Avoid Giving the Fruitcake of Fitness Gifts

First, not all workout gear is created equal — and second, who are these presents for, anyway?

Fitness is a marketer’s dream in the U.S. — especially at Christmastime. Armed with tales of wildly positive results and testimonials that appear to be from “real “people, consumers find these a tempting selection.

But think twice if you want to give a gift your recipient will love and keep. Coat hooks are far less expensive than stationary bikes — which is what a bike often becomes down in that basement or spare room.

Here are a few guidelines for holiday shopping if you’re headed to the fitness aisle.

Two blue dumbbells in present box with red ribbon on the wooden background.
Even blue dumbbells can be presented in a festive way — if the recipient has requested them.

Consider the Recipient
Not everyone wants to lose weight or become fitter — even if you see it that way. A resented gift is always ignored.

Many people facing up to the excess weight they’re carrying are taking a lifestyle change approach today, when weight loss is slower but more likely to be permanent. Just because weight loss isn’t showing yet doesn’t mean it’s not happening — and many people put on a tough front but are very sensitive to criticism about their size and shape.

Related: The Gift That Matters Most

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“It was heartbreaking, even if I knew she was trying to help,” said Megan Prudhomme, of Iowa City, Iowa. Her mother gave her a new body fat-measuring scale as a present, she told LifeZette. “I say, think about your gift — is it really a GIFT? Do you want to give an emotional eater something to cause more unwanted emotions? And be honest. What woman really needs one more way to be measured and judged? Isn’t there enough of that in the world? It really hurt, coming from someone so close to me.”

Makers of the modified dumbbell, the Shake Weight, say it increases the effects of exercise.

Dodge the Fads
Everyone remembers the Shake Weight, the Bodyblade, and the treadmill bike. Or not. Self-described fitness junkie Jennifer Aube, founder of in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania, suggests avoiding fads or the hottest thing advertised during the holidays.

“I’ve received a litany of gifts in the past that I’ll use for a small period of time,” she said. “You know how fads go: They end up collecting dust in the basement or garage. Everything from that cool new abdominal ‘miracle’ toy to a DVD exercise video series all seem to collect dust in my home fitness collection.”

Calorie gadgets and trackers like the FitBit fall in the fad category. Over half of users abandon them before the three-month mark. An American Council on Exercise (ACE) study showed the devices instigate unwanted feelings. Ninety-nine percent of users said they felt satisfied when they reached their goal for the day, but 79 percent said they were extremely down on themselves if they didn’t make their goal — and thus felt their entire effort was wasted. The bad feelings eventually win; the users abandon the devices.

Related: Don’t Even Think About This Over the Holidays

Resistance bands are another fad that many people in our survey said were a waste of money. “The worst piece of exercise equipment I’ve used only once was the ‘resistance workout bands,'” Maria Stalzer of Charlotteville, Virginia, told LifeZette. “They were totally useless.”

Stalzer took up running after her children were grown, and regularly runs challenges and 5K races. She points to her running shoes as her favorite piece of workout gear, and notes they are a personal choice — perhaps not best given as a gift unless you know the precise style and size. The same goes for clothing. Sizes and fabrics vary greatly, giving a different fit for differ body types.

Data synchronization of health book between smartwatch and smartphone in male hands
The data synchronization of health info between smartwatch and smartphone comes in handy.

Get Specific!
If your sister or son has requested specific fitness gear or gadgets, that’s another story. But don’t buy knock-offs or brands they did not request. Many fitness gadgets are actually poorly made, perform badly, and are subject to recalls.

Do some research on their safety, track record, and consumer surveys, and find reliable sources or extensive research about the products. An even better route for information is to talk to someone who’s actually used it. Hard-core runners at your gym or workplace can give you a clear idea of the best heart rate monitors in two minutes — they’ve used them all.

Related: For a Long, Healthy Life, Medicine Isn’t the Answer

Fitness gear is a great gift when it leads to more motivation and better results, but that’s a hard bill to fill when giving to others. How people exercise and stay active is highly personal. To avoid giving the proverbial fruitcake of fitness, be sure your gift is specifically requested — or go the gift card route.

Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions. 

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