate fruits and vegetables every day), then you will automatically start losing excess weight at a safe and healthy rate. It’s vital not to eat too little, otherwise you’ll activate your body’s famine reaction which will slow your metabolic rate and contribute to rebound weight regain,” Dr. Salis adds.

Now let’s look at the actual contribution of exercise to the fat loss equation. The Compendium of Physical Activity Codes and MET Intensities from Ainsworth et al. is a widely respected resource which provides an estimate of caloric expenditure for common exercises. The authors indicate one MET (metabolic equivalent) is equivalent to approximately one calorie per kilogram of body weight per hour. So as an example, a 154 pound (70 kg) person doing a 4 MET activity would expend about 280 calories per hour.

Looking at the following MET levels of common activities most people could reasonably be expected to do, you can see it requires some serious time investment and elbow grease to burn the equivalent energy of 2500 calories worth of stored fat by exercise alone. Based on this, it is obvious that to lose 10 pounds of stored body fat in two weeks, you would have to help it along with a reduced calorie diet.

METSActivityCal/hour Hours to burn 2500 calories
3.3Walking (3mph, moderate pace)23110.82
6.0Jazzercise4205.95
7.0Rowing at 100 watts (moderate effort)4905.10
8.0Bicycling 12-13.9 mph (moderate effort)5604.46
10.0Step Aerobics (10-12 inch step)7003.57
**metric conversion: 1 calorie = 4.2 kilojoules

 

Bottom line
It is highly unlikely you will lose 10 pounds of STORED BODY FAT in two weeks. Losing 10 pounds of absolute scale weight (irrespective of composition) is comparably easier than losing 10 pounds of stored fat. Remember, it took you a lifetime to put it all on and it certainly isn’t going to melt away over night. Any radical reduction in energy intake may activate the famine response and force your body into fat conservation mode. Safe and healthy fat loss is a slow process and should be accomplished with comprehensive long-term lifestyle modification.


Claim 3: “…it’s fun and easy, and takes just 3 minutes a day”

According to the infomercial, you can expect incredible results in “just three minutes a day!” Note the phrasing of this claim does not explicitly state three minutes a day on the machine, but in context refers to the Ab Circle Pro System (which also includes the reduced calorie diet and exercise DVD).

I’ll be honest, until I went back and carefully reread the transcript, I interpreted this as “three minutes of exercise on the Ab Circle Pro machine each day for 14 days will result in a 10 pound loss of scale weight (of undefined composition).

Now, wait just a second! I think this legal loophole may actually be a hangman’s noose. Taking the company to task on this claim, doesn’t “it’s fun and easy” refer to using the machine? Are you now telling me that three “fun and easy” minutes a day on the Ab Circle Pro machine can strip off 10 pounds of fat in two weeks? After all, how can you do the entire SYSTEM in three minutes a day? Obviously it would take longer than three minutes to prepare and eat meals, watch their DVDs, and do three minutes of exercise on the machine!

I acknowledge that the company is NOT promising 10 pounds of fat loss using only the  machine, but I think it is important to understand what contribution three minutes on the machine makes to the daily energy balance equation independent of dietary changes. If you were interested in burning the equivalent energy in 10 pounds of stored body fat (35,000 calories) how many weeks would it take doing three minutes of exercise per day? In all fairness to the Ab Circle Pro, because this device is not yet listed on the Compendium of Physical Activities list, let’s cede the benefit of the doubt by casting a wide net and choosing an exercise modality performed at an extremely high intensity. For illustration purposes, I have chosen running at 10.9 mph (or 17.6 kph) which constitutes a 5.5 minute per mile pace (very fast) and is the highest intensity exercise on the list at 18 METs. This would subsume any other exercise of lower relative intensity which, in my professional opinion, would include the Ab Circle Pro machine.

Just how many weeks would it take to lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of fat doing 3 minutes of exercise per day?

About 79.4 weeks!

Consider the following example for a 154 pound (70 kg) person:

  • 18 METs = 18 calories per kilogram of body weight per hour, so:
  • 18 calories x 70 kg (154 lb) person = 1,260 calories expended per hour
  • 1,260 calories ÷ 60 minutes in one hour = 21 calories expended per minute
  • 21 calories per minute x 3 minutes = 63 calories per three minute exercise session per day
  • 35,000 calories ÷ 63 exercise calories per day = 555.6 days or 79.4 weeks

Moral of the story: Doing three minutes of exercise per day, it would take you a little over one year and seven months to lose 10 pounds of fat (with no nutrition modification).

Clearly the relative contribution of three minutes of even extremely high intensity exercise is quite small and would be significantly smaller for a beginner who can only tolerate very low to moderate intensity exercise.

It is evident that the remaining 2,437 daily calories (2500 – 63) would have to be compensated for by diet. As a health care professional, I believe a drastic calorie reduction of this magnitude would be unsafe for most people.

Bottom line
I am concerned that the infomercial mentions the machine 28 times (once every 21 seconds) compared to only six times for the collective Ab Circle Pro System (once every 1:40 seconds).  This is an important point because I believe it gives consumers the impression that three minutes a day on the exercise machine will deliver these great results. Moreover, it doesn’t mention the additional time it would take to implement the rest of the Ab Circle Pro System in their lives.  It is possible the supplementary resource materials recommend doing more than three minutes a day, but this is not mentioned anywhere in the 10 minute infomercial I viewed—i.e., you need to buy the product first before they spill the beans that it’ll take more than three minutes a day.

Claim 4: “…ordinary equipment just goes back and forth but doesn’t burn fat!”

ab circle pro

This claim is unsubstantiated and highly misleading. Any exercise, even traditional crunches, will burn calories and contribute to the overall caloric deficit required for reducing body fat. In exercise physiology laboratories, we use the “Respiratory Exchange Ratio” or RER to determine the relative contribution of fat versus carbohydrate burnt during exercise. Very simply, an RER of 0.7 indicates fat oxidation, 1.0 indicates carbohydrate use, and 0.85 is approximately a 50/50 mix of both fuels. As a general rule, lower intensity activities measure closer to 0.7 (fat burning) and move up the scale towards 1.0 (carbohydrate burning) with increasing exercise intensity (i.e., huffing and puffing).

Now, pay attention because this is where it gets confusing for many people.  You may have been lead to believe that the fuel used during exercise is all that matters in the fat loss equation, but this is not necessarily the case. For example, while it is true that very high intensity sprinting will burn predominantly carbohydrate (sugar) as a fuel source DURING exercise, it is false to suggest it will have no impact on stored body fat—seen any obese sprinters lately? If at the end of the day there is a calorie deficit (i.e., you burned off more calories than you ate), then your body will pull fat out of storage to justify this caloric deficit irrespective of which fuel was used during exercise.

Bottom line
With regards to this particular claim, the company should be held accountable to federal regulatory agencies to provide supportive, independently corroborated evidence that: 1) a traditional crunch “does not burn fat;” and 2) the Ab Circle Pro machine is superior to comparable exercises.

Note: in 2012, the makers of the Ab Circle Pro were fined 25 million dollars by the Federal Trade Commission which eventually led to them being shut down.

Claim 5: “These machines burn fat but won’t flatten your abs!”

ab circle pro flatten abs

This claim is also very misleading and is couched in the myth of “spot-reduction”—the belief that you can selectively strip off certain parts of the body. The treadmill and stationary bike (shown in the infomercial) do not specifically target the abdominal musculature per se, but they do burn calories and, if performed regularly, will contribute to the overall energy deficit necessary for reducing body fat—including abdominal fat. For example, even if you performed no abdominal exercises whatsoever, you could still lose inches around your waist provided you’re burning enough calories each day. On the other hand, you could do 1000 sit ups a day yet never see your abdominal muscles until you (eventually) lose the subcutaneous fat between the skin and muscle.

Bottom line
Overall, this claim misleads consumers into thinking other forms of exercise have no practical value whatsoever, and that the Ab Circle Pro is superior in some way. “Ripped abs” are merely the appearance of tight skin over muscle and are a combined function of diet, exercise, and overall calorie deficit (and genetic and hormonal factors) than “miracle breakthrough” exercises.

Claim 6: “In fact, 3 minutes on the Ab Circle Pro is equal to over 100 sit-ups!”

ab circle pro 100 sit ups

This claim is misleading because it is stated as if it were an irrefutable fact written in stone. However, there is no mention of how this was determined. What are the units of measure for comparison? Did they look at the number of calories burned? Did they use electromyography (EMG) to compare levels of muscle activation and motor unit recruitment patterns? This is an “apples to oranges” comparison. The standard crunch featured at the 1:19 time stamp is performed in the sagittal plane (forward flexion) whereas the Ab Circle Pro is a side to side movement which occurs in the frontal plane (lateral spinal flexion). They’re completely different movement patterns. How do they correlate the two to make a reliable comparison?

Bottom line
This claim raises more questions than answers. The manufacturer should be held accountable to marketing regulatory agencies worldwide to produce objective independent evidence to support this claim. Further to my discussion above, even if three minutes on the machine was equal to over 100 sit ups, a flat belly is still a function of overall daily energy balance.


Claim 7: “…get your cardio and abs workout all at once. It’s like a treadmill for your abs. And best of all, it only takes 3 minutes a day!”

ab circle pro abs and cardio

I do not doubt the Ab Circle Pro can provide some semblance of a combined cardio and abs workout. But just as three minutes of exercise alone is unlikely to result in any appreciable calorie deficit (see above discussion), neither am I convinced this duration is sufficient to induce any significant cardiovascular training effect. In fact, this claim confounds responsible health messages from reputable health promotion organizations. The updated joint American College of Sports Medicine and American Heart Association guidelines for physical activity and health recommend at least 30 minutes of accumulated moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days per week, or 20 minutes of vigorous activity at least 3 times per week.

Bottom line
For many exercisers, the first three to five minutes are spent warming up, let alone as a complete workout. Again, it is possible the company’s resource materials might advise users to work towards longer exercise durations, but such recommendations are conspicuously absent from the infomercial.

Claim 8: “…the secret is the Ab Circle Pro’s unique circular motion that uses gravity to help you swing your torso. Instead of having gravity working against you, now it’s working with you.”

ab circle pro circular force

This statement relies on faulty logic. Gravity “working against you” can actually be a good thing. In exercise physiology language, the “overload principle” holds that in order to effect change in the body, there must be a stimulus placed on it at levels above and beyond that which it is normally accustomed. For example, a weight lifter must lift progressively heavier weights to increase strength. A marathon runner must run progressively longer to improve endurance. So in the case of a standard squat, you can work against gravity on the lifting (concentric) phase or with it on the lowering (eccentric) phase when your muscles are lengthening under tension and must resist gravity in a controlled manner. In short, gravity is not the evil villain self-proclaimed “fitness celebrity” Jennifer Nicole Lee says it is. It can, in fact, be an effective tool for improving fitness.

In the case of the Ab Circle Pro, the pendulum-like motion allows the exerciser to build up momentum on the downward phase and then use it to swing up the opposite side. This would appear to reduce the degree of overload because the momentum compensates for the muscles and reduces demands placed on them.

According to Anthony Carey, M.A., biomechanist and CEO/founder of Function First in San Diego, California (www.functionfirst.com), “the only positive benefit to the abs (in lateral flexion only) is the “braking” effect that appears to be necessary at the end of the range of motion to reverse directions.”

Although advertisers do not claim this to be a “functional” movement, the exercise physiologist in me questions whether the training effect on this machine has much, if any, carry over to the real world or specific sports activities.

The “specificity principle” holds that specific demands elicit specific adaptations in the body. On the machine, exercise is limited to the same guided circular motion. This raises the question, “what do you do in your regular daily life that mimics the Ab Circle Pro action?”

“Ironically, the ease of use of the machine is also its greatest limitation”

Biomechanist Anthony Carey, MA

“Because the movement is so stable and predictable, neuromuscular efficiency will improve rapidly with associated diminishing returns by the user. Ironically, the ease of use of the machine is also its greatest limitation,” Carey adds.

Bottom line
Overall, this is a highly misleading claim and displays what I believe to be ignorance on the part of the company and Jennifer Nicole Lee towards basic principles of biomechanics. In all fairness, the machine may contribute to overall daily energy expenditure (albeit small) but because of the repetitive/guided movement pattern, don’t expect the machine to train you for that upcoming 10K fun run.

Claim 9: (Chiropractor endorsement)“I would definitely recommend the Ab Circle Pro because it takes all the pressure off your neck and your low back and allows your body just to work your abdominal muscles and your core muscles. That’s why you get results so fast.”

ab circle pro neck

This testimonial is a bit ambiguous and must be carefully interpreted. What does the chiropractor specifically mean by “takes all the pressure off your neck and low back?” Any muscle contraction, be it isometric or dynamic, introduces tension into the muscle. By the very nature of the Ab Circle Pro movement patterns, the unit activates the muscles of the neck and low back. First, the arm, shoulder, upper back, and neck muscles must fire to assist in stabilizing the upper torso while the lower aspect of the upper body swings side to side. The thermal imaging clip (above) clearly shows the upper trapezius muscles are red which, according to the company’s advertising, indicates the muscles are working.

Second, with regards to the lower back, the side to side movement pattern of the Ab Circle Pro causes lateral flexion of the spine (side bending). Look at any basic kinesiology 101 textbook and you will see that both the quadratus lumborum and the collective erector spinae muscle group, both of which have anatomical origins on the lumbar vertebrae, are involved in lateral spinal flexion. Simply, the Ab Circle Pro “pendulum” exercise cannot be performed without activation of the muscles of the lower back.

In a recent communication with Anthony Carey, he expressed the following observations:

“After carefully reviewing the various users in the video, you can see that their ability to control their lumbar extension is questionable as gravity pulls down on the internal viscera creating lumbar extension. For some users, increased lumbar extension and hyper extension will close down the lumbar facets; the joints where later flexion will occur.”

“Another concern for this kind of motion is for anyone that has even minor scoliosis of any origin (i.e., functional due to a functional leg length discrepancy, idiopathic or congenital). Lateral flexion of the scoliotic spine is always coupled with rotation. This can be a serious issue forcing motion at spinal segments above and below the curve.”

Claim 10: “Just by removing the Ab Circle Pro’s center locking pin, you now have a freestyle workout that actually turns the Ab Circle Pro into a bun and thigh machine. By performing the inner and outer motion, you can tighten, firm, and tone your buns, hips, and thighs.”

ab circle pro buns and thighs

This claim is not overtly false, but must be carefully evaluated for what the advertisement says and what consumer expectations might be. Looking at the biomechanics of the movement pattern at the 6:36 time stamp (right), the lift appears to be accomplished by the combined action of the hip flexor (iliopsoas and rectus femoris) muscles (the crease where your hip meets your front thigh) and abductor (gluteus medius and minimus) muscles on the upper side aspect of the hips. As the hips bilaterally flex and abduct, there also appears to be internal hip rotation during the concentric portion (upward phase) which would further emphasize the anterior fibres of the gluteus medius and the tensor fascia latae.

On the other hand, the gluteus maximus, that thick meaty part of the hips that consumers spend millions trying to shrink, is virtually excluded—or very minimally involved—from the main movement pattern. Any minor hip extension that does occur goes unresisted and only occurs passively as the hip flexors and abductors work eccentrically to lower your body weight against gravity back to the starting position. In order to activate the gluteus maximus, you would actually need to do the opposite motion (hip extension) of what is seen in the infomercial.

Bottom line
How ironic this “bun and thigh machine” doesn’t really work the buns or thighs! After careful review of the video, the machine’s movement pattern appears to target the upper front thighs around the inguinal crease and the upper/outer hips, but not the glamour muscle (gluteus maximus). Activities such as good old-fashioned walking and biking do a great job working all the muscles of the lower body through movement patterns the way nature intended—and best of all, they’re free!


Claim 11: “It will actually cut your workout time in half. And you’ll get yourself in the target heart rate zone faster than any other aerobic machines in the gym. No other ab machines in the world can give you a cardio workout like this”

ab circle pro target heart rate

Cut my workout time in half? So instead of my usual six-minute workout, now I only have to work out for three minutes? Hmm, I don’t think I’ve seen any compelling evidence that even six minutes a day is sufficient to effect any significant improvements in fitness.

Regarding target heart rate, the graph used to support this claim (right) is completely worthless in this context. The image only displays target heart rates but does not provide any indicators of exercise intensity or time. Therefore, any meaningful comparison cannot be made.

The time to reach your target heart rate zone is not dependent upon which machine you use, but instead on the subjective effort (intensity) of the individual exerciser per unit of time. For example, irrespective of machine choice (Ab Circle Pro, treadmill, bike, etc), if you’re exercising at a slow pace then your heart rate will not climb very much. On the other hand, if you crank up the intensity and start pushing hard in a short period of time, then your heart rate will increase rapidly and you’ll reach your target heart rate zone faster.

The assertion that “no other ab machine in the world can give you a cardio workout like this” is merely the opinion of the Ab Circle Pro company. By the way, I’m the world’s greatest exercise physiologist—Prove me wrong!

Bottom line
This claim graphically illustrates the company’s ignorance to basic exercise physiology concepts and perpetuates the misguided notion that you must be in your so-called “fat-burning zone” in order to lose weight.

Claim 12: “You’ll get the results that you want in just 2 weeks. In fact, this independent study proves it. Just listen to this. Sit ups just work your lower and upper abs. But look, this thermal imaging proves that the Ab Circle Pro targets your entire core a complete 360 degrees. And look at this, it fires up faster than working on a treadmill so you burn fat faster. The Ab Circle Pro is like a treadmill for your abs!”

ab circle pro thermal imaging ab circle pro thermal imaging

I find this claim is so confusing and misleading that I almost don’t even know where to begin. First, Jennifer Nicole Lee refers to an “independent study.” How exactly does she define “study?” What study? Who conducted it? How many subjects? What was the statistical power? Was it a randomized controlled trial? Was this study published? If so, what journal? Was it a peer-reviewed journal? I performed a search on the Medline database and did not find a single peer-reviewed scientific article for the Ab Circle Pro.

Second, it is true that the Ab Circle Pro machine will engage your core musculature. However, the thermal images displayed as “proof” that the “Ab Circle Pro targets your entire core” only reflect warm blood being drawn into those regions. It is also true that any abdominal exercise will draw blood to the core region. It would have been useful to see a comparison of the Ab Circle Pro to other abdominal exercises.

Electromyography (EMG) would have given a more accurate reflection of muscle activation and sequencing. For example, a 1997 study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise and carried out by Dr. Peter Francis at San Diego State University used EMG and found that, of all the machines on the market at that time, bicycle crunches (which in spite of the name requires no machine) were more effective than using any external pieces of equipment.

Third, the claim that the Ab Circle Pro fires up your core “faster than working on a treadmill so you burn fat faster” is another invalid and misleading “apples to oranges” comparison. The Ab Circle Pro is predominantly an upper body apparatus whereas the treadmill mainly targets the lower body musculature. Therefore, there can be no realistic expectation that a treadmill will “fire up your core,” nor can you expect to train for a 10K run by doing only abdominal exercises.

Bottom line
The onus is on the Ab Circle Pro company to provide more conclusive, independently corroborated data to regulatory agencies before making claims that this product is superior to other exercises or machines on the market. Any assertion to the contrary is merely unsubstantiated opinion and/or conjecture on the part of promoters.

Claim 13: “The Ab Circle Pro is the last ab machine you will ever need, because now you can replace your long and boring workout with my short and fun easy to do workouts that are ‘clinically proven’ to be more effective.”

This is yet another ambiguous claim which is left open for interpretation by the consumer. Jennifer Nicole Lee claims her workouts are “clinically proven to be more effective” but compared to what exercise(s)? What ab machine? Precisely how does she define “clinically proven?” This kind of terminology conjures up images in my mind of strictly controlled clinical research studies that prove the device works. To the best of my knowledge, I am unaware of any published peer-reviewed articles in the medical literature which support this contention.

Bottom line
Buyer beware when it comes to technical jargon and terminology. The terms “clinically proven” can mean anything and should not necessarily be interpreted as the end-all be-all final word. There are no stringent laws on the books which define the boundaries of this phrase.

Safety issues

I am unaware of any serious safety issues associated with using this product. Various Ab Circle Pro message boards across the internet are full of mixed reviews. Some people have complained of neck, back, and knee pain while others have declared it the best thing since sliced bread.

Based upon my observations, the machine appears to offer a relatively low to moderate intensity workout and is not fully weight-bearing due to your body weight being supported by the handles and knee pads. Because the infomercial recommends only three minutes a day on the machine, I don’t believe this is enough time to do any serious harm, let alone offer a complete workout. I strongly recommend people with pre-existing medical issues (i.e., previous heart attack, stroke, arthritis, or other musculoskeletal problems) see their physicians before working out on this or any piece of medical equipment.

I did not see any medical disclaimer on the main ACP website, but did find one on the online store site at the very bottom in tiny print:

WARNING: The information in this product represents the opinions of the author and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should consult with your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program, especially if you have any history of medical problems or conditions. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately.

Auckland, New Zealand-based Registered Psychologist Deanna Sanders, MSc, PGDipHlthPsych has concerns about the psychological impact on users who are not successful with the product. “It is possible that due to the unrealistic claims made about the Ab Circle Pro System’s effectiveness, consumers who try it and fail to achieve the advertised results may experience reduced self-efficacy about their ability to lose weight. This, in turn, may result in them making less effort to lose weight in the future, potentially resulting in weight-related health complications.”

Product complaints

At the time of this writing, the Los Angeles Better Business Bureau (BBB) gave the Ab Circle Pro an “F” rating. The BBB “strongly questions the company’s reliability for reasons such as they have failed to respond to complaints, their advertising is grossly misleading, they are not in compliance with the law’s licensing or registration requirements, their complaints contain especially serious allegations, or the company’s industry is known for its fraudulent business practices.”

In my research for this article, I reviewed countless Ab Circle Pro internet message boards and have boiled down the complaints to several key areas:

Knee pads

ab circle pro knee pads

A number of consumers made comments about the knee pads (right), claiming they were uncomfortable or caused pain. Others said they kept slipping out of the machine. The company has responded on some occasions by saying a comfort insert is available.

Based on my clinical experience working with morbidly obese patients, I believe there will invariably be a subset of the consumer population that will be too large to fit into the knee pads. Or if they do, it may be a tight fit which could plausibly cause some discomfort.

Poor quality product

Although the company claims the product is made of “gym quality steel that’s built to last a lifetime, I saw a consumer testimonial on the Ab Circle Pro Facebook page from a 120 pound woman which stated quite the opposite, complaining it fell apart within three weeks.

Price

Depending on where you purchase the Ab Circle Pro, you can expect to pay around $200 to $250 US dollars. For a number of consumers, price complaints mainly stemmed from what they deemed to be a poor quality product and abysmal customer service.

Customer service

I came across numerous complaints regarding Ab Circle Pro’s customer service. Some people were able to resolve their issues, while others were still in limbo at the time of their post.

The verdict

After reviewing the infomercial, website, and product information, in my professional opinion, the Ab Circle Pro represents yet another “too-good-to-be-true” exercise contraption. I believe the product advertising is littered with confusing and/or misleading claims which, if not overtly false, clearly distort basic physiology and kinesiology to serve its marketing objectives. In my 20 years as a health professional, I don’t think I’ve seen a more egregiously offensive ad campaign for a fitness product. For reasons I’ve highlighted above, I feel this company 1) warrants closer scrutiny by consumer protection and regulatory agencies; and 2) should be held accountable by these agencies to furnish legitimate proof which supports their marketing claims.

Closing thoughts

I’ve done a lot of consumer advocacy writing and lecturing over the years and, while most feedback I receive is positive, some critics cast me aside as a negative party pooper. This is simply not the case at all. I’m all for hanging out a shingle and making a buck. Really, I am. But when marketers pervert my profession into some freak circus side show with advertising claims tip-toeing a metaphorical tightrope between fact and fiction, you can bet I’m going to have something to say about it.

By nature, humans are pleasure seekers and pain avoiders. Everyone loves the idea of “quick and easy” weight loss, but nobody acknowledges the fact that, in some cases, it took a lifetime to pack on all those pounds and it isn’t going anywhere overnight!

Marketers the world over exploit this “lazy loophole” which, from where I’m sitting, is so gaping wide open that 10 obese cash cows could do cartwheels through it!

Pay attention to how many times health companies interject key buzzwords like “quick, easy, no effort required, painless” into their sales script.

Bottom line: advertising is meant to do one thing: sell product. Period.

“Say it ain’t so, Bill!”

Yes, I know, I know, it’s a tough pill to swallow. As much as we’d all like to believe in quick/easy weight loss, the tooth fairy, and the Easter bunny, alas it is with a heavy heart that I inform you…[sigh]…that losing body fat takes hard work. There are no shortcuts.

Fad diets and exercise gimmicks have been around for decades, yet all the latest epidemiology statistics clearly show that obesity and all its evil offspring – diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure – are getting worse.

Think about it, if these products “worked” in the first place, we’d all be thin by now. But hey, never let the truth get in the way of a good marketing campaign, right?!


References

American College of Sports Medicine, ed ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 2001.

Ainsworth, B., et al., Compendium of physical activities: classification of energy costs of human physical activities. Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise, 1993. 25(1): p. 71-80.

Ainsworth, B., et al., Compendium of physical activities: an update of activity codes and MET intensities. Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise, 2000. 32(9, Suppl): p. S498-S516.

Haskell, W., et al., Updated recommendations for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation, 2007. 116: p. 1081-1093.

Quadratus Lumborum: muscle origin, insertion, and action: http://www.meddean.luc.edu/lumen/meded/grossanatomy/dissector/mml/ql.htm

Erector Spinae: muscle origin, insertion, and action http://www.ptcentral.com/muscles/muscletrunk.html#erector%20spinae%20muscles

Circle Pro to other abdominal exercise

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Dr Bill Sukala

Dr Bill Sukala is a Sydney-based health science communicator, clinical exercise physiologist, health writer, speaker, and media health commentator. He has published health articles in major publications around the world and has given invited lectures across five continents. Click here for more information or follow Bill on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

18 Comments

  1. Craig Welch

    With regard to the “Chiropractor endorsement”, that alone would be enough to make me run the other way from any product. It’s incredible to see references to chiropractors as if they have something valid to say about health matters.

    But of course, perhaps that’s a matter for an upcoming post from you?

    Reply
  2. Shannon

    Thank you. By reading this, it has stopped me from buying something that was misleading and false. Thank you for writing this post =) you should make a campaign against them or something to make the public realize they wasted a lot of money on some useless junk machine and they got ripped off by people claiming they lost all this weight etc.
    Thank you from Australia

    Reply
  3. Sasha

    So well then this does not work?! i have looked in many other sources and its all pretty much 50 50 some people love it and some people hate it. I want to know because I just ordered this ab circle and i hope i didnt wast money on something that is bogus.!!!! A simple answer Yes it does work or NO it does not work!!!!! PLEASE!!!!

    Reply
    • Dr Bill Sukala

      Sasha, bottom line: cancel the order, get your money back. The “results” people get from the Ab Circle Pro are more to do with eating less calories than doing 3 minutes a day. This is just slick marketing at its finest. You can go out for a walk, do a light jog, and reduce your calories and still get wonderful results without spending money on an exercise gimmick like the Ab Circle Pro.

      Reply
  4. Tom

    Sasha I was once on the fence too, but I really believe that if you do follow the system then you can have great results.
    Surely Bill you can acknowledge the product if used correctly does have benefits, you are more concerned with the marketing?
    Thanks Tom

    Reply
    • Dr Bill Sukala

      Tom, I’m going to have to disagree with you. I still stand by my claim that 3 minutes on the Ab Circle Pro will not have much impact on health or body weight. Any weight loss is likely due to the low-calorie diet they recommend. Why not save your money, don’t buy the Ab Circle Pro (which has no real scientific merit behind it), and just go on a diet and take up a regular walking routine. Or you can lift bricks. Provided there is overload applied to the body, adaptations will occur.

      Sadly, the Ab Circle Pro is a classic case of deception by omission. It’s not what they’re telling you, but rather what they’re not telling you. I contend the machine itself is needless based on the reasons I’ve highlighted above. The machine does not provide a well-rounded workout and, in fact, works the body through the same movement patterns over and over. In my professional opinion, this is a marketing gimmick which I believe fools people into believing the machine played a role in their weight loss when it was likely due to simple giving up the soda and chips and changing over to a healthier eating regimen. Not magic just basic thermodynamics at work.

      Reply
  5. alan

    With regard to the ab circle pro, my friend lent me his and I’m afraid it fell apart in front of my eyes. It’s a never ending job of tightening up the nuts and I’ve had the knee pad come off while on it. This machine is dangerous and I’d never buy one. I’m a 13.5 stone (86 kg) male, cant comment if it works in such a short time but it’s a heap of junk and you’ll need a tool kit constantly.

    Reply
    • Dr Bill Sukala

      Thanks for your comment Alan. I have heard this from many people who’ve used the Ab Circle Pro. The more I learn about this product, the more convinced I become that it was explicitly designed more to make a buck than to improve health.

      Reply
  6. Jennifer

    Thanks for the information. Honestly, I would have not known at all. I assumed while watching the ad, maybe it’s helping people, not a marketing scheme. I’m glad I read this because I know now I dont need the ab circle pro. I’ve taken the advice, such as walking, running, shopping with groceries and home. I’m glad that the small exercises im doing, is much more safer then the ab circle pro.

    Reply
  7. Christallin

    This is funny as hell. I just love the way you bust a wide open hole in all of this hogwash. Most people do not understand that there is no legitimate science behind these gimmicky machines.
    My professor Dr. Todd Bezilla, said it best, “to perform a complete workout, all you need is a floor and gravity.”

    Reply
  8. Christallin

    I want to know about that other ab machine that Montel William promotes. You sit on it and use your abs to pull up similar to doing hanging leg lifts. Have you reviewed this one?

    Reply
  9. Christallin

    Its called the Ab Coaster.

    Reply
  10. Patrick

    Thank you for being so honest and up front in your review. You are so right to say that it’s hard work to get in shape. I believe there is not a product out there that is an “easy way” out. You must be focusing on what you eat, how often, and exercising at an intensity that warrants results. Oh yeah, don’t forget to drink plenty of water while your at it. Great read, thanx

    Reply
  11. KT

    Professional Integrity

    In 2009, founders of the Ab Circle Pro (hereafter referred to as ACP) claimed to have developed a machine that would revolutionise the fitness industry worldwide. They have reported sales of over two million units and while there have been numerous negative reviews throughout the global fitness industry, sales continue to grow. This is evident with the introduction of the Ab Circle Pro V.2 and a more portable Ab Circle Pro Mini.

    A quick search on the Internet and you will find a wave of negative and positive ACP reviews from fitness experts and members of the public. It is easy for the general public to get confused about whether this product is a scam or whether it really works. However one thing is clear, from a business point of view the marketing team for ACP have hit the nail on the head with the millions of consumers searching for the holy grail of weight loss methods.

    ACP engage fitness celebrity Jennifer Nicole Lee (JNL) to front a series of high-tempo infomercials and shopping channel adverts in which she makes some extraordinary claims and sends out some misleading key messages. My comments are not aimed at analyzing each claim and contesting their validity or not. That has been done and will be referred to later. My focus is whether or not JNL’s decision to join with ACP and promote the product is ethically contrary to the values and/or code of conduct expected of fitness professionals. At the very least you would expect a fitness expert to act with professional integrity.

    It is worth taking a quick look at who JNL is and what she stands for. JNL is one of the world’s most accomplished Super Fitness Models, and is an international celebrity due to her high profile wellness merchandise and key media appearances. Her career began when she lost over 80 lbs after the birth of her children. Her motivational weight loss success story caught the world’s attention, after she gained notoriety as a professional fitness competitor, holding countless titles and crowns.

    She was soon a frequent guest on major US national talk shows, such as the Oprah Winfrey Oprah, E! Entertainment, Fox and Friends, etc. She is the CEO and visionary behind JNL Worldwide, Inc and is internationally recognized in over 110 different countries. Most importantly she is a devoted wife and mother, representing the millions of other mom’s and wives in the world with a brand they can trust. 

“It’s my goal and passion to increase the quality of your lifestyle.” – JNL

    It is fair to say that in business, all professionals are expected to act in accordance with a code of conduct or code of ethics relevant to that profession. I have cited a few relevant examples from a selection of Fitness Organisations.

    • Fitness Australia Code of Ethics
    1. Professional Integrity (In part only)
    o Advertising. Exercise professionals may advertise in connection with their professional practice if the advertising is not false, not misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive, is not vulgar or sensational, and does not claim or imply superiority of the exercise professional over any or all other exercise professionals. The advertisement for the exercise professional may contain a statement of the areas of expertise in practice.
    2. Fitness New Zealand Code of Ethics
    3. A member of Fitness New Zealand, and agrees to: (In part only)
    o make no false claims with regard to any of the products and services offered by the club.
    o not use deceptive or high-pressure sales tactics.
    4. Global Fitness Association Members
Code of Conduct
    5. As a Member of Global Fitness Association, we agree to operate our facility(s) and conduct ourselves in accordance with the Global Fitness Association Code of Conduct, as set out below.

 (In part only)
    o Members should provide a trustworthy, safe, and caring exercise environment for our clients.



    In May 2011, each of the JNL and ACP claims was scientifically reviewed by Dr William Sukala PhD clinical exercise physiologist. The full review can be found online at https://www.drbillsukala.com.au/exercise/ab-circle-pro-review/ however the verdict is clear as outlined below.

    The verdict. After reviewing the infomercial, website, and product information, in my professional opinion, the Ab Circle Pro represents yet another “too-good-to-be-true” exercise contraption. I believe the product advertising is littered with confusing and/or misleading claims which, if not overtly false, clearly distort basic physiology and kinesiology to serve its marketing objectives. In my 20 years as a health professional, I don’t think I’ve seen a more egregiously offensive ad campaign for a fitness product. For reasons I’ve highlighted above, I feel this company 1) warrants closer scrutiny by consumer protection and regulatory agencies; and 2) should be held accountable by these agencies to furnish legitimate proof which supports their marketing claims.

    Can you forgive a naive public for expecting that JNL’s claims about the ACP are true, not misleading? The black and white answer is “no”, everyone should look at the fine print and read the detail rather than claim that they were duped. However, when you look at JNL’s professional profile and the fitness industry’s code of ethics, her personal goal and passion and the fact that she is a wife and mother who has transformed herself, the fine print and the detail are all lost in the hype. Its obvious to me that JNL has lost sight of her professional integrity.

    Reply
  12. Marge

    Interesting site.. !!! I was thinking of getting an ABC machine, not to lose weight so much, as to just give my muscles an “easy” workout, and make my lower back more flexible. The lower back flexibility being the main reason. A few years ago I had xrays of lower back and hips, and no arthritis, good ‘gap’ between discs. But a slight curvature of lower spine.
    My question is, could this machine help, or hinder ??
    I am 69… have recent slight hip pain that I think comes from my back. Would probably need to get that checked first, but still need to do something (not medication or operations 🙂

    Reply
    • Dr Bill Sukala

      Hi Marge,
      I am admittedly very skeptical of the Ab Circle Pro both in terms of its lack of objective proof of efficacy (e.g., scientific studies) and also the questionable marketing. The latter in light of the former is particularly disconcerting and tends to make me think little effort went into the design of the machine other than a trojan horse to separate consumers from their cash. In answer to your question, I would suggest not buying the product and instead opt for some regular stretching exercises about the hip and back region. It may be worth your while to consult an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist in order to get on a stretching routine to help mobilise the musculature around your joints. You may find this will alleviate your discomfort and will cost you a heck of a lot less! Best wishes! Cheers, Bill

      Reply
  13. Mikhail

    Out of curiosity , I have purchased this product to give it a try.

    I weigh 140lbs and stand 5’6 tall before starting.

    For a week, I only consume 1,400 calories per day, did 15-minute light resistance on this product everyday and only lost 1 lb (note that I take a cab everyday to work during this time).

    I gained 1 lb during Christmas season (back to 140lbs) to try another test.

    For a week, I still consume 1,400 calories per day, and did a total of 30-min walk @ 2.5mph speed (going to work and back home) everyday, and lost 2 lbs!

    Conclusion: WALKING/RUNNING is ALWAYS BETTER (at least for me).

    Reply
    • Dr Bill Sukala

      Thanks for your comment Mikhail. You make a very good point and one that most people would be wise to acknowledge! No need to spend all that cash on gadgets and gimmicks when the best two exercise gadgets are your legs and feet! Keep up the great work!

      Reply

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