If you were to tell most people that you are really determined to build muscle, they would probably respond by warning you that you are going to have to push yourself to the limits for months to see any significant results, and continue to do so for years if you want to maintain them. That this is indeed the case for the relatively small number of individuals who achieve the physique of an Arnold Schwarzenegger. A body such as this is the result of the many hours that they are required to spend at the gym each day of each week throughout the year, in order to attain their goals, not to mention the protein-rich diets needed to fuel the process.
In practice, however, whilst this may once have been the only option, this is no longer the case. Today, it is actually quite possible to get rid of your excess kilos or unsightly cellulite, to tone up your body generally or, if you prefer, to build some really serious muscle in just a fraction of the time, and with none of the back-breaking effort that normally goes hand-in-hand with a conventional workout programme. If you are one of the many South Africans who have subscribed to a gym and gone down the conventional route without much success, you can be forgiven for thinking that such a claim sounds like science fiction. However, the principle involved is one that has been well established as a scientific fact, and is based on observations first noted in the late 17th century.
Today, the average matric biology learner will be well aware of the fact that electrical impulses conducted by the nervous system are, either voluntarily or involuntarily, responsible for muscular contractions. In 1881, however, this was not the case. Only with an experiment conducted by the Italian physician, Luigi Galvani, in which a current applied to the leg muscle of a dissected frog produced a spasm, was the basis for this discovery established. Finding a practical application for the phenomenon of galvanism, as it was first known, took a further two centuries, but has resulted in a technology that many professional sportsmen and women now choose as their preferred means to keep fit and, where required, to build muscle.
Today, the term “galvanism” has been replaced by one that is rather more descriptive – electro-muscular stimulation or EMS. The idea is simple enough and the results can be dramatic. Since all exercise involves muscular contraction, and is normally provided by a trainee’s efforts to lift weights or to overcome some form of physical resistance, producing those contractions involuntarily should have the same effect. EMS equipment is designed to deliver pulsed electric charges via the skin to the underlying muscles, in order to produce a series of controlled contractions. Varying the intensity of the current and the interval between pulses allows the development of specific regimens to suit the fitness level and goal of the individual.
While an EMS session may include the use of weights, this is not necessary, and thus no intense physical effort on the part of the trainee is actually needed while providing 150 times more contractions than the same period of conventional training.