It happens every year: Winter is finally winding down, the weather is warming up and shirtless season is upon us. The only problem? You haven’t been keeping up with your ab workouts and don’t have the glorious six-pack you want. Heck, even the faint outline of a six-pack would do. It’s moments like these that make you wonder if there’s a faster, easier way to those sweet, sweet ab gains.
That’s where ab stimulators, a belt device with electrodes that shock and, yup, stimulate your abs, can help. Or, can they?
The health, wellness and fitness industry thrives on our aspirations. We want to have an Instagram-ready body that will earn us all the likes, hearts and thumbs up we could ever want.
But what if you don’t have the time or motivation you need to sculpt a picture-perfect body?
There’s a whole host of products, like ab stimulators, that promise a shortcut to better health. Ab stimulators claim to do the work for you by electrically stimulating your muscles, thus saving you time and effort. In theory, you can get the muscle gains and fat burning you need to bring that six-pack to the surface, all while you watch Netflix.
Before spending your hard-earned money, you deserve to hear the facts. Do ab stimulators work as advertised and if so, how? We spoke to a few fitness enthusiasts and industry pros to get their thoughts and their consensus was clear:
There’s only one way to get the abs you want, and it ain’t with an ab stimulator.
Do Ab Stimulators Work? We Asked the Experts
First, let’s define work. In this sense, “work” means promoting ab muscle development and/or burning fat. That’s what most of these devices promise to do. In the first bullet point on one particular Amazon listing, one ab stimulator device claims exactly this: “Our team has designed the ultimate training device that allows you to lose fat and workout your muscles from the comfort of your home.”
So, given that claim and that definition, do ab stimulators work? Bluntly, they do not. Though some of the experts we spoke to conceded there may be therapeutic uses for ab stimulators, they all agreed that there is no science to support the idea that electrical stimulation will promote muscle development or burn fat.
These devices used to be the domain of late-night infomercials, which promised couch potatoes they could tone their body without turning off the TV. Now, you’ll find these devices on retailers like Amazon. And like the infomercials of old, the Amazon listings don’t exactly inspire confidence:
Personal trainer Robert Herbst knows this for sure from experience. The 19-time world champion powerlifter and founder of w8lifterusa.com, has been working in fitness for decades and he didn’t mince words about ab stimulators.
“In a word, ab stimulators don’t work,” Herbst told Spy. “Muscles get bigger and stronger in response to contracting to do work. In order to get them to develop, one must cause them to do more than their normal work. To do that through the artificial stimulation of an ab stimulator, the stimulator would need to give such a powerful shock you would be doubled over in agony.”
Simply put, the amount of stimulation most ab stimulators provide is “a waste of time” if you’re trying to develop muscles, he said.
Jeff Parke, a fitness enthusiast and founder of Top Fitness Magazine, said the same thing.
“There is no evidence that ab stimulators can substantially change a person’s muscle mass,” Parke told Spy. “And there’s definitely not any scientific evidence that shows ab stimulators increasing muscle, helping with posture, or blasting away fat.”
Parke came with receipts too, referring to a 2019 study published in PLoS One that tracked the effects of electrical stimulation in athletes over 12 weeks. While the study only followed 24 male college track and field athletes, split into a control and experimental group, it nonetheless found that “there were no significant changes in cross-sectional area of the rectus abdominis or abdominal oblique muscles or in subcutaneous fat thickness in the training or control groups after the intervention period.”
The study concluded, “These results suggest that low-frequency (20 Hz) neuromuscular electrical stimulation training for 12 weeks is ineffective in inducing hypertrophy of the abdominal muscles in trained athletes.” In layman’s terms, these ab stimulators did precisely diddly squat.
What about ab stimulators that claim to come with approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration? If these devices claim to burn fat or tone muscles, you should be extremely skeptical.
Here is exactly what the FDA website has to say about ab stimulators that make big promises:
Q. These electrical muscle stimulators are advertised not only to tone, firm, and strengthen abdominal muscles, but also to provide weight loss, girth reduction, and “rock hard” abs. Do they really work?
A. While an EMS device may be able to temporarily strengthen, tone or firm a muscle, no EMS devices have been cleared at this time for weight loss, girth reduction, or for obtaining “rock hard” abs.
Some muscle stimulators are FDA-approved for use in physical therapy under the guidance of a professional; however, there’s no reason to believe FDA-approved ab stimulators will help you get the six-pack abs of your dreams. On top of that, the FDA reports that it has “received reports of shocks, burns, bruising, skin irritation, and pain associated with the use of some of these devices.”
In Conclusion: There Are No Shortcuts
Everybody Spy spoke to agreed that ab stimulators simply can’t replace the work required to build muscle and burn fat. If you want those gains, you’re going to have to work for them.
So now that we’ve got the facts about ab stimulators, let’s consider some ab products that actually help tone and exercise your abs. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple bodyweight exercises like crunches and sit-ups that let you tone your abs. There are also plenty of ab machines and home fitness equipment that can help as well. Below, you’ll find some of our favorite tools for toning up your abs.
1. Sports Research Ab Wheel Roller
BEST AB ROLLER
You want an ab stimulator? You don’t need electricity to stimulate the heck out of your abs with the Sports Research Ab Wheel Roller. It checks off all the boxes for a solid ab roller — a thick wheel, cushioned handles and affordable price — and it’ll give your abs a run for their money if you’ve never used one before.
2. Marcy Adjustable Hyperextension Roman Chair
BEST ROMAN CHAIR
If you want to bring your ab game to the next level, you need the Marcy Adjustable Hyperextension Roman Chair. It’s nicely cushioned for comfort while still allowing you to get way more range on oblique and ab exercises than almost any other ab equipment.
3. DMoose Fitness Hanging Ab Straps
BEST AB STRAPS
For a less useful but also less expensive way to hit more of your abs and obliques, pick up these DMoose Fitness Hanging Ab Straps. You can use these to hang on a bar to perform leg lifts, vertical crunches and side crunches, all of which will push your core to its limit.
4. Sportsroyals Power Tower
BEST POWER TOWER
A power tower may be a bit much if you’re just trying to hit your abs, but if you’re interested in equipment that lets you work your abs and so much more, the Sportsroyals Power Tower is the way to go.
5. The Flex Belt Abdominal Muscle Toner
We understand that sometimes seeing is believing. If you’ve got cash to burn and need to try electrode ab stimulators for yourself, you could try The Flex Belt Abdominal Muscle Toner.