Although summer is winding down, sculpting perfect abs is still a goal for many. It seems that all of us are always on the hunt for perfect abs, or at least the illusion of them. I happen to live by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (mostly attributed) declaration that “great abs are made in the kitchen, not at the gym.” There are numerous ways to get ripped abs, from dietary changes (eating healthy fats and proteins) to focusing on exercises that help build your core and stimulate your ab muscles. And then, of course, there is ab-sculpting technology, like electrical-stimulation abdominal belts. But don’t gadgets like this seem like a cheap ploy to prevent you from actually doing the hard work involved to get the abs you so desire?
Electric-stimulation abdominal belts cause muscles to contract, giving your abs a “workout” without requiring you to do a single sit-up, according to the companies that sell these devices. Companies that sell these devices promise rock hard abs and fat loss — a promise that almost seems too good to be true. A new one in particular, Sixpad, which is supposed to fit the contours of your body, unlike regular ab belts, is being promoted by soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, who likely gets his rock hard abs not from the Sixpad itself, but rather from running and putting in hours at the gym.
“The ab belts will help you tone muscles, but that alone won’t make much difference in your appearance, given that most people’s ab muscles are hidden by fat,” says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, a San Diego nonprofit that certifies personal trainers and funds research on exercise and fitness. He adds: “You are not going to see any fat loss, and you are not going to see a six pack. You have to get off your butt for that.”
A study on electric-stimulation abdominal belts and their effectiveness on intra-abdominal pressure, intra-muscular pressure in the erector spinae muscles, and myoelectrical activities of trunk muscles (a highly scientific and fancy way of saying ABS) by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, concluded that: “Wearing abdominal belts raises intra-muscular pressure of the erector spinae muscles and appears to stiffen the trunk. Assuming that increased intra-muscular pressure of the erector spinae muscles stabilizes the lumbar spine, wearing abdominal belts may contribute to the stabilization during lifting exertions.” In other words, electric-stimulation abdominal belts do stimulate the ab muscles and add to strength and stabilization during lifting exercises. So, maybe they work a little, but not in the mystical way we really want them to.
In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a study that has found that abdominal belts provide you with bulging six-pack ab muscles. Perhaps instead of spending time trying to carve abs with technology, it’s time to get into the kitchen and start slicing avocados
If you are looking into one of these belts, proceed with caution: Not all of them are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration; they must clear the stimulation belts to assess the safety of the electrical apparatus. The belts that are regulated by the FDA are ones that are used by physical therapists to rehabilitate muscles that have weakened after injuries or surgery, which are actually proven to help. The FDA has received reports of burns, bruising, and skin irritation from use of the ab belts. In extreme cases, even well-designed models can interfere with pacemakers or defibrillators.
Looking for some inspiration on how to successfully get a six-pack? Here’s four things Channing Tatum does to get perfectly sculpted abs.