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Kiplinger's

February 2002

p. 142

 

THE FLAP OVER AB FLAB

by Sean O'neill

Those models with the taut tummies on infomercials must be darned good salesmen. Last year Americans bought a half-million "ab extenders," now the most popular abdominal exercise machines. Ab extenders, unlike the better-known ab rockers, require you to kneel and extend your arms as if you were scrubbing the floor.

Abdominal muscles support  your back in every large movement, so it’s important to keep them fit. The ab­extender industry says their machines isolate the single muscle group better than any other exercise.

But some experts aren’t convinced. Richard Cotton, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, believes that performing crunches— lifting your torso until you slightly raise your shoulder blades from the floor—is as effective at strengthening the abs as using any ab machine.

One problem posed by ab extenders is the possibility of injury. Eric Sternhicht, a kinesiologist at Occidental College, worries that the design does not provide back support. Also, most ab extenders do not mechanically guide beginners to use the machines properly.

Even if used correctly, “none of these machines will help you reduce fat in one spot,” warns Len Kravitz, an exercise scientist at the University of New Mexico. Only diet, genetics and Suzanne Sommers as your personal trainer could whittle your middle into a washboard.

Ab extenders vary greatly in price, ranging from $39 for the ABslide to $129 for the Torso Track II. And take note:  The Better Business Bureau says that Sylmark, the maker of the ABslide, has double-billed or sent the wrong goods to some customers. —SEAN O’NEILL