Why doesn't electronic muscle stimulation build muscle?

EMS: Fit through electrical muscle stimulation?

Muscles from the socket? More and more fitness studios are picking up on this trend. Keyword electrical muscle stimulation (EMS). Without time-consuming weight lifting, the method aims to grow muscles and melt fat. But can that really work?

Electro muscle stimulation as a rehabilitation measure

Electro muscle stimulation has its roots in physiotherapy. It is used as a rehabilitation measure, for example, when targeted muscle building is necessary after injuries - and has already shown good success here. Electrodes glued to the skin stimulate the affected muscles without actively moving them.

"EMS training is a useful tool for building muscle mass," confirms Professor Dr. Klaus-Michael Braumann, President of the German Society for Sports Medicine and Prevention (DGSP). So much for the medical benefits of electrical muscle stimulation. But can EMS also replace normal sport? You already know, jogging, swimming, cycling or even strength training - just everything that people normally do to stay fit and slim and to train their flexibility and stamina.

How does EMS training work?

Whether jogging or strength training in the gym: During physical exertion, nerves conduct electrical impulses to the muscles, which then contract. In EMS training, the command to the muscles does not come from the brain, but from the outside through a low stimulation current. Electrodes built into functional clothing pass on electrical impulses to muscle parts, which contract and thus imitate the activity of the muscles under exertion. If this happens often and intensely enough, the muscle becomes thicker and stronger.

Is EMS a substitute for exercise?

Yes and no must be the answer here. It's true: EMS can make muscles grow. There is still a need for research. But there are already studies that show that the technology works in principle. "Building muscle also increases the basal metabolic rate - calorie consumption increases and you can lose weight more quickly," explains Braumann. Those who train with electrodes on the body primarily promote their strength - quite useful. But: In order to stay fit and healthy all round, we also need stamina - i.e. stamina - as well as the ability to coordinate.

Stamina and coordination are hardly trained

However, according to sports medicine specialist Braumann, physical fitness and coordination are hardly strengthened by EMS training. If you want to train your endurance - important for a healthy cardiovascular system - you should choose sports such as jogging or cycling. And the coordination? "One shot putter reported that EMS training had made his muscles so strong that he felt he could have pushed holes into the ball. But he didn't get the ball pushed far," says Braumann. If you want to use your muscles that have grown through EMS in a targeted and coordinated manner, you have to imitate typical sport movements during training, otherwise your coordination will fall by the wayside.

Who is electromuscular stimulation not suitable for?

Caution: Some illnesses can speak against EMS training. If you want to try it out, you should therefore ask your doctor to be on the safe side! This applies in particular to people with pacemakers, implants, epilepsy, sensitivity disorders, for example as a result of diabetes, spasticity or skin problems. EMS is usually not recommended in such cases. Pregnant women should also avoid the training method.

An alternative for those who don't like sports?

If the doctor has given the go-ahead: EMS training is an alternative, according to Braumann, especially for those who don't like sports who can or do not want to spend much time on exercise or who shy away from physical exertion. If you believe the providers, 20 minutes of training once or twice a week should be enough to train the muscles. Above all, the core muscles benefit, according to Braumann. These muscle groups stabilize the back and abdomen and, for many people, are untrained from sitting too much.

EMS training in the studio with wired functional clothing is not for everyone. The sports doctor also says: "Of course, exercise in the fresh air is much nicer and more relaxing."

Cost and calorie consumption

According to information from a manufacturer of EMS devices, the calorie consumption during training is up to 17 percent higher compared to a similar load without electronic support. However, an EMS training session in a fitness studio only lasts about 20 minutes - those who do "normal" sport often train longer and then consume more calories. Depending on the fitness studio and the intensity of the EMS training, a 20-minute unit costs around 25 euros. If you train with EMS once a week for six months, you will pay around 600 euros.

Having good gym advice is important

Anyone who dares to exercise with electrodes should ensure that they receive good advice in the studio. There are different forms of training, which are usually tailored to the individual. Sports medicine specialist Braumann advises against ordering EMS devices from home shopping channels or similar providers and trying it out on your own at home.

It is also important to drink enough water before training. "During EMS, osmotic effects can cause too much water to collect in the muscles. Without sufficient fluid intake, this can lead to circulatory problems," says Braumann. This can happen especially when training large muscle areas. If muscles are stressed too much, there is a risk of sore muscles the next day - EMS training is no exception. Which, however, also shows that it works. At least on the muscles. Also important: first approach slowly. EMS training that is too intense can lead to states of exhaustion.

Also read:

Why endurance training is so healthy

How regular exercise protects the body from illness and what to watch out for