In the age of selfies and social media, everyone seems a little obsessed with their looks. Don’t worry, you are not alone: everyone wants to get that “beach body” fast!
And buying an abs stimulator, before you share your pictures with others or appear in public at the beach, might sound like a good option, especially if you don’t have time for the gym.
But let’s see if any of those devices can live up to their promises. In this article, you’ll learn how ab stimulators actually work, and the scientific evidence on their effectiveness, things personal trainers and medical experts say, as well as myths and half-truths surrounding these gadgets. We’ll then review the five bestselling ab stimulators.
Table of Content
How Do Ab Stimulators Work?
The principle behind ab stimulators is electrical stimulation of the muscles that causes them to contract, and thus, presumably, help them grow and strengthen, substituting regular exercise. Usually, electrodes in abs stimulators press against bare skin and send electrical pulses intermittently to the abdomen (or other parts of the body, if there are more detachable EMS pads that can come with the abs belt).
At lower levels, you may feel a slight tingling sensation, whereas at higher levels, your muscles start to contract. Typical descriptions for such devices promise results after 6 to 8 weeks of continuous use for 10 to 30 minutes per day.
Few people know that electrical muscle stimulators are regulated by the FDA, meaning that companies advertising or selling such devices must fully comply with the FDA requirements. Unfortunately, in reality, not all firms play by the book. Over the years, the Federal Trade Commission has filed numerous complaints against multiple electronic abdominal exercise belts for false advertisements and misleading claims. Electrical muscle stimulators (EMS) are cleared by the FDA for use in physical therapy and rehabilitation under medical supervision.
One of the most well-known studies on the effects of electrical stimulation training on abdominal strength and endurance was published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine back in 2005, and was specifically conducted with the Slendertone FLEXTM belt (approved by the FDA). The researchers found that the use of the Slendertone significantly increased abdominal strength and endurance, as well as improved self-perceived abdominal firmness and tone.
The study suggested that the results could be attributed to the quality of the electrodes used in the Slendertone. The study was funded by Compex Technologies Inc., which engages in the design and manufacture of electrical stimulation products.
Another earlier published study (2002) in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research sought to test some of the statements made by EMS manufacturers, such as decreasing body weight and fat, increasing muscle strength, improving firmness and toning of the muscles. The study concluded that EMS had no significant effect on muscles of a healthy individual. Unfortunately, the abstract of the study offered at PubMed doesn’t state the duration of the research, except that the people assigned to the EMS group underwent stimulation three times per week. Thus, it would be wrong to assume the complete ineffectiveness of abs stimulators given the limited data.
Study from as early as 1987 showed that electrical stimulation could be a valuable treatment in the early care of low-back pain in patients for maintaining strength and endurance of back muscles when a more active exercise programs were too painful to perform.
A more recent study published in Critical Care and Research Practice in 2012 concluded that using electrical muscle stimulation induced beneficial effects in muscle strength and early mobilization of critically ill patients. This is exactly what the FDA cleared many EMS devices for: treating various medical conditions, including re-education, relaxation of muscle spasms, prevention of muscle atrophy, complications resulting from a stroke, serious injury or rehabilitation from surgery.
In 2015, FDA issued a warning on the misrepresentation of EMS devices, alerting that none of them can be used for girth reduction, weight loss, cellulite removal, and bust or body shaping. However, there is still conflicting data among scientific studies, suggesting that EMS or so-called ab belts can in fact contribute to weight loss (although insignificant), especially if used in combination with regular exercise.
The 2011 study suggests that EMS can increase energy expenditure depending on stimulation intensity; thus, devices such as these can serve as an additional measure for weight loss. The study, though, was conducted outside of the US, and was funded by the National Science Council of the Republic of China, Taiwan, which, yet again, might imply that some of the research methods can be different to those used and accepted in the USA.
Irrespective of these rather discouraging findings, people still use ab belts as complementary devices in their regular exercise routines. The more important aspect in this kind of application is the purpose and expectations of the users of such devices.
Here’s what my husband, a certified personal trainer, says regarding the use of abdominal stimulators:
“It all depends on what goals the buyers of such devices pursue: to pump the muscles of the press, to lose weight, or to get fit with minimum time and effort? I believe that ab stimulators can be effectively used if there are no opportunities for training or as an important component of a physical therapy at the initial stages of rehabilitation after injuries.
The abs stimulator will be ineffective for overweight people, individuals with sedentary lifestyle, or those who never trained their muscles. The muscles of the press are usually synergists in physical training and daily activities, and thus, ab stimulators, which only forcefully contract the muscles, won’t help in the development of a neuromuscular connection.
If your goal is to lose weight, then the abs stimulator alone won’t help much either: EMS devices cause a calorie burning that is marginal at best. Weight loss is primarily a question of diet and calorie deficit, and only secondly - muscle training (especially large muscle groups). If you think that your stomach is your problem area, then your belly fat will most probably be the last thing to go.
If you need to work on your press muscles, then the so-called “Big Three” exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, and bench press, will do a great job. If you still would like to target your press muscles specifically, then you’d better find a certified instructor who can help you find the right exercises, even if you have certain restrictions or medical conditions.
You might be tempted to use ab belts to reduce the time and effort spent on physical training, but the effectiveness of such devices is questionable.
However, there is an exception to the rule: EMS power suits for a full body workout. In addition to electrical impulses, people perform real exercises: twists, sit-ups, among others. This is not a solution for at-home workouts: this training should be supervised and directed by a certified instructor.”
TOP Abs Stimulators
If you are not totally convinced yet that it’s better to go to the gym to pump up your press muscles, or you just want to give it a try, then here’s a brief overview of the ultimately popular ab stimulators.
1. The Flex Belt Abdominal Muscle Toner
Personally, I have picked this model and there is a number of reasons for that. Let’s start off with the fact that this is the first FDA-cleared and medical-grade ab stimulator designed for strengthening and toning abdominal muscles, something that says a lot about its quality. What I particularly like about this product is that it is was manufactured by Bio Medical Research Ltd, an Ireland-based international company that boasts 50-year experience in R&D of medical-grade devices.
The product was clinically tested, with the results showing the increased firmness of the ab muscles in almost 100% of the test users. The clinical trials lasted for 6 weeks and were conducted by scientists from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. I suppose that this is ample proof of high performance of the Flex Belt, unlike many other products that are being advertised by manufacturers without any substantial evidence of their efficacy. The key to success is the technology used, which has been applied by health care professionals for over 50 years.
I would advise you to try this model not just because it worked for me, but also because it helped many other people as well. More importantly, the Flex Belt is the choice of celebrities. Many know model and reality TV star, Adrianne Curry. You may be curious to learn that this device has significantly contributed to her good physical condition. “It has taken my abs to a whole other level,” Adrianne says, highlighting the unit’s portability as one of its major benefits. Actress Denise Richards notes that with the Flex Belt she does not have to do multiple exercises to get all of her abs since the stimulator works all of them simultaneously.
I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that this device both stimulates the main stomach muscles and provides the user with the contraction of the upper and lower abs as well as the obliques. You will not have long to wait as the first results will be visible as soon as within several weeks. Just make sure that you follow the product label and do everything right. In particular, it is important to place the gel pads properly and replace them after 20 sessions of stimulation. I think this video explaining how to use it the right way will be helpful for you.
What do buyers say?
No wonder this product has gained a lot of positive reviews. The customers note that it was thoughtfully designed and comes with multiple programs and settings. They say that the stimulator is really effective and is able to considerably improve the abdominal muscle tone after several weeks of use.
For example, one elderly lady purchased it upon the advice of her brother after she noticed her abdominal fat being built up. Not only did she manage to improve her posture, but she also had most of her back pain relieved. To achieve these results, she has been using the device twice a day for over a month. Blogger #JaaackJack says that first she was skeptical about this product but eventually really liked using it as she felt like a little bit firmer after each session. “This is not going to give you six packs or anything like that, but it will help you tone and firm your muscles a little bit more,” the blogger stressed.
Flex Belt: Check the current price
2. Slendertone Abs Abdominal Muscle Toner
If you think that the above-mentioned product is too expensive for you, try this one. Slendertone is produced by the same manufacturer but is significantly cheaper and will cost you less than $100. Why? It comes with fewer toning programs (seven) and has 99 levels of intensity whereas the Flex Belt comes with 150 ones. Is it really that important? Well, some people believe that this makes no difference, and so do I. In my opinion, it is the technology and quality that makes the device efficient while other features just add to the comfort and make the unit easier to use.
The thing is that Slendertone is also FDA-cleared and has been successfully tested by the company as well. Both models are high-quality products with the difference that the former is more feature-packed. This model is used in more than 5,000 clinics throughout the world and has even been applied by astronauts.
Just look at the results of a trial conducted by scientists of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 2005. The study involved 24 persons who were stimulating their abs over the course of 8 weeks, turning on the device 5 days per week for about half an hour per session. An important condition was not to engage in any physical exercise during the trial.
The study has shown that those who used Slendertone had a 58-percent increase in abdominal strength and a 100-percent increase in abdominal endurance while their waist circumference decreased by more than 1.3 inches. The researchers have concluded that the product helps to improve the ab’s muscular strength and endurance but does not affect the body weight and the thickness of skinfolds.
I have analyzed the feedback and found out that half of the reviews are positive, with customers saying that the device works as advertised. However, some users complain that the belt size is not large enough for oversized people. There are customers who have been using Slendertone units for years and report a stable result. Some people are so enthusiastic about the device that they treat not only their abs but also their back and hips to tone up the muscles.
This video features one of the success stories involving this product. A 31-year-old Joanne says that the strength in her belly and back has increased when she started using it. “All the vibrations are going down my legs, it is really pulling me on the sides and right down in the center,” Joanne explained, adding that it was not painful at all.
Slendertone: Check the current price
3. ROKOO Muscle Trainer Stimulator Equipment with 10 Gel Pads
The manufacturer guarantees results after 6 weeks of continuous use for 20 minutes, 1-2 times per day every day.
There are 6 modes and 10 levels of intensity available. 3 in 1 means the device can be used for the abdomen, arms and legs. The product is lightweight and can be used anywhere, anytime. The perks are one year warranty, 30-day money back guarantee and 10 extra gel pads.
ROKOO: Check the current price
4. MOORAY SPORT Abs Stimulator Muscle Trainer | Best Budget Choice
The manufacturer guarantees results after using the ab belt for 8 weeks consecutive use for 12 minutes per day, 2-4 times per day every day. The gel pads should be changed after 15-20 times of continuing use. The ab pads can be used for abdomen, waist, arm and leg muscle training. There are 6 exercise modes and 10 intensity levels.
Suspiciously, there are 32 5-star reviews that promise miracle results and cures for any type of problem, and all are very recent. It could be, though, that this abs stimulator really works well, but comments that it helps losing weight or pump up muscles as early as two weeks in continuous use, are certainly alarming and of questionable sincerity.
MOORAY SPORT: Check the current price
5. BEN BELLE ABS Stimulator Muscle Toner
The manufacturer guarantees the results in toning, tightening, and strengthening of the body muscles after 6 to 8 weeks of consecutive use for 20 minutes per day, 5 days per week.
The dark blue version has 9 exercise modes and 20 intensity levels: from warm-up to high-intensity levels. The gel sheets need to be replaced after the 30th consecutive use.
BEN BELLE: Check the current price
How to Use Ab Stimulators?
Fix the ab stimulator where you want to strengthen your muscles. For example, if you want to work on your abdominal muscles, then center the large middle pad over your belly button, ensuring the smaller pads lay on other abdominal muscles between your ribs and hipbones. Fasten the belt and make sure it fits perfectly on your skin. Follow the instructions for your belt closely and always start from a low-intensity level. Also start small: allow the ab belt to work no more than 10 minutes for the first time and then gradually increase the amount of time spent using the stimulator. If you feel something is not right, turn off your device immediately.
Please make sure that you understand that using products not cleared by the FDA can be dangerous. Over the years, there have been multiple reports of shocks, burns, interference with other medical devices (like pacemakers) associated with the use of abdominal stimulators. So, if you think your product is malfunctioning, you should report it directly to the manufacturer or otherwise contact the FDA.
Expert Opinion: Dr. Arash Moradzadeh, Plastic Surgeon, K and B Surgical Center
Dr. Arash Moradzadeh, Plastic Surgeon, K and B Surgical Center
Arash Moradzadeh, MD, is trained in head and neck surgery as well as facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. He graduated from Washington University, where he received training in facial, sinus and neck procedures. Dr. Moradzadeh has published multiple scientific articles.
“We are using bioelectrical stimulation of your muscles with these paddles that go right into a gel pad. They have different modes, so depending on your fitness goals, we can change modes. And then it is gonna help build muscle sculpt out your body, increase your metabolism, which can aid in losing weight and also causes some improvement in the skin quality. This is working directly on your actual muscles. The idea is kind of like when you do a sit-up, your brain sends electrical signals to your muscles and causes them to contract. What we are doing now is a machine sending a very large signal to your muscle and making it contract. It is doing that in multiple different ways and directions… Ab belts are useful if you have a low back injury and you just want to deliver a little bit of energy to your muscle to tone it. But if you wanna get sculpted abs, ab belts are not going to work because it is only 10 milliamps of energy. That is not enough for the energy to deliver into the belly. The device that uses 30 milliamps of energy, penetrates all the way through to your muscle”.
10 Best-Selling Ab Stimulators Comparative Table
Unfortunately, you will have to shave your body hair for the abs stimulators to work effectively.
You cannot use any kind of EMS devices if you have an electronic implant (defibrillator, pacemaker, etc.) or suffer from a heart condition; you are pregnant; suffer from cancer, epilepsy, or have any other serious mental or physical dysfunction. Make sure you trust the supplier and/or manufacturer of the product. If in doubt, discontinue use immediately. Talk to a certified fitness instructor or medical professional to ensure you can use any such devices.
Yes, you can. This combined approach will highly likely bring you more positive results than using the ab belt alone.
Yes, it may. If your muscles are sore, try to switch to lower intensity next time you try your ab belt on. Also, you may as well expect redness of skin, which is natural, since the ab belt increases blood-flow to the stimulated areas. All these symptoms should fade away after some time. But if they persist, discontinue use, report to the manufacturer or talk to your doctor.
While promises of a beach body as early as 6 weeks after you start using the ab stimulator are certainly tempting, we advise you to speak to a healthcare professional and/or your fitness instructor and seek their professional advice before buying one.
A general rule goes as follows: if you want to lose weight, then you’d better start with a well-balanced diet and exercise; if you want to pump up your press muscles, then go to the gym and start exercising regularly; if you have medical conditions that require using an EMS device, then you will be prescribed one. Simple as that.
You can lose weight or work on your abs for your health or self-esteem, but you won’t be able to force nature to stop giving you some of these beautiful curves and folds that adorn and grace your body. So maybe it’s high time you learnt to love those folds back.