“If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” – Is this old adage true of ab toning belts?
Imagine getting the perfect iron board, flat stomach with six-pack ripples without having to do the strenuous workouts.
Well, that is exactly what ab belts are supposed to do. These abdominal toning belts use electronic stimulation which is meant to magically work your abs into shape.
These electrical currents are believed to mimic the central nervous system so well that they cause the abs to contract.
So, as the toning belt contracts and then relaxes your muscles continuously, your stomach muscles are actually getting some sort of workout.
You’ve probably seen these belts advertised on late-night infomercials and fitness websites but if you’re like us, you have probably wondered if they are the real deal or not.
The answer to whether these ab belts can chisel your stomach into a statuesque physique depends on the results you are striving for.
The fitness market is inundated with ab sculpting devices as well as shredding products that promise to get you beach ready in a matter of weeks.
Unfortunately, most of these products such as supplements, lotions, and, of course, toning devices do not live up to their initial hype.
The old adage of “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” is true in most quick-fire toning products.
But what about ab belts?
In this article, we are going to discuss the pros and cons of abdominal toning belts and find out, once and for all, if these ab belts absolutely work or not.
We will look at what ab belts do and how they work. We will also discover if these belts are truly gut-busting and whether they can shrink belly fat and help you lose weight.
Of course, your main question is whether you can get Aquaman Abs or Wonder Woman’s physique from sitting back and letting the belt work its magic.
Let’s find out together!
Ab Belts – What they can and can’t do
If an ab belt or ab stimulator is used frequently and with enough intensity, it can tone and strengthen your ab muscles.
However, this is only true for some people. As with most toning exercises, commitment, and consistency is key.
In one study, (check it out here) it was found that an ab belt could decrease waist size but not for everybody who used one.
Sounds promising so far but an electric ab belt was not proven to reduce belly fat or even cause weight loss.
As with doing a hundred crunches a day or a 5k run, this has to be supplemented with a balanced, healthy diet if you want to accomplish weight loss and toning.
A 2005 ab stimulator study by the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse looked at an earlier study from 2002 and found some interesting results.
They found that the use of ab belts “…improved isometric strength, isometric and dynamic endurance, and a number of self-perceived outcomes.”
These outcomes were found in the participants who stated that their abs felt more toned and they gained more positivity about their body shape after the use of these belts.
As with tests such as this, we are going to look at how electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) can be effective when toning specific ab muscles and strengthening them.
However, if you want to use an ab belt to target one area for weight loss, then you will be disappointed.
Let’s take a look at the results of the 2005 and 2018 study.
2005 and 2018 University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Ab Stimulator study
Using a Slendertone Flex ab belt, the researchers studied participants for 8 weeks and tested them for abdominal strength.
As with an earlier test conducted in 2002 by Bio-Medical Research in Ireland, it was found that there were positive outcomes.
It was found that consistent use of the Slendertone Flex belt resulted in:
- A decrease in waist girth
- A significant increase in abdominal strength and endurance
- An improved self-belief that participant’s abdominals were firmer and more toned
On the other hand, there we some aspects that were not as successful such as:
- No weight loss
- No reduction in body mass index (BMI)
- No change in the largest area of the stomach
From these results, it was determined that ab muscles did, indeed, get stronger, especially in the short 8 week time span. The belly area also shrank a little in certain parts.
However, weight loss and a reduction in belly fat were not evident so the belts were not successful in these aspects.
Once more, a further study was conducted in 2018 by the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. This time, the leader of the initial ab stimulator study, John Porcari, used newer EMS devices to see its effects on ab strength, ab endurance, ab girth, body satisfaction, and the participant’s self-perception of their body shapes.
Studying high and low-intensity stimulation, it was concluded that high-intensity stimulation could increase ab strength and endurance significantly more than low-intensity.
However, as with the 2005 study, the ab belt had no effect on Body Mass Index (BMI) or overall waist size.
Although these studies found some benefits to using ab belts, there are some factors to take into account before you consider their findings.
One issue with these studies was the small number of participants. Although the research was thorough, this small sample size just couldn’t represent the entirety of the US public.
Therefore, the results for these participants could change drastically for hundreds or thousands of other people who purchase and use an ab stimulator belt.
Another issue with the studies was that no one involved was severely overweight. The 2005 study did not include anyone with a BMI of over 28 while the 2018 high-intensity ab belt trial’s participants all had an average BMI of 24.
A BMI of 24 is considered a normal, average weight while 28 is deemed just slightly overweight. Consequently, these tests couldn’t answer whether an ab belt could send electronic signals through various inches of fat or if they work better on slimmer individuals. Such questions can only be answered with more extensive research on a wider scale.
It is also worth considering the voltage used in the ab belts from these studies. A range of studies has found that an electronic signal must be powerful enough to “…obtain muscular contractions in excess of 60% of their maximal voluntary contraction (MVC)” and should “…be in the range of 60-80% of MVC to induce changes.”
Ab belts such as the Slendertone Flex ab belt on Amazon may not be as powerful as the ones used in the studies and, therefore, not as effective but it is not possible to determine whether commercially available ab stimulators are as strong or not.
Nonetheless, it is believed that “many over-the-counter EMS devices do not deliver a strong enough signal to reach this threshold.” This was according to John Perconti when he led the research into ab belts in 2018.
The benefits of using an ab belt
As scientific studies have shown, there is evidence that backs up the claims that ab belts can positively affect your muscles.
Even as far back as 1761, Luigi Galvani discovered that direct electrical stimulation led to contractions in muscles.
A long time after this first discovery, sports training began utilizing this knowledge in the 1960s and 1970s and, to this day, direct electrical stimulation is used as physiotherapy as well as training.
Clinical studies have also shown that direct levels of electrical currents can affect skeletal muscle fibers in certain ways. In turn, this leads to more pinpoint training for different needs such as resistance, endurance, and strength.
Electrical stimulation therapy has been proven to improve a soccer player’s kicking strength. A 2010 study found that ball speed from stationary kicking positions and knee extension torque increased significantly after 5 weeks of consistent EMS on a player’s quadricep muscles.
Using ab belts for muscle stimulation also increased the strength of professional elite athletes.
An extensive review looked at nearly 100 studies relating to the effects of EMS on the physical performance of elite athletes.
After 3 to 6 weeks of EMS use, various performance aspects improved for these athletes such as their:
- Maximum strength
This review shined light on some surprising results. One key benefit EMS had on these athletes was the significant increase in their gains. “…despite their already high levels of fitness” the athletes were “able to significantly enhance their level of strength.”
This was especially intriguing as elite athletes are usually already at their peak of fitness and the top tier of performance. There is generally very little room for improvement but electrical stimulation helped most athletes grow stronger.
Another benefit of ab belts is how it decreases postnatal diastasis recti abdominis muscles (DRAM). This is otherwise known with the less scientific name of “pooch belly” that pregnant women regularly get once they give birth.
A 2017 study saw women with DRAM, who were around 2-months postpartum, use ab stimulators as well as partake in ab exercises. Another control group just did ab exercises without an ab belt.
After 8 weeks, both groups of participants experienced a huge improvement in reducing DRAM.
Even more interestingly, the group using ab belts saw an even better improvement than the group who only did ab exercises.
When looking at what the ab belts could do in this case, the following improvements were seen:
- A decrease in DRAM
- A decrease in waist/hip ratio
- A decrease in Body Mass Index (BMI)
- An increase in ab muscle strength
Here in the USA, ab belts are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ab belts are divided into two categories: Medical/prescription devices and regular type devices.
They can be used for medical purposes such as re-educating muscles after an injury or muscle spasms. EMS has also been used for post-surgical stimulation.
Science has proven that ab belts and EMS devices work in sports and medicine. You can find a dedicated page to electronic muscle stimulators on the FDA website here.
This is to regulate the sales that go directly to consumers with devices such as ab belts. This is important because of some untrue advertisements on the web and in commercials that promise results that just are not possible.
The FDA explains that EMS manufacturers must demonstrate how safe and effective their devices are and if they can match the claims they make with their marketing.
If you are planning to buy an ab belt, it is worth reading 10 questions the FDA answers to better explain why manufacturers of muscle stimulation devices need to be regulated.
Some of the questions are basic such as:
- Do ab belts/EMS devices really work? – Their answer: “…no EMS devices have been cleared at this time for weight loss, girth reduction, or for obtaining rock hard abs.”
- Will an ab belt give me the same effect that many sit-ups, crunches, and other ab exercises will? – Their answer: “Using these devices alone will not give you “six-pack” abs…” and it “will not create a major change in your appearance without the addition of diet and regular exercise.”
- Is the FDA concerned about the unregulated marketing of EMS devices? – Their answer: “Yes. FDA has received reports of shocks, burns, bruising, skin irritation, and pain associated with the use of some of these devices. Some injuries required hospital treatment.”
As you can see, independent trials and studies have found some benefits of using ab belts but the jury is still out on their overall impact.
The FDA has not approved any EMS devices for weight loss or gaining six-packs so more studies are needed.
Ab belts for people with a small layer of body fat
The core message of ab belts is that they can tighten up your ab muscles somewhat but the visible impact depends on a host of other factors.
One main factor is the amount of body fat between the ab belt and ab muscles.
It is believed that the current from these devices is not strong enough to make it through numerous layers of fat. Therefore, these belts are probably not strong enough for severely overweight individuals.
It is recommended that fat-burning workouts should be the main priority to see any weight drop off.
Only after some time when the body fat has been reduced sufficiently, should an ab belt be used effectively.
If you’re looking to get a washboard stomach and rock hard 6-pack abs, then you must understand that this can only be achieved if you have a very small layer of body fat.
Even having over 10% body fat is enough to hide any muscles from view. An ab belt may tone you up underneath but without that fat burn, your results will continue to go unnoticed.
If you use an ab belt regularly for up to 8 weeks, you should not expect to see the contours of your muscles straight away.
Lose some belly fat and get your body fat percentage down and only then will you start seeing results.
You can reduce your body fat percentage by sticking to a healthy diet and workout regime. Then, use an ab belt to supplement your gains and add that extra toning boost.
When losing an inch or two from your waist, you will not only see the contours of your ab muscles but you will also feel a lot better in yourself.
Just an inch or so can give you a large psychological boost to get you on a fitter and healthier road. Chuck in the investment of an ab belt and you could feel a million dollars very soon!
Popular ab belt brands
If you were to search for fitness products that promised you rock hard pecs and abs in a matter of weeks, you will probably be searching the web for longer than it takes to actually achieve a six-pack.
You must consider popular and well-known brands if you are looking to purchase an ab belt. This is because they have a proven track record and thousands of customer reviews to gauge their pros and cons.
One of the most popular brands is Slendertone. This fitness company has been selling ab belts via television and magazine ads for a few decades. For you young readers, they have even by selling ab belts since before the internet became popular!
Slendertone is known for producing high-quality ab belts for both sexes.
One such belt is the Slendertone CoreFit Abdominal Toning Belt. You can check the customer’s feedback and reviews on such belts to find out whether it is the right one for you or not.
Some other very popular ab stimulators include:
- The Flex Belt Abdominal Muscle Toner
- Antmona Abs Stimulator, Muscle Toner
- Flextone Abs Stimulator
- OSITO Abs Stimulator Muscle Toner Abdominal Muscle Trainer
When viewing these products, you will come across positive and negative reviews. It is important you consider these as most of the customers have tried and tested the ab belts over a certain period of time.
However, what you may not be able to know is the body fat percentage of some of these users which could be different to you.
Try and find a review from someone with similar body weight and shape to you to see if their results are what you desire.
Many negative reviews state that the ab belt simply didn’t work. However, some of these have stated that they only used a belt for one or two sessions.
In reality, you need to use any EMS device consistently for 8 weeks or more to have any results.
Do your due diligence when purchasing and investing in an ab belt and be aware of any knock-off brands and false advertisements.
Alternatives to ab belts
If ab belts are unable to offer you what you want in terms of fitness, then there are some alternatives.
As we have mentioned, to get any benefits from an ab toning belt, you will need to lose excess belly fat as an ab stimulator only has a limited effect through a layer or so of fat.
Therefore, you should start using dip belts and doing intensive fat-burning workouts and adjust the types of food you eat in your diet.
Before you begin any intensive workout routine, you should consider your level of fitness and how overweight you may be.
Of course, what you want to gain from an ab belt is dependent on your personal preferences so if you just want to use one to feel more toned and not necessarily see any muscle definition, then you may not have to shrink your body fat percentage down dramatically.
As with any change in diet and workout regiment, consult your doctor first to ensure it is safe to do so.
Some additional exercises you can do to burn fat and work on your abs include using:
- Elliptical trainers (Here we compare the 7 best foldable elliptical options)
- Rowing machines (Click here for our Life Fitness Rowing Machine review)
- Stepping machines (We compared the 7 best Stair Stepper Machines)
Consistency is key! Continue fat-burning workouts with a healthy diet and over the space of 4 to 8 weeks, you should start to see a difference in your body fat percentage.
Once you begin to notice your fat levels decrease, you can start focusing on your ab muscles. Exercises that focus on your abdominal region include:
- Using an ab roller
- Using a sit-ups bench
At this point in your exercise program, you should be seeing the effects. It is usually, only at this point, that an ab toning belt could make a positive impact.
Once you achieve less body fat with a stronger core, the tightening of your ab muscles from an ab belt should give you more chance of seeing muscle definition.
With the right approach, ab belts can help you achieve defined ab muscles but not on their own.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are many common questions about ab belts so let’s take a look at them and answer each one for you below.
Do ab belts reduce belly fat?
No matter what device you use or exercise you do, spot reducing fat from a specific spot of your body just is not possible.
There have been numerous studies on this matter, such as this one from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
It was found that “six weeks of abdominal exercise training alone was not sufficient to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat and other measures of body composition.”
In layman’s terms, ab stimulation on its own will not reduce belly fat. You can not target any belly fat with any exercise.
You can work muscles underneath but the whole area of body fat must be reduced through fat-burning exercises first.
Do ab belts cause muscle soreness?
Ab belts work by contracting your muscles repeatedly. This is the same as strength training or when you do crunches.
Therefore, ab belts do cause muscle soreness but this depends on how long you use one.
Just wearing an ab stimulator for 5 minutes may not leave any soreness but you could experience some muscle fatigue after 10 to 15 minutes.
How much should I use an ab belt and for how long?
Previous research trials into ab stimulators have shown that they should be used 5 times a week to experience significant muscle strengthening and toning.
During the first week, participants would wear an ab belt for 20 minutes per session. This gradually increased to 30 minutes from weeks 2 to 4 and then 40 minutes a time during weeks 5 to 8.
Although uncomfortable and painful at first, the more an individual uses an ab bet, the more they can withstand, as with exercises. This generally means the muscles are getting stronger and tighter.
Can I burn calories with an ab belt?
The short answer is, no. If you intend to burn calories, you must do fat-burning exercises.
Even a simple walk can burn calories. If your goal is to lose some inches off your waist, start doing high-intensity body fat workouts and cardio.
An ab belt alone will not help at all in your mission to lose weight.
So there are the pros and cons of using an ab belt. Ab belts do work but only under the right circumstances.
Let’s sum up what an ab belt can and can not do.
Ab belts CAN:
- Activate muscles
- Tone existing muscles
- Help you feel better about your body
- Help you feel toned
- Help in physical therapy
Ab belts CAN NOT:
- Aid in any weight loss when used on their own
- Work off any large amounts of fat tissue
- Reduce Body Mass Index (BMI)
Ab belts will stimulate your muscles like physical workouts but with electrical currents instead.
As with other EMS devices, ab muscle stimulators can have a positive impact on physical therapy and for those recovering from injuries.
Although more research still needs to be done, there is no doubt that EMS has a range of benefits, even for your mental health.
If you want a six-pack stomach, leave the ab belts alone until your body fat percentage is around 10% and eat healthily. You should save your hard-earned money and prioritize a healthy diet and workout regime first.
Focus some workouts on your core to strengthen it, even if you can not see any physical changes under your body fat. Over time, with dedication, you will see results.
Once you have lost body fat and strengthened your ab muscles, only then will you potentially see any benefits from using an ab belt.
I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.
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