Techno Fitness or Gimmick?
MANY YEARS AGO, I had the first of four knee surgeries. During one of my outpatient appointments, the physiotherapist used electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) to help in my rehabilitation. One of my appointments didn’t go as expected. She did something wrong and electrocuted me with a massive current surge from the mains. My muscles contracted so violently that my body shot off the bed and into the air. I was lucky to live without any lasting injuries.
EMS is a tool that’s regularly used when a person has muscular inhibition and weakness due to pain, swelling, and immobilization. Mine was following anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee surgery, and I had weakened quads. The EMS technology causes involuntary activation of the muscles so that you don’t lose my muscle mass or function.
These days EMS technology is a buzzword for small fitness studios with workouts that involve electrical impulses sent to your muscles to recruit more muscle fibres and increase the intensity of a strength-training routine.
Some say it's a gimmick, so here's what you need to know.
How does EMS work?
For a muscle to contract, your brain sends an electrical impulse to neurons in muscle fibres. EMS mimics what your brain does by telling muscles to contract.
What does it promise? According to my trainer, a 20-minute EMS session is the equivalent of a 90-minute regular workout, and you burn up to 500 calories per session. Because you activate more muscle fibres than a standard strength exercise without EMS.
What's it like?
Looking like ‘Robocop’ EMS felt like a pulsing full-body vibration. However, there's not enough electricity to run a car battery or start one. My trainer took me through a series of bodyweight exercises and adjusted the level of electricity sent to my body.
So, how does EMS help during a workout?
Evidence shows people who did a six-week squat program with EMS had more significant strength improvements than those who didn't.
Is EMS safe?
Do your research on the provider before the session. There have been reports of shocks, burns, bruising and skin irritation from unregulated EMS devices.
How much does it cost?
I had a session at ‘Exerceo’ in Belgravia cost range between £35 and £60 a go.
Should you stop the gym and just do EMS?
Yes. Then no. Then maybe save your money and commit to resistance training combined with aerobic exercise. The jury is still out whether EMS has long-term improvements in health and fitness. But I did enjoy the session and that is crucial to a successful workout.