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EMS Training: What is it and How does it work?

One of the most interesting developments in fitness is EMS training. EMS training involves placing small electrodes on your body that are alleged to stimulate muscle and strength during training. By using technological assistance, EMS training can advance your workout beyond what you could ordinarily achieve.  

In fact, EMS technology is not all that new. The technology dates to the 1970s and was first used during the 1976 Olympic Games. As a supplement to athletic training, EMS training has been around long enough to have been thoroughly tested. 

Specific procedures can vary, and the type of equipment may also vary, but EMS training is always some combination of being fitted with a suit that contains electrodes that are positioned over major muscle groups. As you go through a workout, your muscles are stimulated electronically. The idea is that the electronic impulses stimulate the neurological impulses from the brain that trigger muscle contractions.  

The idea behind EMS training is that muscles can respond to the electronic stimulus while you work out, and the combined effect is a profoundly more productive workout. The electronic stimulus works your muscles in ways that are simply not possible through conventional exercise. When you combine EMS with conventional exercise, you end with results that are sometimes astounding. 

Technology has always been involved in exercise. There is nothing new about that. Computerized weight training, computer-assisted workout programs—these have long been parts of the fitness world. But EMS training is at the forefront of using technology to change the way we get fit and get strong.

In this article, we will go more in depth on What is EMS training? What are the benefits of EMS training? What are the potential dangers, if any? And what kind of results can you expect?

What is Electrical Stimulation Training (EMS)?

The primary element of EMS training involves placing electronic stimulation directly on muscles. These electronic impulses cause micro-contractions of the muscles up to 40 times per second. This is far more than muscles can be contracted voluntarily. The result is that you are able to work your muscles much harder than you could during a regular workout, and you are able to accomplish the work of a sustained workout in about a third of the time.

The technology of EMS training essentially transforms a normal workout into a workout that is vastly more intense than what you imagine. The electronically stimulated muscle contractions compound the impact of a workout. This effectively transforms a simple exercise into a high-intensity training session.

It is important to bear in mind that the type of electronic stimulation used in EMS training is called functional muscle stimulation and this focuses the electronic stimulation on propulsive muscles. Another way of putting this is that the electronic stimulation takes place on the surface and works only on muscle groups sued for active physical engagement. This is not to be confused with internal muscle stimulation using needles which is entirely experimental at this time.

For EMS training to effective, it must be combined with a traditional physical workout. EMS training combined with exercise and protein supplements does result in increased muscle protein synthesis.

EMS is also used to repair and heal muscles that have atrophied due to injury or illness. By stimulating the muscles electronically, people are able to work them in ways they would not ordinarily be able. Electronic muscle stimulation allows people to work muscle groups that have been immobilized without the physical stress of actively using the muscles. This begins the healing process while it prepares atrophies muscles to bear weight.

Besides the benefit to athletes and general to recovery from injury and illness, studies have shown that EMS training can provide marked benefits to competitive athletes. One study demonstrated that EMS training can help elite and highly competitive athletes to significantly increase performance. These improvements come at the highest levels where increased performance becomes more difficult to attain. This study concluded the EMS training was one of the most promising developments in athletic training.

How does EMS Training work?

The way muscles work is that the brain sends an electronic signal to neurons in muscle fibers. This happens in milliseconds, but the electronic impulse essentially stimulates the muscle neurons and this causes them to contract. EMS simulates this process. By applying electrodes directly to muscle groups, the electronic impulse is artificially sent to muscle neurons causing the muscles to contract.

Fitness and Training

The simulated electronic impulses used for EMS training have been particularly effective in treating people who have experienced injuries because the electronic impulses re-train the neuropathways that have become damaged or atrophied. In this way, atrophied muscle groups re-learn how to function properly.

EMS training makes it possible for you to activate and utilize more muscles than you could during regular exercise. Studies have shown that increasing the EMS stimulation directly increases strength and endurance.

The process begins with a warm-up. The electrodes are attached via a vest or something that resembles a wet suit. This is a controlled medium for the application of the electrodes. A trainer will determine and locate the muscles areas you want to work. Through a combination of simple workouts such as lunges and squats, the electronic stimulation is gradually increased step by step until a maximum muscle contraction is reached.

As you achieve more results, the intensity of EMS is increased. Experts caution beginners to take it easy with EMS training. Since one of the features of EMS training is to work muscles quickly and develop the soreness associated with working out, the pain of an overly intense EMS training session can be too much for someone new to the procedure.

Gradually increase your levels of EMS. What begins as the limit of what you can tolerate quickly becomes the starting point for your work out. The nature of EMS training is that the results come fast.

In order to get maximum results, EMS training should be used as a supplement to regular physical training. It is not a substitute. EMS helps you increase strength and endurance. It also helps build muscle without undue risk of injury. But EMS should be combined with a traditional training regimen for best results and to avoid injury.

You will see results fast. One study showed that athletes saw a measurable increase in strength and performance in as little as four weeks. This same study showed that without EMS training, the results decrease dramatically.

Injury and Recovery

Using EMS training to treat injuries is just as effective. Any time there is an injury that immobilizes a muscle group, those muscles will become shortened and are prone to spasm. EMS can stimulate blood flow to the immobilized and injured area. This will stimulate the muscle fiber. EMS has the added benefit of eliminating metabolic waste that can build up around an injury. The overall effect is to stimulate and activate the muscles, reduce pain, and increase range of motion.

It is important to begin EMS training while the injury is in the acute stage. This increases the benefit of EMS during later phases of healing and recovery. The earlier you begin EMS training for an injury the more equipped you will be to bear weight on the injured muscles.

In addition to assisting with recovery from injuries, EMS has also been used successfully for spinal manipulation and mobilization as part of a comprehensive treatment program for issues related to the spine and nervous system.

Finally, EMS stimulates the lymphatic system. This is what removes waste products from the body. The same electronic pulses that stimulate muscle regeneration also stimulate the drainage of metabolic waste from the injured area. The net result is much faster recovery time.

Is EMS training safe?

The fact is that EMS is not 100 percent safe. There are potential dangers with EMS training.

EMS administered under the supervision of a physician uses devices and equipment that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has a full list of FAQs on the safety and uses of EMS.

There have been reports of shocks, burns, and skin irritation from EMS equipment. This is usually due to improper use of the equipment by people who have not been properly trained on the correct use. Make sure you are undergoing EMS training, whether for fitness or an injury, by professionals who have been thoroughly trained on the proper use of EMS devices.

The FDA also warns people who have pacemakers or defibrillators against undergoing EMS training. The devices can interfere with the proper function of defibrillators. Women who are pregnant and people with epilepsy should avoid EMS since there has not been sufficient research on the safety of EMS for these people.

There is one study that cautions against EMS because it has been linked to kidney damage. The electronic stimulation can cause the release of creatine kinase. This normally supplies energy to muscles. In overly increased levels it can cause muscle damage. This causes the release of small particles of muscle tissue that can damage the kidneys.

Again, if you are using EMS training as part of your training regimen, or if you are undergoing EMS as part of a recovery program, make certain EMS is administered by a trained professional who knows how to control the process.

While EMS training for fitness and for advanced athletic training is largely safe, there are important considerations to keep in mind. It is possible to misuse EMS training and technology.

What to expect?

In the final analysis, it is a fact the EMS training produces real positive results. These results are measurable. In a controlled study, researchers showed that EMS training produced marked improvements in cardiopulmonary function, muscle gain, and endurance.

What is more, this same study showed that people who underwent EMS training could notice tremendous improvements in how they look. This was proven with a metric that measures psychophysiological variables that take account of self-perception. These results were achieved in just 6 weeks.

There have also been promising results in studies using EMS training to fight obesity. Researchers found that EMS training provided significant improvements in people who struggle with obesity issues. Beyond the realm of athletics, EMS training could make for a safe way to fight the obesity epidemic.

Keep in mind that results come from the combination of EMS training and traditional physical training. Electronic stimulation is not a substitute for real exercise. In order to build muscle, you need to physically exert yourself in conventional ways.

It is realistic to expect visible results in a matter of weeks, not months. EMS training accelerates much of the work of physical training.

What would take months to accomplish through traditional fitness training can be accomplished in a fraction of the time.

What you can expect from EMS training is noticeable improvements in strength and endurance as well as an overall improvement in how you see yourself.

Wrapping things up

The bottom line is the EMS training works. It produces real results and quickly. The assistance to electronic stimulus in combination with normal fitness training increases strength and performance in a short amount of time.

What is more, there is legitimate scientific research to support the use of EMS training as a supplement to intense physical training. The studies show that even the highest echelon of athletes see improvements in areas like speed and endurance. For people who want to get fit, build muscle, and improve their overall appearance, EMS training works just as well.

The use of EMS technology for recovery after injuries and illness is just as promising.

Prolonged recovery times are cut to a fraction with the use of EMS training technology. The benefits are multifold in that the stimulus of muscles speeds up recovery, and the same electronic stimulus reduces the inflammation and soreness of the injury itself.

There are indeed safety aspects of EMS training that need to be taken into account as we enter into this technology. But with a trained professional to oversee the use of EMS training, we can expect safe and demonstrable results.

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