Before making comparisons, it is important to understand what is actually involved in the technology known as electrical muscle stimulation. More often abbreviated to EMS, it is a modern adaptation of a curious effect first discovered by one Luigi Galvani in 1761 when he noticed that an electric current was able to activate muscular tissue and cause it to contract. The resulting contraction is no different from that produced during resistance training, such as lifting weights or performing press ups. Consequently, when suitably controlled, this application of a pulsed current can serve as a means with which to enhance the effects of conventional exercise and its results.
Of the various advantages offered by this form of fitness training, the fact that it is suitable for almost everyone, including the dedicated couch potatoes is perhaps the most valuable. With the exception of those suffering from certain acute febrile conditions and those who are dependent upon a pacemaker, electrical muscle stimulation offers everyone else a viable alternative to the more strenuous exercise regimens.
There is, however, little doubt that the greatest appeal of EMS is that it requires much less exertion on the part of the subject, yet is able to deliver the same benefits as a full-scale, unassisted workout with all the attendant aches, pains and perspiration. Of course, the fact that it can also produce those results in as little as a fifth of the time possible, with weights and circuit training alone, is also a huge bonus.
So why is this technique so much quicker than conventional exercise methods? The answer is quite simple. While a conventional, full-body workout only affects the more superficial muscles, the pulsed current applied during a session of electrical muscle stimulation penetrates deeply, causing contraction of the deeper tissue and stimulating more than 90% of the total muscle mass in the targeted areas. This supplementary stimulation makes it possible to produce results that, without the benefit of EMS, would normally require far greater physical effort. It may be used alone, as a form of primary training or in conjunction with other exercise equipment to enhance the effect.
In addition to the more obvious application favoured by bodybuilders, because it is possible to vary the intensity and frequency of the pulsed charges, EMS may also be used to achieve a variety of goals, including weight loss and cellulite reduction. Used by professional athletes to assist their recovery from sports injuries, electrical muscle stimulation is also being widely adopted as a means to provide general physiotherapy treatments.
In South Africa, Body20 studios offer 20-minute weekly sessions with trained experts to produce visible results in just a few weeks.