Abdominal toning belts contract your belly muscles for you. However, there is no conclusive evidence that the belts are any better at building strength and toning your tummy than traditional abdominal exercises. Whether you use traditional exercises or an ab belt, only proper diet and regular exercise can pare down body fat to reveal the firm belly you’ve built.
Abdominal toning belts use electronic muscle stimulation, or EMS, to pass an electrical current through the body. To get the current, the user has to attach several electrode pads to the appropriate places on her belly. This current may make muscles contract without the wearer exerting any independent effort. Physicians and physical therapists have successfully used EMS for decades to keep critically ill patients from losing muscle tone while bedridden.
Way Back When
Ab belts for consumers are the latest generation of a family of devices that traces its roots back to the early 1970s when word spread that Russian trainers used EMS and regular exercise on elite athletes with great results. It didn’t take long before manufacturers found ways to bring this technology to the market for quick-fix fitness solutions. Advertising claims went so wild that the Federal Trade Commission filed charges against three manufacturers in federal district courts in 2002.
There are Limits
Ab belts may cause muscle contractions if used properly. But the belt alone cannot produce six-pack abs. The real challenge to ab definition is the layer of fat that lies right under the skin, hiding muscle tone. The only way to reveal your existing muscle structure is to shed body fat, and the only proven way to do that is through healthy diet and exercise choices. The ab belt’s contractions cannot improve heart health, bone density or balance.
You still have to make the effort to put it on and wear it around for half an hour several times a week, and the process of properly affixing the electrode pads can be time consuming.
Get the Go-Ahead
Consult with your physician if you plan to use an ab toning belt, especially if you are recovering from injury or surgery. Although rare, it is possible for electronically stimulated muscle contractions to interfere with muscle healing. In 2006, two British plastic surgeons reported that a body builder that was recovering from hand surgery completely ruptured the repair through use of an EMS on his upper arm.
Not All Created Equal
The FDA has issued repeated statements about EMS devices. Not all ab belts are approved by the FDA. Improperly designed belts could cause burning, skin irritation, pain or interference with pacemakers. Before buying one, talk to your doctor and make sure you don’t have any medical conditions that the ab belt would worsen. Check out user reviews online, then read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
- Federal Trade Commission: FTC Charges Three Top-Selling Electronic Abdominal Exercise Belts with Making False Claims
- British Journal of Sports Medecine: Rupture of a Flexor Pollicis Longus Repair in a Body Builder Through the Use of an Electronic Muscle Stimulator
- BioMed Central: Electrical Muscle Stimulation Preserves the Muscle Mass of Critically Ill Patients: a Randomized Study
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Medical Devices