Why People Are Adding Electric Shocks to Their Workouts

Electro Muscle Stimulation

Popular Science reporter Rachel Feltman recently tested a futuristic way of getting fit: zapping your muscles with electricity during an otherwise conventional workout.

Feltman’s takeaway: “The pumps, my dudes, were indeed gnarly.”

Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) has been around for a while, but only recently turned into a group exercise thanks to a U.S.-based fitness company with the edgy name Shock Therapy.

The idea is to create resistance by triggering muscle movement using electrical signals. These “shocks” are sent through a bulky suit that you wear during your workout. The experience sounds pretty intense.

“The machine stimulates your muscles to make them prickle and twitch, sometimes to the point of discomfort,” Feltman wrote, adding that the feeling is equivalent to being “strapped to super-tight resistance bands.”

It Works. Sort of.

So does it actually work? The theory says that you burn more calories and build more muscle just because your muscles are subjected to more work, while trying to counteract the spasms.

Scientific studies have often found it to be an effective way to train, but have pointed out limitations as well. A meta-study found it was effective, but not more so than a traditional workout. A 2016 study found it to be “time-efficient but pricey” compared to other high-intensity regimens.

And it hasn’t really caught on yet, either, despite athletes experimenting with the technology for years. There could be a number of reasons for why that is. Top of that list: why bother paying $55 or more when you can just add more resistance bands or up the weights you’re lifting?

Gettin’ Swole

If anything, EMS could be great at just getting a really good pump.

“I don’t know why you’d want that and I don’t care; maybe you’re competing or modeling or just want to look swole AF in your wedding dress (same),” Feltman wrote. “But when I looked in the mirror for the hour or two following an EMS session, I was like, ‘OK, but whose arms are those?’ And it was great.”

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