Health: The Lowdown on EMS

PROS AND CONS OF EMS. The jury’s still out on how much EMS can help build muscle; but as a complement to regular exercise, it can work wonders. Amy Nutt delves on the subject




Electrical muscle stimulation or EMS is an exercise aid that uses very mild electrical currents to cause your muscles to contract, under the auspices of increasing tone and fitness. Historically, EMS has been used in medical situations to help relieve muscle pain. For several years now, EMS devices have been available commercially to the general public as supplements to an exercise program.

While many manufacturers claim that EMS systems will cause people who lead a sedentary lifestyle to get into shape, there actual effectiveness is a subject of debate.



Basic Argument

In 2002 the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit fitness certification, education and training provider, published a study on EMS in its magazine. According to the study, the type of EMS used by manufactures of abdominal exercise belts was less than effective, time-consuming and, in some cases, painful for the user.

This led to injunctions against the makers of certain EMS products for false and misleading advertisements. Some manufacturers were claiming their products would lead to a loss in body fat and an increase in muscle tone, helping people achieve ideal six-pack abs. During the aforementioned study, subjects underwent EMS “training,” according to the guidelines of the products’ manufacturer for eight weeks. The subjects did not lose any body fat or gain any muscle strength from using EMS alone. The researchers who conducted the study implied that EMS could not serve as a complete replacement for weight training and other conventional forms of exercise routines.

“Many people believe EMS machines are dangerous and not very useful, others see it as a medical technology appropriate for professional athletes, bodybuilders and hardcore fitness buffs”



Benefits of EMS

That said, EMS does have its proponents. Olympic sprinting coach Charlie Francis, for example, has published an article in Testosterone magazine about the history and benefits of EMS. He recommends EMS as a supplement to a weight-lifting and exercise program, citing its effectiveness in conjunction with conventional exercise routines.

Francis encourages athletes to use EMS as a low-intensity exercise to help them increase circulation and recover from their more intense, regular exercise routines. He also recommends EMS as a way for bodybuilders to increase muscle density or burn off a tiny layer of fat before an exhibition.

However, Charlie Francis explicitly says EMS alone will not lead to the same results as a conventional exercise and weight-lifting program. He says that EMS has its uses as a training device and for muscle rehabilitation, but that the idea that one can use EMS in place of good, old-fashioned weight lifting, running, calisthenics and other forms of resistance training and gain a rock hard, weight-lifter’s body, does not make sense.



Final Verdict

So, we can now see that the value of EMS is a subject of discussion and research. Many people believe EMS machines are dangerous and not very useful, a scam promising to make sedentary couch potatoes think they can get fit without moving. Others see electronic muscle stimulation as a medical technology appropriate for rehabilitation or a fitness technology useful for professional athletes, bodybuilders and hardcore fitness buffs.

Whatever the uses of EMS may be, it seems that the experts can agree on one thing: Using EMS alone is not a replacement for old-fashioned weight-lifting and other forms of exercise routines.



Amy Nutt
is a health and fitness expert with extensive experience in covering weight loss research as well as developments in related technology