Electronic Machines for Abdominal Workouts

Electrical abdominal belts don't provide the same results as good old crunches.
i PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration calls them electrical muscle stimulators, devices that come with the promise of toning, strengthening and firming abdominal muscles. The federal agency regulates these electronic machines because they’re health devices for physical therapy and rehabilitation of patients with certain conditions. Although they may tighten your abs temporarily, they don’t provide a fitness workout. Be sure to check with your doctor before using a device that sends an electric current through your body.

How It Works

The electronic muscle stimulator for toning abs is a belt that you wrap around your abdomen. The device discharges an electrical current that causes the muscle to contract. While the low-voltage shock indeed gives your abdominal muscles a jolt, the event is too insignificant to make a lasting or noticeable difference from a fitness standpoint, says the FDA.

The Claims

Marketers of electrical muscle stimulators as fitness aides claim that the belts tone and firm your abs. Some go farther, advertising the belt’s power to melt fat around the waist to make you lighter and skinny. These claims are not only a diversion from the device’s original purpose, but they are scientifically unsound. As the FDA points out, electrical stimulation alone, without the right diet and exercise program, does not give you six-pack abs.

How It Helps

Electronic muscle stimulators are available both as prescription-only and over-the-counter medical devices. The belts help to reduce muscle spasms and atrophy in stroke and other patients. But while the electrical current promotes improved muscle function after an injury, it doesn’t increase muscle mass. Even though the FDA has cleared several belts for abdominal toning and firming, the agency states that the effect is temporary and difficult to notice when the devices are used to improve fitness.


Besides the lack of proof that electronic muscle stimulators build and tone your abs, the belts have been plagued by reports that they cause injury. The FDA has logged complaints about burns, bruises, shocks, skin irritation and pain related to using the device. In some cases, hospital treatment was necessary. As dull as doing crunches can be, they are still your safest option for an abs workout.

the nest