The Pitch: Up to 408 percent more effective than ordinary crunches!
The Verdict: That's a completely made up number!
The Bender Ball is an 8-inch exercise ball that, according to the manufacturer, gives you a workout that's 408 percent more effective than doing abdominal crunches unassisted. Developed by trainer Leslee Bender, you place it under your lower back to target your abdominal muscles while doing crunches. The product also comes with two instructional DVDs.
The big problem with the Bender Ball, and one that should be a red flag to any potential purchaser, is the Continuity Offer that you can't opt out of on the official website. When you order a Bender Ball through the site, you agree, by default, to receive two new DVDs each month for $19.99 plus $6.99 shipping (and the DVDs are not related to working on the ball; rather, they're various other types of exercise, such as Pilates). The only way to cancel is by calling customer service, and we saw plenty of complaints from people who say they had to call multiple times in order to cancel. In addition, other owners say that every couple of months they receive a random fitness product from the company, and are charged unless they return it and call customer service to opt out of future offers. Bender Ball representatives also call frequently, sometimes on a daily basis, trying to get you to purchase other products. If you do decide a Bender Ball is for you, we suggest you NOT order it through the official website. Those who order it from sites like Amazon.com, where you don't have to sign up for additional products or services, are much happier.
As for whether or not it works, we have to give it a qualified yes. While experts say back support is a good way for some people to do abdominal exercises, and can increase overall muscle activity as well as ease back pain, the Bender Ball works no better than any exercise ball, small or large, or even a foam roll. In other words: there's nothing special about the Bender Ball. It also gets panned for durability issues, with some saying that it won't hold air for more than a workout, others who say it went flat after just a few uses and they can't get it to inflate. Many also say it seems cheap and flimsy.
Still, there are some reviewers, albeit a minority, who are happy with the Bender Ball, saying it's a good starting point for working ab and thigh muscles, and that the videos are easy to follow -- some even say they're fun, even after repeated workouts. Fitter folks say the videos are too short and not challenging enough. Those with back issues says the step-by-step instructions are very helpful in keeping them in the proper position to not aggravate their back pain.
Bender Ball sells several package options, the Bender Method Kit (Est. $13 plus $.7.97 shipping), which includes the Bender Ball, a core training and a "buns and thighs" workout DVD, as well as an instruction manual. The Total Core Training Kit (Est. $40 plus $9.93 shipping), includes all of that, plus three additional DVDs. Accessories and DVDs can also be ordered separately. Of course, these prices are through the official website -- remember, if you order from there you also agree to sign up for additional monthly videos at a total monthly cost of about $27 and occasional other products at various costs.
In conclusion, the Bender Ball with its included DVDs isn't really a bad deal. Sure, you can buy a small stability ball for less, and pair it with other DVDs or videos, but many note, correctly, that, especially for the beginner, having a dedicated package makes it easier and more intuitive to get started. However, trust us, don't order it from the Bender Ball website. Instead, turn to a trusted online source like Amazon.com or a brick-and-mortar retail store that carries As Seen on TV products.
Bender Ball Reviews
Dr. Henry Williford gives the Bender Ball a thorough evaluation with a focus on the exercise ball's claims that it's "up to 408% more effective than ordinary crunches." To determine the accuracy of that statement, he conducts a review of the available literature, as well as conducting tests at the Human Performance Laboratory at Auburn Montgomery. His conclusion is that it's no more effective than any other back support, and notes that the ordering process was less than seamless. He also warns about hidden fees.
Review: Review: The Bender Ball, Henry N. Williford, EdD, Not Dated
2. Good Housekeeping
Editors of Good Housekeeping put a variety of infomercial products through their paces for this informative slide show, including the Bender Ball. Both experts and consumers "thought the exercise were effective, but no more so than an ab workout on the floor or a regular exercise ball." When editors asked Bender Ball for data to back up their "408 percent more effective" claim, they received an unconvincing, 10 person study.
Review: Bender Ball, Editors of Good Housekeeping, Not Dated
This is an older review, but the Bender Ball is unchanged from when it was first published. Blogger Nicole Nichols says the Bender Ball workout is "fun, different and effective," as well as suitable for men or women. She also notes, however, that you need to be aware of additional charges after ordering.
Review: Does It Really? We Test the Bender Ball, Nicole Nichols, Aug. 19, 2008
The Bender Ball earns 3 stars out of 5 in about 55 customer reviews. Owners weighing in after purchasing the product from the official website are incensed with the recurring charges. Others note that the ball seems flimsy, or say that it deflated or popped after just a few uses. A few say the ball is effective and fun, and helps support their back when doing ab work.
Review: Bender Ball Mini Ab Ball, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of March 2016