Anyone who has stayed up past 11 p.m. or has risen before 6 a.m. has most likely seen infomercials for electronic ab belts. These belts claim to produce rock-hard abs by simply just wearing them. While most of us know that such a claim is probably exaggerated, ab belts are one of the biggest selling pieces of fitness equipment this year. The real question is, why are some people looking for an easy way to do things that take hard work and dedication? Well, electronic muscle simulators are the latest craze, the hottest fad, but you want to know "do they really work!" Right? To answer that question, let's start with a little background information on what this equipment was originally designed for. Electric muscle stimulators were, and still are used in medical and sports performance and rehab clinics. They are designed to condition or keep muscles from atrophying, or "wasting away" in situations where a limb must be immobilized or added performance recovery is required. These units are in the $500.00 and up range. For example, if you broke your leg, the doctor could place an electrode on the muscle and use electricity to make it contract. This would provide a minimum level of stimulation, thus keeping the muscle active.
In sports training the tactic of electro-therapy is built along this same premise. Only it's geared to rehab from grueling training and increase performance. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that shady fitness manufacturers took EMS to a new level by offering it to anyone who was looking for a simple way to tone their core. The U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has certified a few EMS devices for over-the-counter use that can be marketed as a muscle toning device. This is the same FDA that say's Nutra Sweet, Tylenol, and Flouride are safe too. In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission cited three electronic ab belt products, the AB Energizer, AbTronic, and Fast Abs devices, for making false advertising claims.
As far as building muscle, such as the ads on TV claim, none of that BS is not backed up by any real research. The level of electrical stimulation necessary to build up the abdominal muscles to what you see on TV would be extremely high, and thus very painful. I had the opportunity to try one of these miracle FDA approved devices recently. Their adds claimed you could wear their belt and go about your day. For one thing the vibration was very annoying and secondly if I went about my regular day I'm sure I would have the appearance of having a neurological disorder.
Many companies that sell these belts, also claim that the belts help burn fat. In reality, the small muscle contractions produced by these belts burn about as many calories as the effort required to take the belt out of the box and put the batteries in. If you read the fine print in these ads, you will also notice that the instructions for use also include a suggested exercise and nutrition plan. This, without a doubt, would be the true source of the results people get from this equipment. So what about people you may know who have tried the belts and say that they feel something when they use it? Let's put it this way, the belt does provide a small level of stimulation to the abdominal muscles. I mean it has to do something, right, but so does my electric shaver. When a person's abdominal's are totally lacking any type of exercise, any amount of stimulation has the potential to produce some results. It is simply a matter of something is better than nothing. In this case, not a whole lot better, though.
A much better solution for working your abdominal muscles effectively is to do balance and full body exercises that force your core muscles to repetitively fire to stabilize your movements. This not only works your abdominal's but burns huge amounts of calories. Even the old school unglamorous crunch exercise is a better choice than one of these gizmos. It may not send electric shocks into your guts but it will get the job done. Crunches, even done properly and regularly, won't burn many calories but they will definitely tighten up your abs.
Do electric ab stimulators work? If you aren't stuck in a wheelchair or bedridden, in a nutshell, no. At least not how the slick advertisers would have you believe. They may substitute for an adult sex toy in a pinch. However the scientific consensus is that these devices don't work at all for a normal person. They are incapable of of building muscle or even "toning" it. These companies are simply preying upon society's desire for results without effort. Don't be fooled by the hype. Hire a qualified trainer. Get some sound nutritional advise and a tailored exercise program you can live with. THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS !! Good Luck...
The FDA warns that any EMS device should not be used by persons with certain conditions, including implanted pacemakers or other implanted metallic or electronic devices, swollen or inflamed areas, such as phlebitis, or cancerous lesions. In addition, the safety of using the devices during pregnancy have not been established.
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