It's difficult enough to set aside time for things you want to do, let alone tedious tasks like working out. You're between a rock and a hard place: You want toned, strong abs, but it's hard to carve out time for the necessary exercise. Then along come infomercials promising the strong, sculpted abs of a fitness model without doing anything more than wearing a belt. Nothing's ever that easy, so don't place your order just yet.
1. How Do They Work?
The lure of a piece of equipment that can take the place of a workout by being worn during your daily routine is understandable. The idea is that you strap on the ab belt under your clothing and wear it for a certain amount of time while you do what you normally do during any day. The belt has a battery pack that sends mild electric shocks into your ab muscles, a technique that is known as electrical stimulation. The idea of using electrical stimulation to strengthen the abs was borrowed from the practice of electrically stimulating the muscles of injured and paralyzed people to keep them from losing muscle tone.
2. Not a Total Solution
It turns out that using an ab belt to strengthen your abs isn't backed up with sufficient evidence, nor does using an ab belt to get the coveted six-pack typically work out as the infomercials promise. A study conducted in France showed that because of the way that electrical stimulation works, theoretically it could be paired with traditional muscle-strengthening techniques. However, the study also concluded that evidence was low for using electrical stimulation for strengthening muscles and that more tests were needed.
3. Exercise is Unavoidable
Even if you choose to use an ab belt to electrically stimulate your muscles, you'll get quicker, better results by also continuing with an exercise program that includes strengthening exercises as well as cardio for burning fat off your abdominal muscles, so those stronger, more toned abs show through. In an excerpt from "Athletic Abs" on Human Kinetics, authors Tom Seabourne and Scott Cole explain the effectiveness of simple exercises such as isometrically contracting your abs when you're sitting at your desk, a trick Bruce Lee is said to have used to help build his impressive six-pack. Good-old crunches are another simple yet effective way of strengthening your abs, according to Seabourne and Cole.
4. Your Back Plays a Part
A strong back not only helps support your spine, it also assists in supporting your abs, a key factor in building ab strength. It's a reciprocal relationship, too, because strong abs will support your lower back, as well. Personal trainers and health officials have recognized this and now recommend strengthening your lower back as part of overall core strengthening. The Mayo Clinic points out the effectiveness of doing exercises such as the bridge because it engages your abs and your back in a coordinated manner that strengthens both simultaneously.
- PubMed.gov: Electrical Stimulation and Muscle Strengthening
- But Wait...There's More!; Remy Stern
- Human Kinetics: Tone and Strengthen Abs
- The Little Abs Workout Book; Erika Dillman
- Mayo Clinic: Core Exercises: Why You Should Strengthen Your Core Muscles
- Athletic Abs; Tom Seabourne and Scott Cole
- Rebecca Peterson: PTA; B.A. Exercise Science, Pocatello, Idaho
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images