This last month these mysterious Electric Muscle Stimulation training centres seemed to have popped everywhere in my neighbourhood. Only in my block I have counted at least three new centres. (I wonder if they will last just as long as the electronic cigarettes shops though that overwhelmed my neighbourhood six months ago, but by now all have closed up again.)
As I am a naturally curious person, and I also like to work out, I decided to immediately try out this new way of training your muscles. To attract new clients most of the centres offer a free introduction session of Electric Muscle Stimulation training where they explain the method and how it works. So I called and made an appointment in one of the centres in my neighbourhood.
For my first session, I had to change into a simple sweat suit offered by the centre. Then I was introduced to my private instructor, Ismael, who was already moisturising my electro suit that I had to wear during my session. I slightly started to feel worried, as all my life I have thought that combining water with electricity is not a smart idea, and I could not help thinking about electrical chairs either but fortunately Ismael reassured me, and told me I should not be worried as the water needs to conduct the electrostimulation pulses into my muscles. He then hoisted me into the moist jacket and put various straps around my but, legs and upper arms.
Plug in and start the fun
Ismael then plugged the cables that went from my suit into a machine and explained that I would first feel a slight tingling feeling in my body, for which he handed me over two small squeeze balls that I could use to squeeze in. The first sensation I felt once the machine was turned on was a small vibration that went all over the suit. Ismael then turned up the volume a bit more, and the vibration got more intense. I then had to start running on the spot in front of the mirror, and Ismael instructed me to tense up my body as much as possible so the vibrations could enter more directly into my muscles as well. After some running which felt awkwardly heavy and hard to do, I also needed to do some other exercises like squats and jumping jacks on the spot. It all felt kind of odd and every motion seemed very hard to conduct, and after 2×5 minutes I got to rest a bit.
I asked Ismael how he controlled the intensity of the vibrations, and he explained that in the first session he would always start with a low-intensity vibration and then gradually would turn it up over the sessions. I asked him a what intensity I was training and he said I was just on a 40%, of which I started to wonder how 80% would feel but I was not sure if I wanted to ever try this out as the sensation was already kind of uncomfortable.
After a short rest, we started with interval vibration training which existed of tensing up your muscles while the machine gives on and off vibrations. Ismael turned up the volume a bit and I really could feel all my muscles tense up extremely when the vibrations hit my body during a period of ten seconds each time. Just normal weightlifting all of the sudden felt very intense, and I almost had a hard time holding on. After an intense session of 5 minutes only! I asked if we could also do some abdominal work as that is always by far the hardest part of my body to train in general. After just 5 minutes of abdominal tense training on the on the floor where I received on and off vibrations into my abdominal arear while doing abdominal exercises I felt completely exhausted. This indeed could be a quicker work out if it turned out to be effective.
Once I was on my feet again I asked Ismael if he could turn up the volume a bit so I could feel how a more intense vibration would feel but I pretty soon I had to tell him to stop as I could not stand the more intense vibrations that hit my body, and it did also feel rather uncomfortable as well. We ended the session with an anti-cellulitis treatment where I just had to lay down on my back with my feet up on a pilates ball. I felt the vibrations hitting my upper legs pretty hard, and not only where the straps were placed but all over the upper part and very deep inside my muscles as well. I did not feel very comfortable though and I had a hard time relaxing. This last part was the end of the introduction training that lasted for about twenty minutes.
No more real workouts?
After the session, when Ismael hoisted me out of my suit, I asked him how effective the training in general is, and if there were any liable studies done on the topic as well. Ismael explained that the best way is to combine the electro stimulation with real workouts to get the best results. He also told me that electro stimulation had already been used for years by physiotherapists to treat people with muscles injuries and that its effectiveness has been proved in the past but he did not have any clue about any reliable studies done on the topic regarding getting more in shape or loosing any weight.
At this centre you could buy bonos of 13 sessions where each session would cost 35 EUR. The centre also had other bonos as well for fewer sessions, but then each session would cost more obviously. On the Internet, I have seen cheaper pricing for other centres though so if you really are interested you should best check online first.
Facts and studies on Electric Muscle Stimulation
So lets check the facts, is this electro training really as effective as these new centres claim? The centre I visited refers to a study done in 2002 at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. On the centre’s flyer they claim the following after 6 weeks training:
-4% Less Body Fat
-1,5cm thinner waist for women
-2,3cm thinner waist for men
-Average of 3,5kg weight loss
-50% improvement for people with back problems
After checking this study online it seems to only been tested on 49 people with back problems and most of information that is online comes from Electric Muscle Stimulation training centres themselves, and is not very clear or does not seem very scientific based. One website explains that the test really seems to be done to help people who were suffering from incontinence issues and who did improve apparently, but I wonder what that has to do with a good work-out, besides that the test is only performed on 49 people. Another study that was done on people with cardiac issues, who normally cannot do a normal work out because of their heart issues, is positive though about the EMS training but does not give very clear answers either.
As all new fitness hypes, Electro Muscular Stimulation Training also is not a miracle outcome that will give you the body you have always dreamed off, and I definitely would not suggest doing a ten kilometre run with only EMS training, as your heart and lung abilities are hardly trained during the sessions. I do think it could definitely help if you have a sports injury and you are not able to train yet but you still would like to work out your muscles a bit. It might be an interesting addition to your regular cardio workout in case you hate the muscle training part in the gym, but the sessions still come in rather pricey at around 25-35EUR per training.