Do ab stimulators really work? There is growing anxiety among people to get into perfect shape.
We all want to look good (with perfect abs) on the beach, have stronger core muscles, or have our eyes on that one dress or shirt we want to fit better into.
Unfortunately, not all of us have the time and dedication it takes to commit to a gym or a strict diet. It is, thus, that the interest in electrical muscle stimulation devices especially increases.
While some people see these popular ab toning belts as magical devices helping to transform bulging tummies into six-pack abs, others see them as a complete gimmick.
So are electronic ab belts effective, or are they a complete waste of your time and money?
How Do Ab Toning Belts Work?
Ab toning belts function by using Electrical Muscle Stimulation technology.
EMS technology was initially developed to help medical patients who had lost the ability to move in serious accidents.
However, in recent years, the use of EMS technology has gained significant importance. Over time, many notable players in the EMS-toning equipment market, such as Slendertone, have perfected the use of this technology to modify the behavior of abdominal muscles.
The electrical stimulation in an ab belt is responsible for passing a small electrical current to the body through the skin via gel pads. These small gel electrodes come into contact with the bare skin of the abdominal region and pass a low-voltage electrical current to it.
The electric current causes the development of tension in muscles, which, in turn, causes the ab muscles to contract and relax. This muscle contraction is similar to a core exercise (where tears in muscle fibers occur) or physical activity. Over time it will cause an increase in muscle mass.
Ab toning belts make use of this EMS technology cleverly causing abdominal muscles to contract even when the user is not taking part in any exercise.
Some users can take a while to get used to contractions caused by these electrical pulses, and the initial sensation may feel very uncomfortable. Once users get accustomed to the Electrical Muscle Stimulation feeling, ab stimulators can become quite comfortable to use.
The idea is that the strength and tone of the abdominal muscles are improved with regular use of the device.
Are They Effective?
Muscle stimulators were originally medical devices used to help prevent muscle atrophy in patients who were not able to physically exercise or were bedridden.
You may have heard of similar devices called TENS units (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) used for physical therapy. They are used to improve muscle strength and reduce muscle atrophy. They are also often also used to treat back pain, acute pain and to prevent muscle spasms.
There is ample scientific evidence to prove that regular use of ab toners can increase a person’s ab strength and endurance by almost 50%.
In 2005, Sports Science in Medicine published a study on these devices. The results were that people who used an ab stimulator for over eight weeks (5 sessions each week, each lasting 20 to 40 minutes) noticed increased abdominal strength and endurance in their abdominal area muscles when compared to a control group.
The study also reported that people who used an ab toning belt regularly saw a loss of 1.3 inches in their waist size.
Several other studies have been carried out in the past to study the effect of ab toning belts on the human body. While the studies differ in terms of their findings regarding perceivable changes in the body, all studies have concluded that ab trainer belts strengthen the stomach muscles.
Generally, it can be said that these ab training belts can transform a person’s body shape when healthy lifestyle choices accompany their use. But less evidence shows they can help achieve a better posture or slimmer waistline.
A good quality ab belt can improve core muscle endurance and functional fitness.
In the many cases where electrical ab toning belt owners use them without making any lifestyle-related changes, they will feel their abs region improving in muscle tone, but the actual visible physical changes may be negligible.
For leaner individuals, they can be a more visible improvement in muscle size and resting tone.
Electronic Muscle Stimulation Studies
A study was performed with electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) on the quadriceps muscles in soccer players. This study resulted in significant improvements in knee extension torque and ball speed from stationary kicking after 5 weeks of use.
A systematic review of over 80 research studies found that electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) can significantly improve physical performance in elite athletes. The review analyzed the effects of EMS periods lasting between 3 and 6 weeks and found that several important sports performance parameters increased significantly.
Post-natal diastasis recti abdominis, also known as DRAM, refers to the bulging of the belly that can occur in pregnant women after giving birth. This condition occurs when the two halves of the rectus abdominal muscle separate, causing the belly to protrude. In a study, subjects with DRAM who were approximately 2 months postpartum participated in an 8-week trial that included both ab exercises and the use of ab stimulator belts.
A control group, which only participated in ab exercises, was also included in the study. Both groups experienced significant improvement in reducing DRAM and in other study categories, but the group receiving ab stimulation improved more than the exercise-only group.
Devices from unregulated manufacturers can present a risk. It’s possible that these cheaply made belts can deliver shocks that are too intense or burn the skin. They may also contain toxic adhesives or chemicals that can irritate the skin.
FDA-regulated devices also may have some side effects. They can interfere with electronic devices such as pacemakers or defibrillators. Those with high blood pressure should avoid using these belts as there is a risk of increasing their blood pressure further.
Mentally, a user may only use an abdominal toning believing that they are doing something healthy. This may deter them from making lifestyle changes that are more beneficial for them.
The FDA on Electronic Muscle Stimulators
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the sale of electronic muscle stimulators, such as ab belts, to ensure that they are safe and effective for the purposes claimed in the marketing materials.
They have dedicated a page on their website to address this issue and answer ten questions about why they need to regulate the manufacturers of these devices. If you are considering purchasing an ab belt, it may be worth taking a look at this page for more information.
Getting The Best Results Out Of An Ab Belt
Firstly, as we’ve covered in our ab belt reviews, it’s important to only use safe and FDA approved products, from reputable companies such as those by Slendertone or the Flex Belt brand.
In 2005, twenty-four adults were asked to wear an abdominal toning belt for 20 to 40 minutes each day, and for five days a week, as part of a research study. The participants were asked not to indulge in any ab-related exercises.
At the end of the study, researchers concluded that all participants noticed almost a 50% increase in their abdominal strength and a 100% increase in abdominal endurance.
However, participants noticed only negligible changes in body weight and body mass index. Thus, it can be concluded that while ab toning belts can leave muscle feeling toned, they do not cause body fat loss.
If you want to lose body weight while using ab belts, follow these simple tips:
Ab toning belts will tone your abs, but won’t burn body fat surrounding the abdominal muscles.
The first thing you must pay attention to for weight loss and burning belly fat is to have a healthy diet and a calorie deficit. Stop eating junk food, plan your meals, cook them, and if need be, store them for later.
If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t avoid junk food, make it a point to stay away from anything too high on calories or carbs. Include fruits and vegetables into your diet, and drink plenty of water.
You perhaps bought an ab toning belt because you don’t have the time to go to a gym, work out, or perform crunches. However, exercising doesn’t always mean hitting the gym. Regular exercise such as walking or any other cardio exercise is the best way to lose body fat, and improve your overall fitness.
According to the American Council on Exercise, the 3 most effective ab exercises are crunches on an exercise ball, the captains chair and the bicycle.
Go running, if you can. Conversely, you can invest in a treadmill and run at home when you can to improve your overall fitness.
The truth is one does not need to go to the gym to improve their fitness, lose weight or get slim. All you need is to find the motivation for training and staying fit.
My Experience with the Slendertone Belt
I belonged to the category of people who did not believe at all in ab toning devices, and hence, I had never invested in one. However, my husband gave me the Slendertone belt by Bio Medical Research Ltd as an appreciation present for everything I do, and out of respect for his feelings, I decided to give this electronic belt a try.
Three weeks into the program and after increasing intensity levels, I began to notice some changes, and that’s when I started taking things a bit more seriously.
Over the next four weeks of using the Connect Abs, I made some dietary and lifestyle changes. I stayed away from junk food and included a basic but regular exercise routine, such as walking and stretching into my schedule.
At the end of eight weeks, I had lost close to 5 lbs of fat, and my abs felt tight and toned. Had it not been for my husband and these positive results, I would have continued to mock ab toning devices.
I do understand that these devices have limitations and in the real world, it’s best to add strength training, high-intensity interval training, and some hard work to my routine to achieve my fitness goals.
The Final Word
Ab toners aren’t magical devices and will not give you a buffed body like that of the Instagram model you were admiring without work. When it comes to weight loss, they won’t spot reduce body fat.
However, these devices can certainly make you feel fitter and improve core strength. Moreover, when combined with the right training and diet, ab toning belts are truly capable of changing the way you look.
Lastly, be aware of belts from unknown brands. There have been reports to the FDA regarding bruising, skin irritation, and burns from using some electronic muscle stimulation devices. These unregulated ab stimulators can contain components that fail to meet safety standards and can present a significant risk or health hazard.