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Each year millions of people research and buy fitness and weight loss gadgets to get closer to the body they want.

One of the more popular products on the market claiming to strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles is an ab stimulator, which is an electrical muscle stimulator.

Activate muscles

The benefits of using an ab stimulator are a result of the electrical currents that pass through the body, which is why these are also known as electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) devices.

An ab stimulator belt contains small electrodes that send electrical pulses through your skin when you secure the device around your midsection.

Tone existing muscles

Dr. Manish Shah, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon, says ab stimulators can help tone muscles in the midsection by helping contract the muscles and activating blood flow with vibration.

However, he points out that there's a misconception that ab stimulators will burn fat or be a primary tool for losing weight, and this isn't the case.

“A regimen consisting of no significant nutritional and fitness goals other than the use of an ab stimulator will not help you achieve chiseled abs,” he explains.

Help in physical therapy

Since electrical muscle stimulators (EMS) are considered devices under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA is required to regulate them.

With that in mind, the FDA states that most EMS devices they review are intended for use in physical therapy and rehab environments, not for aiding in fat loss.

While a Google search can produce countless consumer reviews and anecdotal stories about inches lost using an ab stimulator, according to the FDA, no EMS device is currently cleared for weight loss, girth reduction, or chiseling a six-pack.

Determining whether or not ab belts work depends on your overall goals for using the product.

If you’re after continuous muscle activation and stimulation while you go about your day, then there’s a good chance you’ll be happy with the results.

If you’re hoping to drop inches off your midsection, you might be left feeling a little disappointed.

“What you will not get with just the abs stimulator is the holistic benefits of doing a crunch the old fashion way,” explains Shah. “When you exercise, though you may be doing a crunch on the floor to target the abdominals, your whole body is cooperating in your workout. This is why you sweat and burn more calories with regular exercise,” he adds.

Plus, there's no significant body of research that validates the marketing claims of these products.

Beyond what we know about muscle stimuli, contractions, and this equipment’s ability to engage individual sections of muscles, Shah says there isn’t much proof to substantiate claims of rock-hard abs and body mass reduction.

Ab stimulators can

  • stimulate muscles in your midsection to contract
  • help tone muscles

Ab stimulators can’t

  • aid in weight loss when used alone
  • work off a large amount of fat tissue

If you’re considering an ab stimulator belt, your first order of business is to do some research.

There are several brands online that claim to deliver similar results, which means digging through testimonials and looking at FDA approval should be at the top of your list.

The data and scientific research about the top brands is practically nonexistent. In fact, a 2005 study is one of the only pieces of research that talks about testing a specific brand of ab stimulators.

Purchasing a product that lacks clearance by the FDA isn't necessarily wrong, it just means that the claims about safety and results aren't regulated.

“When you buy FDA-regulated equipment, you know that you are buying something that has been deemed safe for the general public and meets general requirements for consumer wellbeing,” explains Shah.

This regulation means that there isn’t enough research for the FDA to approve the claims made in marketing materials but that the product holds no significant risk to the life or health of a consumer.

With the above considerations in mind, there are a few brands cleared by the FDA including The Flexbelt and Slendertone, which comes in three different models: Connect Abs, CoreFit, and Abs.

You can shop for the Flex Belt and Slendertone online.

As with any product or device making health claims, there are always risks associated with consumer use. In general, the FDA has received information from users about:

  • shocks
  • burns
  • bruising
  • skin irritation
  • and pain

While the exact electrical muscle stimulator device isn't named, it’s a good warning to consider if you plan on buying an ab stimulator.

Shah says some reports online claim the product can interfere with the functions of devices like pacemakers and defibrillators.

Additionally, he cautions that while it may be an attractive idea to use these devices to help maintain weight or results, people who may have had procedures such as a cesarean delivery, liposuction, or tummy tucks must consult with their doctor or surgeon to make sure the device wouldn’t cause damage to the incision site.

EMS devices Might not be right for:
  • people with electrical implants like pacemakers and defibrillators
  • people who’ve had abdominal or other surgeries

Before you click “buy now” on one of these ab stimulators, keep doing your research. Look into FDA approval and testimonials from other people. Check out reviews on sites like Consumer Reports.

Consider your goals and motivation. And remember that fat loss, especially in your abdominal area, only happens through regular activity and a healthy diet.