Adding the Science to a Recent BBC Article – Clarity Needed
I was contacted today as some people had seen Vive Fitness featured in the BBC (but not mentioned), in an article about EMS exercise: “Can electrical stimulation improve your gym workout?” Our member who rowed the Atlantic Ocean, Lebby Eyers, was featured – she’s a big EMS fan.
We are pleased the BBC journalists are interested in EMS, however, after having read the article, we thought it would be helpful to write a response with clarity on some points raised and fact-check others, as some of the article is misleading on several key points about EMS exercise.
The following will help inform those of you interested as to why EMS is becoming a popular choice for both health & fitness.
As an EMS studio owner, with over 15 years experience as a Sports Scientist and S&C Coach, I think it is important to let members know how EMS will and will not benefit them. We do not always compare EMS to other training modalities, instead, we inform members on how it will help them as part of their overall health & fitness ambitions. For some, EMS is their sole health fix each week due to time, preference, objectives etc, whereas for others, it is part of a holistic approach to fitness.
Furthermore, we do not look to oversell the capabilities of EMS and do not pretend you will burn 1000 calories and look like Arnie the next day – this is unrealistic.
There is a plethora of research available on the benefits of EMS exercise, so I will focus on answering the following questions raised in the article that were misleadingly answered:
‘Is it always Safe?’
Broadly speaking, yes, no less so than conventional training modalities. One key reason is Miha BodyTec, the Worlds leading manufacturer, has put years of dedicated research into their products. Once the efficacy of their machines was confirmed, their primary focus was on making their EMS system safe, which they have excelled at. There are a few contraindications to using EMS training, however, each professional provider will ensure this is checked prior to any training taking place because as when using specialist piece of equipment, it should always be delivered by an EMS-trained professional.
‘The dosage is too low or high – the harms outweigh the benefits’
This comment goes for any training modality you choose to do – whether it be yoga, pilates, free weights, or HIIT. If you get the wrong dosage, you will get the wrong outcome – be it a lack of progression from under-stimulation, or injury from over-stimulation. Fortunately, we have a well-trained set of EMS specialists here to guide you and ensure your stimulus is correct for each and every session, and as mentioned, by using Miha BodyTec machines, you are in safe hands. Miha follow the strictest health and safety guidelines and as German-engineered machinery, you cannot get better quality. As mentioned above, EMS Training should always be delivered by a qualified EMS Trainer.
‘Does it give you bigger muscles for less effort?’
Over time, research shows you can increase your muscle size with EMS alone, however, if your goal is to body build and look like a pro-bodybuilder in a short space of time, we suggest EMS is used in conjunction with hypertrophy training in a gym – and be patient here too, as this will not happen overnight however much training you do. For the bodybuilders among you, your weekly EMS session will keep your body in better balance and hit areas often neglected with regular training, too. For others, it will more than suffice to develop your body, as each session will be targeted to your goals.
‘EMS strengthens, tones, and firms muscles….but only if accompanied by exercise and dieting’
We challenge this statement as misleading because diet and nutrition are important for all forms of exercise, especially if your goals require increases or decreases of certain macronutrients and micronutrients – this is not a specific requirement for EMS exercise.
Secondly, EMS is used for muscles that have become immobilised due to injury as a way to keep them strong and active until they can be used functionally again e.g. post a bone break. This inspired EMS to be developed into its popular whole-body use today. Strictly, therefore, exercise is not required with EMS, however, being active and functional with EMS is more effective. This is why a whole-body approach it taken by EMS operators, meaning members have a very time-efficient session that hits all their major muscle groups using simple exercises.
‘Report says EMS causes significant improvements in strength…but requires more studies’
For those of us with a Science background, this is a standard way to sign-off an article, as the majority of studies conclude with requiring further studies, as there is always more knowledge to be gained in the future. It does not mean the author was questioning their own results – that is what statistical analysis is for.
‘It simply does not work’
This was the comment by a veteran weightlifter, and I am all for everyone having their opinion, however, this is simply inaccurate and too vague, what does ‘not work’ even mean? Numerous physical improvements have been demonstrated by those using EMS exercise. Such examples include the increased firing potential and strength of muscle fibres, which is of particular importance for when we age, as dynapenia, the loss of muscle strength as a natural result of ageing, can be counteracted by EMS.
It is also important to remember that not everyone is willing or able to do Olympic lifting too, so alternative forms of looking after your body are needed – EMS being one option. This is often overlooked by hardcore advocates of a particular training modality. Olympic lifting is great exercise, but like EMS, it will not suit everyone.
As with all forms of training, it is important you understand what you can achieve by partaking in it, and not to expect all your goals to be fully encompassed by one training modality alone – if you do, you will be forever criticising that form of training.
At Vive Fitness, we are pleased to have a strong core member base that has enjoyed the changes their body has experienced over the years. Examples include a lady in her late 80s who has rid her long-term back pain that was due to disk degeneration, or as in the article, Lebby developed a stronger balanced body with us to aid her already incredible endurance required for her Atlantic row. Numerous other members have found knock-on benefits to their other forms of fitness such as increasing their strength in Pilates holds or extra power for their MMA fighting. We could go on. Finally, please do not feel priced out, as there are plenty of operators offering sessions between £40-70 per session, not the £130 quoted.
I hope this helps those of you interested to try EMS understand how EMS can benefit you further and clears up a few questions the article may have raised for you.
If you have any questions regarding EMS, I will be happy to answer them for you, and please feel free to come along to our Vive Fitness studio for a session too – as participation is the best way to understand EMS exercise.