AB-Solute Scam

Electric-exercise belts promise weight loss, muscle gain

If you're one of the devoted users of electronic abdominal exercise belts, you know the frustrations of fastening a band around your waist day after day, enduring the burning sensation of low-voltage electricity surging through your midsection. If you're meeting the "lose four inches in 30 days, no sweat" guarantee with uncertainty, you're not alone.

-á Seeing no resulting signs of improved muscle tone or weight loss, thousands of users are fed up with empty promises made by the marketers of AbTronic, Fast Abs and AB Energizer. Customer reports of product failure and unsubstantiated refusal of returns and exchanges forced even the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to question the validity of the three top-selling belts.

-á In early May, the FTC charged AbTronic, Fast Abs and AB Energizer with making deceptive claims about safety and effectiveness.

-á FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris called this just part of the "false hope in a pill, false hope in a bottle, false hope in a belt" continuum and discourages consumers from purchasing such weight-loss products.

-á "Don't buy them," said Derek Rill, FTC press and media officer. "As they were marketed before we stepped in, they didn't work."

-á Allegations state that advertisements for the three falsely represent that the mechanisms:-á 1) cause loss of fat and inches (with visual results in a matter of days), 2) give users a well-defined, sculpted physique (i.e. "six-pack" or "washboard" abs), and 3) provide a workout superior to conventional abdominal exercises, according to the FTC Web site.

-á Electro-muscular stimulation, a pulsating electrical current, is administered to select muscle groups, causing sequences of contraction and relaxation, according to Ab Energizer's FAQ Web site. The FTC maintains that this EMS does not provide the physical benefits described by the false advertisement.

One example of the fraudulent marketing is Fast Abs' claim that wearing the belt for 10 minutes is equivalent to doing 600 sit-ups.

"This is inaccurate because there is no loading of the muscles (lifting) involved with EMS," said Scott Mazzetti, Ball State instructor of physiology and health science.

-á The reason sit-ups and crunches work, he said, is that an individual must lift his or her own body weight. "With EMS, the muscle cells are activated, but there is no weight being lifted to make the muscles larger, stronger or more defined," Mazzetti said.

-á "You will not get rock-hard muscles by using AbTronic, Fast Abs or AB Energizer," said Joni Lupovitz, of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, the FTC branch that deals with civil action suits. "We encourage consumers to be skeptical of claims about seeing positive physical changes." No EMS fitness devices have yet been cleared by the FDA, she said.

-á Advertised via 30-minute television infomercials, these devices typically cost between $50 and $70 but have sold online for upward of $100. Generic copy-cat versions such as AbGymnic are available at retail outlets, including Muncie's Big Lots store.

All three products facing civil action litigation have been supported by fitness professionals' and users' testimonials. Fast Abs has even been spotlighted in national newspaper magazines such as "Parade," according to the FTC Web site.

Stacy Lods, a Ball State senior and women's golf team member, purchased her Fast Abs system out of curiosity from an infomercial for about $60. "I didn't use it on my abs," she said. "I figured it would be similar to the electrode therapy I was getting in the training room."

-á "The concept is similar to the EMS used to rehabilitate damaged muscle tissue in athletes," Mazzetti said. "But even then, all it does is activate the muscle to prevent atrophy during recovery. It doesn't build muscle."

-á Lods believes using the Fast Abs belt to massage her calves and lower back eased chronic muscle tension that hampered her flexibility on the course, but she understands that the product is a scam and it wouldn't cause muscle fitness, strength or growth.

-á "I used the AB Energizer for about a month," said Becky Weaver, a Ball State junior and field hockey player. Although Weaver was already in peak physical condition due to demanding field hockey workouts, she decided to try her brother's $70 belt after he described its effects to her during semester break.

-á "It didn't make a difference in my twin brother's abs, so I really didn't expect it to for me, either," she said. "It felt really strange, like a massage or slight shock, but it never compared to doing a bunch of sit-ups."

-á Weaver admits that using the AB Energizer for 25 to 30 minutes a day was not worth its cost in batteries, which she replaced after about seven hours use. Her supply of the conductive gel, necessary for use of the product to prevent electrical burns to the skin, depleted quickly and ultimately resulted in cessation of use of the AB Energizer. She reported mild discomfort, even at medium-level intensity, when enough gel wasn't used.

-á Internet forums supply in-depth analyses of various ab-belt products, and critics declare that many such devices have a failure rate scheduled into them to assure future purchases, including replacement belts, batteries and gel, commodities initially overlooked by prospective buyers, Rill said.

-á Although AbTronic and Fast Abs decreed that their products were safe for use over the chest area (to strengthen pectoral muscles), information regarding use with specific physical conditions was misguided or not available to consumers, according to the FTC's statement of complaints.

-á "Individuals with pacemakers, multiple sclerosis, skin disorders, cancer, diabetes, epilepsy or varicose veins should not use these products," said Tess, a Fast Abs telephone customer service representative supervisor. "Also, women should refrain from use during pregnancy and menstruation." Apparatuses like these have been known to stimulate blood flow, she said.

-á The FTC encourages all dissatisfied owners of these products to report their complaints by calling the consumer hotline at 202-326-3343 or filing online at www.ftc.gov.