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Do Ab Machines Shown on TV Really Work? - Report from ABC News

22 years ago

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Friday December 14 02:13 PM EST

Do Ab Machines Shown on TV Really Work?


Do those gadgets really give you flat abs or a six-pack stomach?

When commericals for those gadgets that claim to trim and strengthen the abdomen come on, out-of-shape viewers can't help but feel a jolt of guilt about their expanding waistline and, perhaps, their long-running absence from the gym. But then comes the sweet promise that they can slim down, without breaking a sweat.

"Just 10 minutes with Fast-Abs is equivalent of up to 600 sit-ups," the commercial announcer says, as images of buff bodies are shown on screen. "Now you can work out your abs anywhere watching TV, at the office, even around the house."

From coast to coast, the airwaves are bloated with gadgets like the "Ab-Energizer," "Fast Abs" and "The AbTronic" that promise to shape up your abdominal muscles, even without exercise. The marketers claim that ab gadget devotees will find themselves with bodies like Superman or Wonder Woman, but critics say it isn't so.

Good Morning America 's consumer correspondent Greg Hunter found that the machines can cause minor skin burns. Experts told him that anyone who thinks that the devices alone will turn them into Mr. Universe is mistaken. The gadgets are based on electronic muscle stimulation, or EMS, a system that delivers an electric charge to make muscles contract.

John Porcari, a professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Wisconsin, tested an EMS device similar to those on the market in a study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise. After eight weeks of using the device only, participants had no significant increases in muscle size or strength.

"I think people are wasting their time," Porcari said. "I think they're better off spending their money on a personal trainer or buying a membership to a health club, or buying a home piece of exercise equipment that they're going to use."

AbTronic declined any comment under advice of their attorney. Ab-Energizer also declined comment, and Fast-Abs did not return phone calls or e-mails sent by Good Morning America .

Want Flat Abs? Order Now

The Fast-Abs ad claims the technology makes it easy: "It's like our engineer shrunk half a gym of bulky, expensive exercise equipment into a little electronic miracle the size of a pack of matches."

Victoria Delaney, a San Francisco Bay area woman who saw the AbTronic infomerical, was intrigued by the thought of achieving amazing abs just like the young woman in the commercial.

"That's what I thought I was going to get," Delaney told Hunter, pointing to the buff young woman's flat stomach. After seeing the ad, she immediately reached for her telephone and credit card and ordered an AbTronic.

Delaney thought the device would let her get trim while sitting around and reading a book or watching TV.

"Sure, I thought it would be easy," Delaney said.

Company Warns of Skin Burning Reports

Delaney said she used her AbTronic religiously for three days, but then she said she had to stop because it gave her a number of minor but painful burns on her arms, stomach, both legs and her back, making it difficult to sit.

When she looked at the instruction booklet later, Delaney discovered that the company warned that "skin irritation and burns ... have been reported."

Though Delaney does not have any permanent injuries, her pride is a little scarred, and she feels naïve for being taken, she said.

But it is easy to see why people like Delaney might be drawn to the devices. Not only does the AbTronic infomercial show seemingly perfect men and women using it, the commercials claim that a University of Maryland study backs up products like theirs.

"Their conclusion was that an electronic stimulation was much better than exercise alone, whether you use it as a supplement to your normal workout, or just by itself," a female co-host of the infomercial says. "That proves that you get better results by the use of the AbTronic fitness system," the male co-host chimes in.

Machine CanÂt Do It Alone

The University of Maryland scientist who conducted the study, Dr. Gad Alon, published an article about electronic muscle stimulation in 1987. He said that he believes high-quality EMS devices can strengthen the abdominal muscles, but that the AbTronic infomercial took his findings out of context.

"In fact, we have used electrical stimulation on abdominal strengthening in a number of studies," he said. "And that particular one [AbTronic] does not look at all like the type of strengthening we do with electrical stimulation."

Porcari acknowledges that medically approved EMS devices can play a useful role in rehabilitative medicine. But he says consumers can't comfortably get strong enough contractions from these infomerical devices to build "awesome abs" without real exercise.

"To get the benefits, you have to make your muscles contract to a certain level, and that requires you to be able to withstand a lot of pain," he said.

Dr. Julio Garcia, a Las Vegas plastic surgeon, appeared in the AbTronic infomercial touting the device.

"The nice thing about the AbTronic system is you don't have to go to a gymnasium, where you have to do weight-lifting exercises, where we may have some other medical problems that prevent from doing that  whether it's high blood pressure or bad joints," Garcia says in the infomercial.

Garcia told Hunter that although EMS. can help maintain muscle tone, it will not help people lose weight. He also said that the AbTronic commercial took some of his words out of context, and that the machine alone cannot help a person lose weight, lose inches and gain muscle definition.

"It was my intent to talk about many things together  diet, exercise, and the machine," Garcia said. "It has apparently been portrayed as just a machine itself. And that's not what I was there to talk about."

Delaney says she spent $150 on the AbTronic, and chalks it up to one of life's lessons that she hopes others can learn from. Her advice to anyone lured by the ab machine commercials is simple

"Don't buy it," she said.

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