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Almost all exercise machines will provide an activity far superior to what a couch can give you. Having said this, many equipment manufacturers make claims that serve only to prey on the uninformed, effectively spreading more misinformation to create a population of missinformed consumers. Nothing bothers me more.
In the video below, featuring the Jacobs Ladder (likely produced by the maker itself), you can see the claims made with grossly inaccurate soundbites.
Click on the video section at 1:10 to hear their claims of benefits. And below are point-by-point analysis.
Jacobs Ladder video promotion
The claims in red:
“It puts the user’s back at a 45 degree position, therefore placing the spine at a more neutral position.”
A 45-degree position has nothing to do with a neutral spine, which can be achieved at nearly any angle. It’s a meaningless claim.
“Since the user is in a positive climbing motion, the Jacobs Ladder workout has very little impact on hip, knee, and ankle joints that are susceptible to wear and injury.”
Impact has nothing to do with increased wear and injury, as the body is designed to withstand and thrive on impact (it is bad technique in any exercise that predisposes the user to injury). Impact is an essential stimulus to musculoskeletal and joint health, and the removal of normal impact can result in diminishing strength and integrity of these structures. If this 1980s myth were true, then we need to remove dancing, walking and most form of natural, earthly movement from humans.
“The ladder rungs are spaced 12 inches apart, forcing the user to use a full range of motion.”
12 inches of limb movement is hardly full range of motion, so this claim is an outright lie. Here are normal values in range of motion for the hip:
Hip flexion: 120 degrees
Hip extension: 30 degrees
Total range of movement: 150 degrees
Hip Abduction: 45 degrees
Hip Adduction: 20 degrees
Total range of movement: 65 degrees
Hip internal rotation: 45 degrees
Hip external rotation: 35 degrees
Total range of hip rotation: 80 degrees
The shoulder joint, naturally more flexible than the hip joint, has even greater range of motion. I won’t go into how false the claim made in this video is in regard to the shoulder joint, but you can click here to see for yourself that a “12-inch ladder spacing” fails to achieve a range of motion value anywhere close to what the shoulder joint can and should achieve in exercise.
The point is that the Jacob Ladder works the body in a restricted range of motion while many other methods and modality can achieve much greater range of motion while still providing the same or greater musculoskeletal and metabolic demand.
“The close-chain motion of the upper body recruits core stabilization muscle groups to simulate function and to provide strong exercise in the rehabilitation of the back, shoulder and lower body injuries.”
The concept of close-chain mechanics here is miss-used. The motion demonstrated on the ladder is actually a combination of open- and close-chain, but the true definition of each also depends on load and what’s occurring at the other end of the kinetic chain, the feet. This is just meaningless mumbo jumbo to confuse the consumers into thinking something magical is happening. Any exercise, done in the right phases of recovery and with appropriate technique and proper progression, can provide a powerful rehabilitative tool. Effective rehabilitation involves many important variables such as: isolation activation, isometric stabilization, dynamic integration, multi-planar motion, variable acceleration, and variable load patterns.
In other words, the Jacobs Ladder is only one tool for rehabilitation — but considering its size, cost, and restricted use of motor patterns, it is probably not the most efficient, cost-effective, or even the best tool for rehab or for meaningful “core” stabilization — as there are numerous other exercises and methods requiring only basic equipment that can accomplish almost all of the above variables.
“The unit is self-paced, ensuring that the user is neither underworked or overworked.”
Almost any exercise can be self-paced. That’s just inherent — it’s like claiming that an apple is cholesterol free. Today’s smart consumers are more sophisicated than this… it’s generally the desperate consumer that seems to hear magic in these claims. (I hope for fewer desperate consumers and more informed consumers.)
“…The Jacobs Ladder (is) an excellent tool for training athletes, aerobically or anaerobically.”
I haven’t seen an athete that must climb a ladder for any duration, but yes, the Jacobs Ladder is a good way to train the aerobic and anaerobic systems. There are, however, numerous, superior methods that train the same systems to the same intensity, simply for their efficiency at providing significantly more adaptable variables — such as maximum and relative power output, selective speed of movement, real-life acceleration, greater range of motion, multiple planes of motion, greater metabolic output, and improved muscular, cardiorespiratory and metabolic endurance, all of which support athletic performance.
“The Jacobs Ladder… raises the user’s heart rate into the target zones faster than almost any other cadio piece on the market today.”
It’s not a matter of “cardio pieces” or machines that raise the heart rate quickly but a matter of physical output of the exerciser. Raising the heart rate can be achieved with an 8-pound medicine ball, a kettlebell, or just the body weight alone. It’s a matter of knowing what to do.
One certainly does not need a $4,000 machine for which you’d have to wait in line forever to get your turn at an overcrowded “health” club. There are more accessible exercises and methods that offer superior physiological effects, for much less footprint and dollar amount, and possessing greater movement freedom.