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CRUNCH TIME: Sarah Moore, a Slippery Rock University exercise science major from Jakobstad, Finland, measures the muscle activity of Jared Patton, a doctor of physical therapy major from Columbiana, Ohio, while he does abdominal crunches.

Exercise science majors research infomercial abdominal equipment

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - You've seen the ads. Get rid of that belly fat; give yourself a flat stomach; use our abdominal trainer and you too will have steel abs. Slippery Rock University exercise science majors researched the product claims of abdominal workout machines and found the vast majority of them to be bogus, like trying to achieve fitness by swallowing a pill.

Spot reduction of fat - targeting specific parts of your body for weight loss - is a myth and cannot be accomplished, said students, whose research has been presented internationally. The body loses weight evenly, their work shows.

"The human mind wants to find the easy way out for weight loss. We want amazing results, but we don't want to work for it," said Sarah Moore, an exercise science major from Jakobstad, Finland, who participated in the exercise science research. "Nothing comes for free. The machines can help you build muscle mass, but you don't lose fat from them. If you want to get amazing abs, you actually need to lose the fat that is on top of the abdomen muscles."

Students collaborated with Jeff Lynn and Kim Smith, SRU associate and assistant professors of exercise science, to examine the claims of equipment as seen in television and magazine ads. Then, after obtaining six abdominal machines with a $5,000 grant from SRU's College of Health, Environment and Science, students put the equipment to the test. They recruited 20 students to use the machines to measure muscle activity. Participants came to the exercise science lab in Patterson Hall to learn how to use the machines, and then returned on different days to work out on each of the machines once. Researchers used sit-ups as the scientific control.

Students' research showed muscle activity varies depending on the intensity of the exertion required to operate equipment. Students said sit-ups and crunches, a type of sit up in which you curl your shoulder, are just as effective for pursuing weight loss as the abdominal machines. The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume. Students said aerobic exercise such as running, cycling or Zumba uses calories faster than abdominal machines and will be more effective in diminishing overall fat.

Students also researched clients' reaction to the various machines because they recognized the correlation between liking equipment and using it. "We focused on determining how people feel about the equipment because if someone hates the equipment, he or she is not going to use it," Moore said.