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Orange County Register

Sunday, November 2, 2003

Abs-olutely wonderful?
Study of four ab-workout devices finds three offer a workout no better than a crunch.


As exercise devices go, there never seems to be an end to products claiming to target the abs.

"My fear is that the general public has been so overloaded with these devices that they're skeptical of any of them - and I hope they are - but they may not believe one that is really effective," said Eric Sternlicht, Orange-based exercise scientist and assistant professor of kinesiology at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

To his surprise, Sternlicht believes there's a portable exercise device that may be more effective than a crunch in stimulating the abdominal muscles. The infomercial giant Guthy-Renker had commissioned Sternlicht and his colleagues at Occidental College to conduct a study comparing four abdominal devices with the traditional crunch. Sternlicht, who continues to conduct studies on ab devices, said he has no financial interest in the gadgets.

In their study published recently in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Sternlicht and his colleagues found that the Ab Roller Plus, Torso Track 2 and AB-Doer Pro offered an abdominal workout no better than doing a crunch. But Perfect Abs, a device debuting early next year in infomercials, stimulated the abdominal muscles more than did a traditional crunch, Sternlicht said.

The Ab Roller Plus rolls forward and backward as the user performs a crunch like movement. A user grasps the handles of the Torso Track 2 while in a kneeling position and rolls his or her upper body forward and backward. The AB-Doer Pro requires the user to be seated and push against the resistance provided by the device. The Perfect Abs comes with three bands that span the abdomen, with one end at the thighs and the other held by the hands at chest level. Each band provides a different level of resistance when the user performs a crunch movement.

Thirty-three healthy adults used the abdominal devices for one set of eight to 10 repetitions.

Researchers measured the muscle activity in three areas of the abs the rectus abdominis, the external obliques and the rectus femoris.

Only the Perfect Abs - when used lying down with the medium- and high-resistance bands - stimulated more muscle activity than a traditional crunch.

Sternlicht said that an exerciser can increase the resistance by changing the bands as he or she gains abdominal strength.

The device sounds promising, but the study has limitations: It's small, and we don't know how effective the device is beyond one set of repetitions and over a long period.

Keep in mind that other studies have shown that variety in exercises is crucial to constantly strengthening the abs. Several exercises, such as the plank, fortify the abs without the help of a gadget. If you prefer the help of a device, the inflatable ball is probably a wiser, less expensive buy. You can do several abdominal exercises that can challenge your core muscles as well as other body parts.


CONTACT US: lliddane@ocregister.com or (714) 796-7854. Liddane is an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor