Tuesday, 8 January 2013

How about a little Electrical Stimulation anyone?

Wired up and ready to go!
Electrical Muscle Stimulation or EMS has been in and out of fashion over the years.  It only takes a few people seeing their favourite celebrity wearing an EMS belt, or an article about how their favourite celeb uses EMS as part of their fitness routine, and suddenly it is once again a big craze.  Even the double hard-ass Bruce Lee used to use one.

I was always one to believe that no machine can be a substitute for real sweat and hard graft.  Here though in this post I look at EMS not as a means to achieve a perfect six pack by itself, but as a supplementary form of training that can be combined with appropriate cardio and a well balanced, healthy diet to help develop your abs further.

How does it work?

EMS machines stimulate muscle contraction by sending electrical pulses.  An electric potential is applied across the muscle fibres.  These impulses try to mimic the natural muscle contractions caused by neuronal impulses from the brain.  There is no doubt that EMS is beneficial in injured patients to help prevent muscle atrophy, since EMS allows the muscle to remain active with minimal joint movement.  Nowadays though, a lot of healthy athletes are using EMS to try to tone their muscles.  The success of EMS in toning muscle is still under debate.

What it definitely does not do

There is no way that you will get a perfect six pack just by using an EMS belt alone, unless your body fat is already somewhere around 10% or lower, because EMS does not burn fat like cardio does.  However toned your abs are, if your body fat is too high, you will never see them fully.

EMS devices also cannot give all the long list of benefits that cardio exercise can give.  The main reason being that they do not work the heart and get the blood pumping like cardio does.

My take on EMS

I was interested in buying an EMS device so that I could use it when I am watching TV or when I am lying on the bed reading a book.  These moments seem like the perfect time to get some additional training, because if I was not using the EMS device my muscles would not be performing any work at all.  I also wanted to see if they are effective, a small science experiment if you like.

I was just about to go out and buy an EMS device when I found out that my other half already had one lying at the bottom of her wardrobe.  How lucky was that!  So, for the last 3 or 4 days I have been using the device on a daily basis.  In addition to that I have been following my usual fitness regime and trying to improve my diet.

The machine is made by Ultratone and the Stomach and Waist cassette which I am using has a preprogrammed routine that lasts for 30 minutes.  The intensity can be varied on a scale of 1 to 10 for each of the 4 pairs of pads (8 pads in total), and after trying the machine with all 4 buttons set to 10, I can tell you that level 10 is a lot stronger than I am comfortable with.  It was almost causing my muscles to cramp up.  Since then I have been using the machine with each button set to 5 or 6, and very occasionally set to 7 for short bursts.

The machine causes my muscles to contract every few seconds, just as if I were intentionally trying to contract them myself.  As long as you do not turn the intensity up too high, the feeling is not bad at all.  In fact if the intensity is low it feels pleasant.  A mild tingling sensation so to speak.  I prefer to have the intensity a little higher though, so that my muscles contract with some degree of force.  Then the last few minutes of the preprogrammed routine is a warm down, and the machine alternates the electric potential, so that it feels as though your muscles are being gently massaged in all directions.

After the 30 minute routine ends, my stomach feels as though it has had a good workout.  The feeling is comparable to the one I would get from doing a moderate number of sit ups.  That makes it seem to me as though EMS is a good method of supplementary training.  My words of caution would be 1) don't use it to replace your regular fitness routine 2) don't overdo it 3) you still need to pay attention to your diet if you want to see those abs.  The leaflet that comes with the machine advices a maximum of 1 or 2 times per day.

It is too early to see any results yet, and I still have a small layer of fat over my abs (which is why I am working on my diet too), but I will post some follow up photos in due course.