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Ab Belts: Electronic Muscle Stimulation
by Justin Leonard
Written on October 31, 2001

Important notice: DO NOT use electronic muscle stimulation if you are pregnant. Infant heartbeat manipulation can occur. Never use an EMS device across your chest. It can put you into cardiac arrest.

They're new! They're hot! But do they work? Electronic muscle stimulators (EMS) such as the AbTronic, Gymform, Ab Energizer, Rio Ab Belt, Fast Abs, Dr. Ho's Muscle Massage, ElectroSage 8, and BodyVibes to name a few.

EMS machines are popular. They have been around for years. In the past, they were mainly used by doctors and Olympic athletes. Today, EMS devices are used by everyone. In the following article, I will provide general information about electronic muscle stimulation, then give you my personal opinion on this increasingly popular technology.

People use EMS devices for three main reasons:

  • to help develop muscle and to improve the overall appearance of their body.
  • to stimulate and to strengthen muscles for the enhancement of an existing exercise program.
  • for relief from pain in the joints, lower back, muscles, and general discomforts due to stress and strain.

The term electronic muscle stimulation refers to a process that uses a low amperage electrical current to stimulate your muscles to contract and to relax. When a muscle contracts as a result of electronic stimulation, the chemical changes that take place within the muscle are very similar to those that occur during normal exercises.

Athletes use electronic muscle stimulation to build power and strength within the muscles. Studies have showed that athletes who utilize EMS perform better than those who do not.

Doctors typically prescribe professional EMS machines as a last resort for back pain, circulation problems, and muscle spasms, aches, and pains.

There are 4 different types of electronic muscle stimulation. They are regular EMS, transcutaneous electrical neural stimulation (TENS), interferential (IF), and Russian muscle stimulation.

A quality EMS system has a minimum of two outlets which are referred to as channels. Each channel has two wire connections with two pads attached at the end of each wire. Regular EMS machines have a low voltage.

TENS technology is normally more powerful than EMS technology. It's a stronger, deeper penetration to the muscle allowing for a more intense contraction. TENS machines stimulate sensory nerves, block pain signals, and stimulate endorphin production. Other common uses for TENS devices include acute and chronic pain, arthritis, shoulder syndromes, and other painful conditions.

IF technology is characterized by the crossing of two electrical medium, independent frequencies that work together to effectively stimulate large impulse fibers. These frequencies interfere with the transmission of pain messages at the spinal cord. Interferential stimulation differs from a TENS device because it allows a deeper penetration of the tissue with more comfort and increased circulation. Common uses for IF are post-orthopedic surgery, joint injury, trauma disorders, increasing circulation, and pain control.

Russian muscle stimulation is similar to EMS in that it is designed to stimulate motor nerves. However, because of its high frequency, you get a much deeper muscle penetration and a more complete/stronger contraction of the muscle fibers. Russian muscle stimulation is used primarily for building muscle, rehabilitation, and scoliosis treatment.

Do as seen on TV ab belts work?

I'm not a big fan of EMS technology for weight loss or muscle building, but in all fairness, these products get mixed reviews. People are getting results with these machines. In fact, the only complaint that I hear is in how some of them are made (cheap and wear out easily).

Other complaints are that the "electric gyms" aren't strong enough in electric current. The manufacturers aren't necessarily claiming stronger muscles. Many are only claiming a "muscle massage" which I feel is reasonably worded.

Additionally, of the positive feedback, it's hard for me to determine which come as a result of the diet, supplements, and training programs that accompany these devices, and which are directly linked to the ab belts themselves.

Lastly, remember that diet modification is key to a trim and toned body. Every as seen on TV exercise product includes a diet plan and supplements. That's right . . . even the product manufacturers know what really yields results.

References:

Pain Management Technologies http://www.paintechnology.com/046.htm

Tens Units Website http://www.tensunits.com/whatistens.htm

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