EMS training: Fit through electrical muscle stimulation?

EMS training is becoming increasingly popular – after work, more and more people slip into skin-tight suits and vests with integrated electrodes so that electrical pulses can train their muscles and melt their pounds. 20 minutes of electrical muscle stimulation per week should be enough to replace classic physical activity. What’s the point of this new form of fitness training? Can EMS really accelerate weight loss and effectively support muscle building? Here you can find out whether the “fitness revolution” keeps what it promises and what needs to be considered in EMS training.

What is EMS training?

EMS stands for electro-myo-stimulation – in simplified terms, it is often referred to as electro-muscle stimulation, electro-stimulation training or electrical muscle building.

The principle behind it is simple: During physical exertion, our nerves transmit electrical impulses from the brain to our muscles. The muscles then contract, they contract.

With EMS training,  physical exertion is supported electronically:  while short movement exercises are being carried out, a low current impulse is sent from the outside to the muscles in order to strengthen their natural contractions and thus train them.

EMS: Training under power

During EMS training, the stimulating current impulses, the so-called stimulation current, come from electrodes that are integrated into special functional clothing. This clothing usually consists of a tight-fitting body suit that is sprayed with water to improve conductivity, as well as a vest, a hip belt and cuffs on the arms and legs, in which the electrodes are located.

This clothing is wired to a device that generates the current pulses. Each muscle group can be controlled individually via controllers. Depending on the device, these are for example:

  • Breast
  • belly
  • the back
  • Shoulders
  • After
  • Armed
  • Legs

successes in physiotherapy

Electrical muscle stimulation has its origins in physiotherapy. There, stimulation current has been used for many years, for example after an injury or knee surgery, to specifically rebuild the muscles or to   prevent muscle atrophy .

However, no special suits are required for this, but electrodes are individually glued to the appropriate place on the skin.  EMS has already achieved good results as a  short-term rehabilitation measure to build muscle .

effect on the muscles

If muscles are repeatedly stimulated to contract – whether through physical activity or through electrical impulses from electrodes – they will be strengthened in the long term. With EMS, the muscles are trained without having to move them a lot.

Many experts attest that EMS training is  effective in building muscle mass,  especially in strengthening the back muscles, and even in preventing diseases. This is at least indicated by the first studies at various German universities, even if research in this area – especially with regard to the long-term effects – is far from complete.

EMS training is considered to be very efficient and is said to make the muscles grow much faster than normal strength training. The different muscle groups can be trained individually or simultaneously. In addition, when training with the electrodes – much better than in other sports – you should also be able to reach the deep muscle layers. The first effects should be visible after just a few sessions.

EMS training: how it works!

The EMS training combines stimulation current impulses via wired functional clothing with the simultaneous execution of exercises. Classics such as sit-ups and squats are used here, but also isometric holding exercises, i.e. tension exercises. As a rule, four seconds of current flow and exercises are alternated with four seconds of rest.

A trainer shows which exercises should be carried out and also specifically regulates the current flow for each muscle group. Normally, the  current flow in the body should not cause any pain  , but a tingling feeling is considered normal.

It is recommended to do the EMS training once or twice a week for 15 to 20 minutes each time. More frequent sessions are not recommended, as electrostimulation training puts a lot of strain on the body and requires appropriate recovery periods. Sufficient breaks are all the more necessary when EMS is combined with a normal sports program.

Fit and slim without effort?

EMS training sounds like  fitness  for the lazy. But one should not underestimate EMS. The electrical impulses amplify the muscle contractions triggered by the exercises. This makes the exercises significantly more strenuous and even movements that look easy can become a sweat-inducing feat.

The  calorie consumption  during the EMS training should be about 17 percent higher than with a comparable load without additional electrodes. As a rule, however, you burn more calories with conventional sports, because a normal sports program usually lasts significantly longer than 20 minutes.

EMS instead of sports?

Of course, the thought of   simply sending electrical impulses through your body for 20 minutes instead of hours of jogging, swimming  or  weight training is tempting. But can electromuscular stimulation actually replace exercise?

 According to the current state of knowledge, EMS is quite suitable for  building muscle mass . A higher muscle mass in turn means a higher energy consumption – even at rest. In this respect, EMS training can also  support weight loss.

No substitute for endurance and coordination training

You should be aware that electrical muscle stimulation only increases strength. However, EMS can  not replace endurance training. The targeted strengthening of the condition is important for the vessels and for a healthy cardiovascular system. And muscle building should also be more effective if you  combine EMS training with classic strength training.

Experts also point out that  coordination  must also be trained in a targeted manner. Anyone who wants to use EMS to strengthen their muscles for a specific sport should therefore imitate movements that are typical for this sport during training.

Furthermore, the joints are not stressed by the EMS training, but they are not trained either and can be damaged as a result. Therefore, EMS training should only support the regular sports program, not replace it.

Risks and side effects of EMS

Numerous before and after pictures and positive testimonials on the Internet testify to the possibilities of EMS training. You may or may not be skeptical about this – but in fact there are many supporters of this training method among sports scientists.

Nevertheless, some people also report negative experiences. Critics warn of the following side effects of EMS:

  • Nauseaheadache  and  circulatory problems
  • Increased risk of overloading and even damaging the muscles, as natural mechanisms to protect against overstretching are overridden
  • severe  muscle soreness
  • muscular imbalance (uneven training of the body)
  • Ligament injuries as a result of a  regression  of bones and connective tissue due to insufficient joint training

The relatively intensive EMS training also leads to an increased release of the enzyme creatine kinase (CK). This  enzyme  is broken down by the kidneys – experts warn that excessive CK levels can lead to  kidney damage  in the long term .

However, there is no reason to worry about a possible effect of the current on the organ and heart muscles: these are not affected by the low-frequency current impulses.

4 important basic rules for healthy EMS training

  1. Drinking a lot  is fundamentally important – especially if you do sports. However, it is even more important for EMS training. Because during training, large amounts of water can collect in the muscles. This can cause circulatory problems if you don’t drink enough before EMS training. With regard to the increased CK values ​​caused by EMS training, it is particularly important to drink enough liquid to support the kidneys. If the urine turns dark as a result of EMS training, you should definitely consult a doctor.
  2. It’s important to allow adequate  recovery  time between workouts and to train no more than once or twice a week.
  3. The training should  not be too intense  . Enduring pain in order to be able to crank the controls to a higher level and achieve supposedly greater effects does more harm than good to health.
  4. The EMS training should always be  completed under expert guidance  and should only be seen as a support to a conventional sports program.

If you heed these four basic rules, EMS training is considered harmless for healthy people.

Who is EMS suitable for?

EMS is not equally suitable for everyone, in some cases electrical muscle stimulation is even considered harmful – for example in the case of heart problems. For example, people with:

  • pacemaker 
  • a cardiovascular disease
  • increased risk of thrombosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Krebs
  • multiple sclerosis
  • The spasticity
  • Implants
  • skin problems
  • sensory disturbances
  • feverish  cold

 EMS training is also not recommended during  pregnancy .

Basically, it is advisable for anyone who wants to try electrical muscle stimulation to first consult their doctor.

EMS: costs and providers

EMS is offered in special EMS studios. Often the training can also be carried out in the gym. The costs for a 20-minute EMS training vary depending on the provider, but are on average around 20 to 25 euros. Anyone who trains once a week pays around 1,000 to 1,300 euros per year.

Nevertheless, it is not advisable to buy a home device and train on your own. EMS training should only take place under professional guidance. With good providers you get an individually tailored training program that slowly increases.

When choosing an EMS studio, it can be helpful to pay attention to TÜV certification. Not only the devices are checked, but also the training of the trainers, the training program and the hygiene standards.

Conclusion: EMS to support muscle building

If you have little time for sports or cannot or do not want to exercise for other reasons, EMS training – provided it is carried out under professional guidance – can definitely be a good way to train your muscles or support fat loss. Abdominal and back muscles in particular can benefit from this form of fitness training – ideal for people who sit a lot (e.g. for work reasons).

However, electromuscular stimulation is comparatively expensive. In addition, one should not forget that EMS training is not a substitute for conventional strength training and, above all, not for coordination or endurance training – just as little as for exercise in the fresh air.

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