Build muscle without playing sports, only by stimulating the muscles using electrodes placed on the skin? This is the promise made by EMS, or Electro-Myo-Stimulation, an innovative technology which uses electrostimulation to work the different muscle groups with less effort. Used in the field of sport but also in health, it promises numerous benefits, including increased muscle tone and firmness. But is it really effective? Doctor Jean-Christophe Miniot, sports doctor at the Drouot Clinic in Paris, gives us some answers.
Electrostimulation and technology: What is EMS and how does it work?
EMS (Electro-Myo-Stimulation) is a bodybuilding technique that uses electricity to stimulate muscle contraction. The principle is simple: electrodes, placed on a suit worn by the person, send electrical impulses that cause muscles to contract, thus imitating the natural movement of the body when exercising. “The electrodes stimulate the terminal part of the motor nerves located in the muscle by sending an electrical impulse to the skin.” summarizes Dr Miniot.
The EMS sessions are carried out in the presence of a sports doctor, a physiotherapist or a coach, who invites the patient to voluntarily and simultaneously contract the muscle requested by the electrode for isometric work.
This method was initially developed for astronauts, to combat the loss of muscle mass in weightlessness. Today, it is mainly used for sports training, rehabilitation or even physical well-being.
Is EMS effective and is it equivalent to playing a sport?
EMS is mainly used in two ways: for therapeutic purposes for subjects suffering from muscular pathologies or pre- and post-operatively, or for healthy people, athletes to improve their physical condition or non-athletes to improve their silhouette without going through the “sport” box.
For the latter, many companies today sell their services, ensuring that 20 minutes of active electrostimulation would be as effective as 4 hours of sport. So, info or fakery? Several studies have looked at the effectiveness of muscle electrostimulation, and have actually observed that it makes it possible to improve muscle strength, muscle explosiveness and local endurance of muscle fibers. Be careful however, this does not mean that 20 minutes of EMS is equivalent to 4 hours of sport, far from it! “EMS works the muscle locally, but does not activate the entire cardiovascular system as is the case with sport. It is the endurance of the muscle, not the endurance of the body, that is improved, making it much less beneficial for overall health.“insists Dr. Miniot.
In the same way, although electrostimulation is of interest for developing strength and muscular density – helping to obtain a harmonious silhouette – it is not effective in forcing the body to draw on its fat mass and therefore in causing weight loss.
EMS also does not improve technical and sporting performance.
To summarize, EMS can be beneficial for people short on time or looking to optimize their muscle training, but it does not replace the practice of physical activity in terms of health benefits.
The results obtained with EMS also depend on several factors such as:
- The regularity of sessions;
- The intensity of electrical impulses;
- The quality of the equipment used.
For optimal results, EMS is recommended in addition to classic physical training and a balanced diet.
Why do we have soreness after a 20 minute EMS training session?
A 20-minute EMS session often generates significant aches, which is also one of the arguments in favor of the effectiveness of electrostimulation on muscular work. “During physical exercise which causes voluntary muscle contraction, the muscle fibers are used in a precise order, in order to create a natural turnover to save the muscle’s energy. With EMS, there is no turnover, and it is always the same muscle fibers that are used, hence the rapid and significant production of lactate.” sums up the sports doctor.
These famous aches and pains are therefore unfortunately not a guarantee of the intensity or effectiveness of the sporting exercise. “Micro-lesions of muscle fibers due to the absence of turnover can unfortunately be frequent with the practice of poorly accompanied EMS, risk of injury at stake.” specifies Dr Miniot.
What are the health benefits of EMS?
When used for therapeutic purposes, EMS can provide real health benefits. The electrical pulses used stimulate muscles and nerves, which can help relieve pain and promote muscle recovery, especially after injuries or during rehabilitation. Its main indications are:
- Pain relief: EMS is often used in the treatment of chronic or acute, post-traumatic or post-surgical pain;
- Lymphatic drainage to drain edema;
- Re-education : EMS is used in the treatment of muscle injuries, helping to improve freedom of movement and speed up the healing process;
- And postpartum to re-educate the perineum and prevent urinary incontinence,
- Improved body composition: EMS can help tone muscles and build muscle mass, thereby improving physical appearance and body strength;
- Improvement of fundamental physical abilities: strength, explosiveness and muscular endurance,
- Limiting muscle wasting: in immobilized patients, convalescent patients or in hemiplegic or quadriplegic patients.
Despite these benefits, it is crucial to note that EMS does not replace regular physical activity and should be used as a complement to a healthy and active lifestyle.
What do you think of EMS electrode suits?
EMS suits are widely used in the field of electrostimulation, and particularly appreciated for their comfort, lightness and ease of use. Designed to adapt to all body types, they offer complete freedom of movement during training.
These suits are generally equipped with around twenty electrodes, allowing targeted stimulation of numerous muscle groups. They are often associated with a mobile application for precise and personalized monitoring of training.
EMS: how many times per week for effective monitoring?
The frequency of EMS use depends on each person’s individual goals. In general, to see visible and lasting results, it is recommended to practice EMS on a regular basis while respecting a principle of progressiveness, especially for non-athletes. “Sedentary subjects can start with a weekly session for 3 to 6 weeks to get used to the flow, to move on to two or even three sessions per week thereafter.” indicates Dr Miniot. It is essential to respect a rest period between each session to allow the body to recover.
What are the contraindications to EMS?
There are a number of medical contraindications to electrostimulation:
- Pregnancy: electrostimulation in the abdominal region is strongly discouraged for pregnant women;
- Wearing a pacemaker type cardiac pacemaker, or an active medical implant;
- Certain tumors, depending on the doctor’s opinion;
- Some serious neurological diseases;
- Abdominal or inguinal hernies;
- Open wounds, irritations, eczema or varicose veins in the electrode areas;
- Heart rhythm disorders;
- Hemophilia or bleeding disorders.
Price of an EMS session?
When used for medical purposes, particularly for rehabilitation, EMS is a physiotherapy tool covered by social security as part of the session. For patients looking to sculpt their figure and get back into shape, the price of an EMS session varies depending on many factors such as the location, the services offered (coach) or the pack chosen.
- As a general rule, the price of an in-room EMS session ranges between €25 and €70;
- With packs of several sessions, the cost is generally decreasing. For example, a pack of 5 sessions can cost €45/session, while a pack of 10 sessions can go down to €40/session;
- Home sessions are generally more expensive, with the coach’s travel included. The average price is €70 per session;
- Some studios offer trial sessions at a reduced rate, around €25.