Do Ab Stimulators Work?

By: Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

Ab Stimulators DO work to help with Abdominal:

  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Size
  • Function

Abdominal Stimulators DO NOT help with:

  • Weight Loss
  • Fat Burning

To learn the truth about Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) for the Abdominals, keep scrolling.

Ab stimulation or abdominal stimulators may have some value with gaining strength and endurance in the abdominal muscles.Do Ab Stimulators Work?

How Do Ab Stimulators Work?

Electrical muscle stimulation works by providing an electrical impulse to stimulate a muscle contraction. This mimics the neurological system's muscle activation.  The contraction is not as strong or specific as it would be if you actively contracted it yourself.  

There have been numerous studies on the topic of electrical stimulation on abdominal strength and endurance with the use of electrical stimulation.  Most studies show that using electrical stimulation can help to improve the strength, endurance and size of abdominals when compared to those who do not use EMS.  The muscles includes the:

  • Internal Obliques
  • External Oblique
  • Transverse Abdominals.

Do Abdominal Stimulators Help with Weight Loss?

The quick answer is no, there is no significant scientific evidence to show that electrical stimulation helps with weight loss.  There is evidence that EMS to the abdominals may decrease the waist size but it does not translate to losing weight.  

The change in waist size may be due to the increase in tone in the Transverse abdominals which act like a corset and hold the visceral organs in tighter.   

Click HERE to learn Tips to Lose Weight.

Can I Use a TENS Unit to Work My Abdominals?

The quick answer is no, TENS will not effectively work your abdominals. TENS, or Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation, is a form of electrical stimulation that helps to control pain by blocking the nerve fibers that carry pain information to the brain. 

Electrical muscle Stimulation is a different type of electrical stimulation that stimulates a muscle contraction. While you may feel muscles tighten with TENS, the contraction is not strong enough or deep enough to effectively assist in strengthening muscles.

Will an Ab Stimulator Give Me a 6 Pack?

Ab stimulators may help to strengthen the abdominals.  They are sometimes called ab machines.Image of a couple with defined abdominals

Who doesn't want Chiseled, 6-Pack Abs?  The fact is, Ab Stimulators may help you increase the strength and endurance of your abdominals, but they are no replacement for exercise.  When you do an Abdominal Crunch, you engage much more than your abdominal muscles.  You use your legs, upper back, neck, etc.  This burns more calories than simply stimulating the abdominals.  

EMS does not produce the same strength of contraction in the abdominals as a crunch or a sit up.  

If you want a 6-Pack, this is what it takes:

  1. Eat Healthy
  2. Exercise hard daily
  3. Drink plenty of water
  4. Good Genetics...and a little luck!

Not everyone has the genetics to sport a 6-pack.  Instead, consider working on the things you can control.  But, an Ab Stimulator may be an augmentation to your program that could help you activate your abdominals.

What are the Risks with Electrical Core Stimulators?

The biggest risk factor of electrical stimulation is that it may interfere with other electrical devices. So don't use them if you have any internal electrical device such as a pacemaker or cardiac defibrillator. 

Other risks include:

  • Adhesive allergies from the electrodes
  • Burns

Does Ab Stimulation Help with Back Pain?

It has been well documented that core strengthening including the Transverse abdominals can help to increase dynamic stability in the spine and help with lower back pain.  So, you could assume that Ab stimulators could help by helping to strengthen the transverse abdominals. 

The direct effects of abdominal electrical stimulation on helping with low back pain needs more detailed research. 

To learn Exercises to Stretch the Low Back at Home, watch this VIDEO.

Are Ab Exercisers or Ab Stimulators Worth It?

The quick answer is that Ab Stimulators are probably not worth getting.  If you're looking for a way to get thin or in shape, there is no replacement for discipline and hard work.  While these machines have been shown to have some benefits, the concerns is that it gives people the impression that they do not need to exercise.  

The best way to lose weight and get in shape is to lead an active and healthy lifestyle.  Start there!  


If you have back pain, or any other orthopedic issue, the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute is here to help.  To schedule an appointment with one of our sports medicine or back pain specialists, call 904-JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below. 


Ehren Allen is a physical therapist and medical content writer for the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute.Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

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