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This new exercise gives electric shock to stimulate muscles. Is the shortcut worth it?

A new exercise gaining ground in the west involves giving electric shocks to stimulate muscles. Is Electric Muscle Stimulation as good to the body as its followers claim? We speak to experts about the pros, cons and risks associated with it.

fitness Updated: Mar 06, 2018 11:47 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Electronic Muscle Stimulation,EMS,EMS workout
Electronic Muscle Stimulation involves a machine delivering a painless current to your skin, affecting your muscles and nerves.(Shutterstock)

For a few years now, people have been working on formulating a pill that replicates all the benefits of a work out, or a pill that packs in the nutrients of a proper meal. The allure of such shortcuts seems to be too good to resist, but its benefits are yet to be scientifically proven. And now, to add to the long list of ‘shortcuts’ for fitness enthusiasts is a brand new trend gaining popularity in the west: Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS).

It involves a machine delivering a painless current to your skin, affecting your muscles and nerves. Typically, EMS is used in physiotherapy to increase blood flow to the muscles and heal mobility issues. These days, though, the #fitfam squad has discovered it and made it their own.

For the masses

Recently, New York saw the launch of a fitness studio called Shock Therapy. You are strapped into an electrode-studded bodysuit which is attached to a mini power station, and it activates hundreds of your body’s muscles at the same time. Why, you ask? The effect of the session is equal to traditional exercise, with benefits including increased tone and metabolism. Moreover, whether you’re doing leg lunges or working on your shoulders, every single muscle is engaged.

Whether you’re doing leg lunges or working on your shoulders, every single muscle is engaged. ( Shutterstock )

“Electric muscle stimulation helps in releasing tight muscles, activating dormant muscle fibres and improving mobility by passing pulsating current into muscles. The technology helps to activate muscle fibres which would not be possible only with training and that are why it’s quite beneficial. It is especially recommended for athletes who put themselves under a lot of physical stress as EMS helps in injury prevention and muscle recovery,” says Bengaluru-based Rishabh Telang, an HRX trainer (HRX workout is a training module curated by actor Hrithik Roshan).

Today, EMS is no longer restricted to athletes looking to get back on track post an injury. The average gym going person can too avail of EMS. And the reason for popularity is easy to understand. “For regular clients, it’s like you spend only 30 minutes with EMS instead of doing a 90 minute workout. It hits the muscles to the deepest and most cornered muscle layer, which could go ignored when you are training with just weights,” says Huzefa Talib, a strength and conditioning coach and co-founder of The Outfit Gym, Bangalore.

But how safe is EMS?

With such avant-garde technology, one does wonder whether it’s safe for the common man. “It’s completely safe if the equipment is being handled by a qualified person who has knowledge about how EMS functions. The staff must be well trained so they can understand individual bodies and their threshold to take in the waves. The staff also needs to know how to treat a client in case of injuries,” says Talib.

Moreover, EMS shouldn’t be used on muscle parts that have a prior injury which hasn’t recovered completely. It may make an existing injury worse and result in muscle tear or further damage. “Another risk could be an injury because of a muscle becoming too tense during electrically induced contraction. It is always advisable to turn off the machine if you feel any kind of unusual discomfort while using the device,” cautions Telang.

That being said, there are still a significant number of risk factors in the picture. Talib elaborates: “Since electric shock waves are involved, any form of machine malfunctioning, could prove fatal. High amount of shock waves can also impair your heart beats. If the EMS machine isn’t properly operated, you could over work your muscles and face long days of pain and sometimes loss of neuro activators. Besides, you might end up developing a mental addiction where you feel you cannot work out without EMS.”

Even when indulged in with proper equipment and care, EMS has its fair share of critics. Mumbai-based Prameet Kotak, a holistic wellness expert, who currently trains actors Purab Kohli Amrita Puri, points out that fitness is not merely about losing fat or putting on muscle. “If you are using EMS as a sole tool to achieve your body shaping goals, I would suggest you should have a serious thought about your objective for getting fit. I would not personally rely on this modality for general fitness and would put this under the fad category. I don’t see this being a successful fitness protocol. We all would love to have a treadmill attached to the chair so we may sit and walk at the same time, but they don’t seem to be catching on as a fad, do they?”

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First Published: Mar 06, 2018 09:15 IST