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EMS training is a form of exercise that has grown in popularity in recent years, despite its debated pros and cons. The abbreviation stands for Electric Muscle Stimulation or Electrical Muscle Stimulation and involves, in short, stimulating muscles using electrical impulses while performing simple exercises with light weights. Alva, one of our SOOTHE contributors decided to commit to this form of exercise for a year. This article is a breakdown of what EMS is and what Alva has to say about the results.

How does EMS Training Work?

When we perform a movement, an impulse is sent from the brain instructing the muscle to contract, and it's these impulses that are intensified during EMS training with the help of special equipment. The electrical impulses, delivered through electrodes placed on the body, cause muscle contractions similar to those that occur when lifting heavy weights. The muscle can't distinguish whether the command comes from the brain or external stimuli, resulting in you having to struggle to perform the movement. Since the electrical impulses contribute to increased muscle engagement in every exercise, they theoretically help build more muscle in less time and with lighter weights than regular training. The result is an intense full-body workout with dynamic and static exercises without weights in just 20 minutes.

Which Gyms Offer EMS Training?

I trained at Bionic. The studio is located on Regeringsgatan in Stockholm, close to the Mood Gallerian and Hötorget subway.

What Does it Cost?

My primary criticism of EMS, and I apologize for the language, is that this form of training is HELLA EXPENSIVE. While a gym membership at places like SATS allows you to work out as much as you want for a few hundred SEK per month, EMS training costs 850 SEK - per session.

Can it be Dangerous?

No, generally not if performed correctly, under the right conditions, and with the appropriate prerequisites. Studies have confirmed that this training method is entirely safe, as the electrical impulses only activate skeletal muscles and voluntary, trainable muscles in the body. Other muscles, like the heart, and other organs are not affected. However, you should avoid EMS training in these cases:

  • If you have problems with physical stress, consult a doctor before training.

  • The same applies if you have a pacemaker, neurological disease, diabetes, heart or vascular disease, cancer, tumors, or tuberculosis.

  • If you have a cold or bacterial infection, it's advisable to rest from training.

  • If you're pregnant, you should wait a few weeks after childbirth before starting EMS training.

Personal Results From One Year of EMS

As someone with a lot of exercise experience and a routine of working out five to six days a week at the gym, I booked the EMS session with strong self-confidence, thinking it would be easy-peasy-lemon-sqeezy. However, had to eat my words because it was much more difficult than I expected, considering the session was only 20 minutes, and the heaviest weight I lifted was 2 kg. The day after, I experienced a Mordor-like muscle soreness, aching everywhere, including muscles I didn't even know existed, haha.

However, that was the first and only time I experienced such severe muscle soreness from EMS training. The other sessions were followed at most by mild muscle soreness, and although I was surprised by the intensity of the sessions, it was nothing compared to my regular gym workouts.

Below, I have chosen to compile a list of the advantages and disadvantages I experienced from doing EMS training for a year.

Advantages (+)
  • Efficient: I saved a lot of time by squeezing one to two hours of exercise into a 20-minute session.

  • I felt and saw results in muscle growth. It was most apparent in muscle groups that I usually find hard to activate without isolation exercises, such as the hamstrings and triceps. These muscles I typically choose to isolate at the gym to maximize the load and activation. In EMS training, all the body's muscles contract in every exercise, which means my hamstrings were stimulated even when doing a Bicep curl.

  • A personal trainer is necessary and included in the price. It's a personal trainer who guides the session and regulates the intensity of the electrical impulses. You train with a maximum of two people simultaneously, but sometimes you're alone during a session. This provides an opportunity to ask questions and receive individually tailored assistance from a personal trainer at each training session.

Disadvantages (-)
  • I became mentally weaker at the gym. The mental barrier of how heavy one can lift or how fast one can run always establishes itself before the physical limit of what is physically possible. When I train at the gym, my mind is challenged as much as my muscles. After a few EMS sessions, I experienced that my mental barrier at the gym set in faster than before because I had become accustomed to performing each exercise for only 20 seconds and being done with all the training in just 20 minutes.

  • Temporary and not long-lasting results. However, I believe these results were outweighed by the fact that I was less inclined to push myself beyond my mental limit at the gym.

  • The cost. You can achieve exercise results without spending a penny; all you need is your body. Running in nature, practicing yoga on the grass, or lifting logs in the forest is both free and equally effective. With this in mind, I find it absurd to pay just under 1000 SEK for 20 minutes of training.

Main take-away

In summary, EMS training, in my opinion, is an excellent entry point into exercise, as 20 minutes once or twice a week feels very manageable for those who struggle to find motivation and time in their daily lives to workout. It can also serve as a complement to other forms of training. However, I have the belief that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and this reasoning applies to EMS training as well. A significant part of training and muscle building involves progressively overloading the muscles, which requires the mental strength; to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. This was an ability I didn't feel was entertained during my time training with EMS. Therefore, it becomes mentally challenging to train in any other way than with the help of electrical muscle stimulation, and it becomes incredibly expensive in the long run.

That's all for now. I found it fun to be a guinea pig for a year but would like to forget the enormous sum of money I spent on this little experiment, haha.


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