Believe it or not, you can build your ab muscles using mild electric stimulation. No, this isn't a science fiction novel or a scene from Frankenstein, it's a scientifically proven method for developing your abs. Electrical stimulation was first used as a way to test certain muscles in a laboratory setting. Scientists found that they could place an electrode pad on a muscle and, by providing a mild electric current, make the muscle contract. This helped researchers understand how muscles work.
How it Works
Muscles are bands of tissue that don't work unless a nerve is connected to them. When you need a muscle to contract, an electric signal is sent from either your brain or spinal cord all the way down to a nerve that sits inside the muscle. The nerve sends a chemical signal into your muscle which makes it contract.
Electric stimulation machines take a short-cut in that process by skipping the brain and spinal cord to directly stimulate the nerve that sits in the muscle. Scientists used to need fancy and expensive lab equipment with pads that stick to your skin and send electrical signals into the muscle. Now a similar technology can be found in abdominal stimulating belts.
Benefits of Electric Stimulation
Using electrical stimulation to make a muscle contract is less mentally taxing than a typical workout. When you stimulate a muscle you're creating an involuntary contraction. A machine is telling the muscle to contract. In a normal workout, without using stimulation, you are forcing your muscles to contract, which requires more mental strain.
Since you don't need as much mental effort to fully contract a muscle, you can make the muscle work harder using electrical stimulation, according to this article in the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association. This also means that your muscles will get tired more quickly if you use stimulation because they are working harder.
The biggest drawback to using one of the belts as opposed to doing abdominal exercises is that you don't get the other benefits of performing an exercise. When you perform various abdominal movements you are working different muscles and burning more calories because you use more than just your ab muscles. You also get the added benefit of working on your balance and coordination when you perform exercises as opposed to letting the abdominal belt do all of the work.
Another drawback to using the belt is that it doesn't activate all of your abdominal muscles. The abs run from the bottom of your ribs all the way to the top of your hip bone, while the belt only covers the middle of your belly. Performing full ab exercises, such as sit-ups, will activate the entire ab muscle, from top to bottom.
How to Use A Stimulating Belt
These belts are made to wear under your shirt. They must be in direct contact with your skin. While you are wearing these belts you don't necessarily need to perform an exercise. You can sit, lie down or do something low-intensity like walk or clean. The electrical stimulation from the belt forces you to work your abs no matter what you do.
Wear the belt for 20 to 40 minutes each training session. To avoid over-working the abs, perform no more than one training session per day, and work up to the 40-minute training sessions; start with 20 minutes at a time.
As you get more comfortable with the belt you can wear it for a longer period of time. Even though you aren't doing any traditional abdominal exercises, your abs will still get stronger and have more stamina, according to a paper published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine.
- Recruitment Patterns in Human Skeletal Muscle During Electrical Stimulation
- Muscle Fatigue: Clinical Implications for Fatigue Assessment and Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation
- The Effects of Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation Training on Abdominal Strength, Endurance, and Selected Anthropometric Measures