The other day at the gym, I ran into a friend who had just returned from a trip to the pet superstore. He was laughing hysterically because he'd stumbled across a fancy new dog toy masquerading as a piece of fitness equipment.
"It was a tennis racquet and it came with special balls," my friend said, "and something you could spray on the balls to make the dog want to chase them. And a DVD to show you how to use it, just in case you couldn't figure out how to hit a ball with a racquet."
What ensued was much water-cooler conversation about what tennis balls needed to smell like in order to make dogs chase them - Liver? A garbage can? Another dog's butt? - but eventually, the discussion turned back to the gym.
"Well," said one woman, "that's weird, but it's no weirder than some of those fitness products they're always marketing to people who want to get in shape without working out. Did you know they make weights you're supposed to wear under your dress clothes at work? Whatever happened to just getting out at lunch and walking?"
I have to say, this opened up a whole new door for me. Most of the ridiculous infomercial products I've seen tend to be of the kitchen and cleaning variety. But when you start searching, you can certainly find plenty of ways for people to spend money and convince themselves they're getting a workout. There are inversion trainers you can stick in a suitcase (just in case you get the urge to hang upside down in your hotel room on your next business trip) and special mats you can piece together to stand on while using a hula hoop (I never knew I'd been using the wrong surface all these years). Go ahead and Google "ridiculous fitness products" or flip through one of those in-flight sales catalogues the next time you're on a plane. I guarantee you'll be amused.
The problem is not that we lack lots of ways to get fit. The problem is that people are looking for ways to spend money, rather than time, in the hopes of getting fit. It's easy to sit down in front of the TV, be sold on a gadget and order it. It's quite another thing to make a commitment to healthy eating and regular exercise, with or without the gadget.
But people keep spending the money, at least according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association's annual report, which this year found that more than 25.1 million people used home gym equipment last year. (Unfortunately, there's no breakdown on how many people bought it while watching late-night TV.)
Why do they keep buying? Maybe because they convince themselves it's the right thing to do, maybe because they're waiting for something to click and make them want to work out. Maybe they're just buoyed by the very idea they've spent money on something to get healthy. Do they stick with it? Sometimes.
But that certainly doesn't stop the weird product industry from proliferating. Something else was mentioned in our gym conversation, and it definitely falls into the crossover category of pet product and fitness equipment: A hockey stick that can be used to hurl dog feces at an oncoming attacker. Much discussion followed as to whether one had to carry the hockey stick and the poop while out for a walk with the dog, or whether using the hockey stick alone on the attacker constituted a use inconsistent with its labeling that could get the user sued.
We know you've seen these products. What's the most ridiculous in your world?