Whether you're curious about trying EMS yourself, or aren't sure about the whole trend, here's what you need to know:
How does EMS work?
In order for a muscle to contract, your brain has to send an electrical impulse to neurons in muscle fibers. EMS basically mimics what your brain does in this scenario: By applying electrode pads to different parts of a muscle, trainers can send a small electrical impulse to a muscle that tells it to contract. (That's why EMS is particularly useful for people who have experienced an injury or have had a stroke and need to "re-teach" their brain how to activate a muscle.)
Does EMS help during a workout?
EMS machines allow you to activate more muscle fibers than you could if you were to just do a standard strength exercise without EMS. You wear a vest and pair of shorts that have electrodes on them. Then, a trainer will walk you through a series of simple bodyweight exercises (lunges, pushups, squats, and crunches), and adjust the level of electricity sent to your muscles. This workout model might be somewhat legit: A 2016 study found that people who did a six-week squat program with EMS had greater strength improvements than those who did not use EMS.
As exciting as EMS sounds, simply wearing an EMS suit and pressing a bunch of buttons will not have the same effect on your body as actually exercising. And while EMS can temporarily strengthen, tone, or firm muscles to some extent, it will not cause long-term improvements in health and fitness.
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