Ab belts are ubiquitously advertised as a great way to firm up your abs as you go about your daily routine. But do they really work, or are they merely hype that preys on the hopes of those who are looking for an easy way to get fit?
What Are Ab Belts?
There are a number of ab belts on the market today that claim to allow users to slim down without even breaking a sweat. How? According to most ab belt manufacturers, users put the ab belt around their middle (or other muscle groups they'd like to tone) for ten minutes and the belt does the work. The claim is that electrical stimulation causes the muscles to contract, achieving the same result as hundreds of sit-ups. Best of all, according to the manufacturers, you can wear the ab belt anywhere as a quick fix to a flabby body.
The belts are marketed under a large number of brands, including Fast Abs, the Ab Tonic and Ab Energizer. Typically, the belt looks something like a cummerbund that is powered by a lithium battery. Some come with some kind of toning gel that comes with it, which reportedly maximizes results achieved with the device.
Are the Manufacturers' Claims True?
Are the ab belt manufacturers' claims too good to be true? Sadly, yes. While ab belts are based on muscle stimulators that do cause muscle stimulation and contraction, achieving the phenomenal results touted by the manufacturers of ab belts would require more power, more time - and a lot more pain. It is possible to tone up muscles with muscle stimulation. However, these types of results require a high amplitude, strong stimulus and long duration. In other words, you could get benefits, but it would take longer and hurt more than just doing the exercises.
A 2001 University of Wisconsin study commissioned by the American Council of Exercise on an ab belt called the Ab Doer tested volunteers who used the Ab Doer for eight weeks. According to the study, there were "no significant changes in weight, body-fat percentage, strength or overall appearance. In order for the belts to work they would have to be cranked up to a level beyond what most people can tolerate."
FTC Files False Advertising Complaints
In 2002, the FTC filed false advertising complaints against the manufacturers of ab belts, stating that AB Energizer, AbTronic and Fast Abs device manufacturers were selling false hope, not real solutions. Among the false claims:
- The devices caused fat loss and inch loss.
- The devices provided "six-pack" abs.
- The use of the ab belts is equivalent to 600 sit ups or crunches.
Health Risks Associated with Ab Belts
According to the FDA, the ab belts may not just be worthless, they could be harmful. The device was never approved by the FDA and are actually associated with a host of potentially harmful side effects, including:
- Potential interference with planted devices such as pacemakers and other electronic devices
- Localized redness, swelling and inflation where the belt was applied
- The potential to cause cancerous lesions
- Potential harm during pregnancy
The FTC included charges against the three manufacturers that they not only claimed that the product was completely safe, but that they failed to warn consumers about the true risks of ab belts, including those listed above.
The Truth About Toning Your Abs
The truth is, there is no quick, sweat-free, easy fix to chubby abdominals. Many factors come into play in the appearance of your abdominals including genetics, water retention, diet, body fat and muscle tone. You have control over some of these factors. Others may be overcome by hard work.
Getting a "six-pack" of rock hard abdominals takes a combination of diet and exercise. But even lowering body fat may not cause your six-pack to pop out. In some people, especially women who are hormonally predisposed to extra adipose in the belly region, one must achieve an extremely low body fat percentage before the six-pack shows.
The Bottom Line
There is no quick fix for flabby abdominals. Any manufacturers of products that claim a quick, easy, painless and sedentary way to tone up your muscles are only looking to help you lose fat in one region - your wallet. Steer clear unless you're only looking to part with cash - not belly fat.