Have you ever noticed those commercials on TV that are selling fitness equipment that is supposed to stimulate the muscles with electrical impulses? Just put the apparatus on, switch the system on and your muscles will begin their workout. Sounds interesting, right? These days we even have specialized fitness clubs that offer this service. They promise rapid muscle growth, fat loss and more.
Now I’m sure most of you think that this is nothing but a scam designed to take advantage of desperate dieters. But let’s not speculate without any data, let’s look at this closer. Is there any truth to the promises being made?
Electromyostimulation (EMS) is not a new concept. The idea that muscles operate when subjected to electrical currents was proven in the late 18-th century. Many years later in the 1960-s it was the Russian scientists who started testing it on athletes. Of course back then it was still very much a misunderstood concept. However modern science has made much progress since then and we now have a better idea with what we are dealing with.
So what does EMS actually do?
Basically it’s a method where electrical impulses are sent into the muscles which forces them to contract and come under tension. Not too different from what happens when you lift weights or otherwise exercise. The difference being that while this goes on, you might actually be sitting in a chair and reading a book. Sounds unbelievable? Well, it kinda is.
We are not dealing with a revolutionary replacement for traditional training methods. EMS mostly works as a stimulant for the nervous system, improving nervous processees which can lead to better muscle strength and control. Effects on muscle and fat mass however is fairly limited. So if you were hoping to get buff and lean just by sitting at some salon, you are going to be dissapointed. On the other hand it does provide some benefit in those regards, so it’s not completely worthless. Muscles are being stimulated to some extent and extra energy is burned as-well. All that might improve long term muscle growth and fat loss. Just not that much.
The true beauty of EMS is elsewhere. Where it really shines is the potential to provide a training alternative to people who are otherwise incapable of exercising using traditional methods.
For example individuals who are injured, who perhaps cannot even leave their bed. When under normal conditions the loss of muscle mass and strength would be unavoidable – EMS can change that by providing much needed stimulus for the muscles, keeping them active. It may even improve recovery times. This may even extend to paralyzed individuals who are no longer capable of sending signals to their limbs – EMS can do it for them and possibly improve the odds of recovery.
The elderly are another potential group of people who might reap the benefits. Old folks usually have a hard time exercising in a traditional way due to frailty of their bones, ligaments and joints. EMS can help them retain and possibly increase muscle mass and strength, providing a better quality of life in the later years.
But lets not forget professional or extreme recreational athletes. Studies show that EMS training can provide even better benefits to those who are already considerably athletic. While this method may not be particularly useful to bodybuilders who are looking for muscle mass growth and fat loss, the potential strength gains might be suitable even for them. And when it comes to other sports, the potential benefit of strength gains is undeniably alluring. Because EMS causes no real muscle damage, it can be readily used as a supportive training method on top of the traditional practices.
Now let’s note that in order to get noticeable benefits from EMS training, you need expensive professional equipment and experienced people who know how to operate them. The stuff you see on TV-shop ain’t gonna cut it. The effectiveness of EMS depends on the type of electrical impulses used and on what muscles are they being used on. The human body has different muscle fibers and muscles can respond differently to those signals. As such, accurate calibration is important to get good results.
So in conclusion EMS has a lot to offer to many people. If you’ve been avoiding traditional training methods due to lack of time or because of injuries, this maybe something you might want to consider.
Take care of your body!
1) Filipovic A, Kleinöder H, Dörmann U, Mester J. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Nov;25(11):3218-38. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318212e3ce. Review. Electromyostimulation–a systematic review of the influence of training regimens and stimulation parameters on effectiveness in electromyostimulation training of selected strength parameters.
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5) Filipovic A, Kleinöder H, Dörmann U, Mester J. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Sep;26(9):2600-14. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823f2cd1. Review. Electromyostimulation–a systematic review of the effects of different electromyostimulation methods on selected strength parameters in trained and elite athletes.