Abs belts, a type of electrical muscle stimulator, or EMS, may help strengthen and tone the abdominal muscles. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved one EMS device for abs: the Slendertone Flex. Because any non-approved FDA abs belt is illegal and potentially unsafe, the FDA can only vouch for the Slendertone. Note that abs belts may foster a modicum of abdominal strength, but they do not help reduce abdominal fat nor provide any other health or fitness benefits.
Slendertone Flex Features
According to Slendertone manufacturer Bio-Medical Research, the ab belt flexes the upper and lower abs, obliques and deep transverses abdominis muscles using EMS technology. The belt, which accommodates waists from 24 to 48 inches, allows users to choose from seven ab-training programs, as well as their desired intensity level, ranging from zero to 99. Bio-Medical Research recommends using the Slendertone 30 minutes a day, five times a week for noticeable abdominal toning within six to eight weeks.
Benefits of Abs Belts
In a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, researchers found that using an EMS abs belt according the manufacturer's directions results in a 100-percent increase in abdominal endurance and a 58-percent increase in abdominal strength in an eight week period. All ab belt users in their study also reported that they felt their abs were more toned and firmed, and 54 percent of users felt their posture had improved, according to the researchers. On their website product page, Bio-Medical Research cites only the aforementioned study – and no other scientific research – to substantiate their claims and promote their Slendertone Flex product.
Arguable Efficacy of Abs Belts
After their study, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse also concluded that the abs belt had no effect on body-weight, BMI or skinfold thickness. Furthermore, the abs belt has no effect on body-fat percentage or on outward appearance, and some users report the device as painful, according to the American Council on Exercise. Abs belts efficacy remains arguable; they provide no practical carryover benefits and they are not suitable replacements for regular aerobic and strength-training exercise, explains ACE chief exercise physiologist Dr. Cedric Bryant.
In addition to sketchy efficacy, the FDA explains that abs belts may also cause uncomfortable and potentially dangerous side effects. The FDA has received reports from consumers who have sustained injuries from EMS devices, including shocks, burns, bruising, skin irritation and pain. Abs belts have only been approved for temporarily strengthening or toning muscles, not for weight loss or to shrink your waist. Watch for misdirected or shoddy advertising for abs belts that make illegal and unsubstantiated claims such as losing weight or developing rock hard abs, advises the FDA.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Electronic Muscle Stimulators
- Bio-Medical Research: Slendertone 7P Abdominal Muscle Toner
- Journal of Sports Science and Medicine: The Effects of Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation Training on Abdominal Strength, Endurance, and Selected Anthropometric Measures
- American Council on Exercise: EMS Claims Exposed by American Council on Exercise Study in May of 2000