The Ab Flex Belt website features recommendations from television stars, professional athletes and Hollywood trainers. Moreover, the manufacturer of the Flex Belt claims the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the device for toning and strengthening the stomach muscles. However, the technology used in the Flex Belt is ineffective for weight loss.
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About the Flex Belt
The Flex Belt for abs uses a technology called electronic muscle stimulation. The belt delivers a bolt of electricity to the body, which stimulates the muscles and causes them to contract. Gel pads must be worn along with the belt to facilitate the electric impulses; these should be changed after 30 uses. According to the manufacturer, you'll see results if you wear the Flex Belt daily for 30 minutes after four to eight weeks. The Flex Belt is cleared as a Class II medical device. According to the FDA, more than 43 percent of medical devices are Class II devices and include electric wheelchairs and home pregnancy tests. In May 2011, the Flex Belt was priced around $200, excluding shipping and handling; one set of additional Gel Pads costs $15.00.
The primary use of EMS devices is for medical purposes, says the FDA. For example, they may be helpful to stroke victims with impaired muscle function during the rehabilitation process. Manufacturers of ab belts can claim that the device may "temporarily strengthen, tone or firm a muscle;" however, the FDA has not approved any ab belt, including the Flex Belt, to help you lose weight. These devices will not reduce belly fat or give you "six-pack abs." Without regular exercise and a reduced-calorie diet, you won't see a marked change in how your body looks.
Fitness Organization Study
Ab belts similar to the Flex Belt have been around since at least 2000, when the American Council on Exercise commissioned a study to gauge their effectiveness. A six-week study was conducted by exercise scientist John Porcari of the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. Porcari and his team recruited 72 adult women and divided them into three groups: a control group, which did nothing; an exercise group; and a "stimulation" group that wore an EMS device designed to tone the buttocks. At the conclusion of the study, researchers determined that the muscle strength in the exercise and stimulation group had improved. However, all three groups showed nominal change in body weight, body mass index and hip circumference.
Legal Action Against Manufacturers of Ab Belts
In the early 2000s, the Federal Trade Commission took action against the manufacturers of other EMS devices for making false and deceptive claims. Consumers were led to believe that by wearing the ab belts they received the same benefits as exercise. The manufacturers also asserted that consumers would lose weight and inches. The belts were heavily promoted via infomercial and reputable print publications; like the Flex Belt, advertisements for these products also featured photographs of famous models as well as testimonials from alleged health professionals. An attorney for one of the manufacturers pointed out that the belt came with instructions to diet and exercise. "I think that anybody will know that a piece of electricity isn't going to cause people to lose weight," he said.
How to Lose Weight
The Flex Belt won't help you lose weight, nor will it get rid of belly fat. A reduced-calorie diet and regular cardiovascular exercise can help you to lose weight. The ACE advises keeping a food journal to see how many calories you're eating. Cut down on alcohol and junk food. Add healthy foods to your diet, such as fruits, veggies and whole grain foods. Spend at least 150 to 300 minutes per week performing moderately-intense aerobic activity to help with your weight-loss goal. Spend 20 minutes, at least two to three days a week, on strength training activities to boost your metabolism. Abdominal exercise will strengthen your abdominal muscles; however, until you lose weight, they'll simply be hidden under the rest of your body fat.
- American Council on Exercise: EMS Claims Exposed by American Council on Exercise Study in May of 2000
- FTC: FTC Charges Three Top-selling Electronic Abdominal Exercise Belts with Making False Claims
- FTC: Marketers of “Fast Abs” Exercise Belt to Pay Over $5 Million to Settle FTC Charges
- FTC: FTC Asks Court to Order Ab Belt Makers to Return Money to Consumers
- ABC News: FTC Calls Ab Belts Flabby
- Centers for Disease Control: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- ACE Fitness: 6 Strategies for Losing the Spare Tire