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MANILA, Philippines – In the wild world of fitness trends, it doesn’t get much wilder than a workout that involves you literally being electrified while working out, but that’s what EMS training is.
EMS stands for Electrical Muscle Stimulation. To do it, you go through an exercise routine wearing a special suit that delivers electrical stimulation to your muscles, supposedly making the workout more intense. Because of this, EMS training has made a selling point of being short – just 20 minutes per session – but with effects that are supposedly equal to a full-length workout.
Let’s take a moment to consider just how much time 20 minutes is. That’s slightly shorter than an episode of Friends, and approximately six Carly Rae Jepsen songs. I’ve lined up for jeeps and waited for food orders for much longer. My friends have spent more time queueing for Taylor Swift tickets.
The idea that you could get strong and fit in that amount of time is almost laughable, but who wouldn’t be even a little bit intrigued? I definitely was – so when the opportunity came to try it out, I jumped at the chance.
There are only a handful of training centers in the Philippines that offer EMS training. Among them is Surge Fitness + Lifestyle, a relatively new gym chain with branches in Makati, Quezon City, Alabang, and soon in Pasig. Their EMS training is branded as their Fitin20 program, available in several branches.
Getting into gear
For my trial, I went to the branch in Glorietta, Makati, where one of their coaches, licensed physical therapist Randell Canlas walked me through the session.
Despite reading up on what EMS training was, I actually had no idea how the routine would go, so all I did to prep was drink lots of water and put on a cute workout set.
As it turned out, my cute workout set was immaterial to the workout. The first thing the coach asked me to do before the session was change into a top and leggings that were specially made for EMS. The fabric, he explained, was thin enough for the electric currents to go through it with no problem.
I did feel kind of naked walking out of the women’s locker room in the outfit, sheer as it was, but it hardly mattered because before I knew it, I was being stuffed into the EMS suit, which had several pads and electrodes going over my torso and around my arms, hips, glutes, and quads.
I’m not gonna lie – my dignity was slightly dinged in the process of putting on the suit. It’s meant to be tight, so it took two coaches and a lot of tugging and squeezing until it finally zipped over me. Through it all, I felt a bit like longganiza meat being stuffed into the casing.
The suit was also damp (to conduct electricity better) and bulky, so once I had the gear on I felt slightly awkward and uncomfortable – but there wasn’t time to dwell on it. Again, before I knew it, it was time to work out.
To start, coach Randell turned on the electric currents – the intensity of which he controlled from a tablet. I was afraid it would feel like an electric shock – like if you stick your finger in a socket – but it wasn’t like that at all.
Instead, the feeling is kind of like being tickled, and also like a million spindly-legged creatures marching all over your skin. It’s not painful exactly, and eventually, it even became quite pleasurable.
After the device was set, another trainer, coach Joy, walked me through the workout routine, which included exercises I was already familiar with: squats, shoulder presses, burpees, farmers walks, sled pushes, sled drags, and the battle ropes.
It really helped that the moves were familiar and simple to execute (simple – not easy!) because at that point, my brain was occupied by the sensation of electrical currents pulsing through my body.
With my mind hyper-aware of my muscles, they felt much easier to engage. I didn’t feel stronger exactly, but I felt way more connected to my body so every rep was extra-intense. That’s exactly what EMS aims to do, apparently.
As Randell said, with this type of training, you’re essentially doubling the impulses that stimulate the muscles.
“Imagine, pag gumagalaw tayo, we have what we call electrical impulses coming from the brain going towards dun sa effector organ which is the muscle. Say for example, we are trying to flex our biceps, walk. May impulse yun coming sa utak,” he explained.
(Imagine when we move, we have what we call electrical impulses coming from the brain going towards the effector organ, which is this muscle.)
“So ginawa natin, pinagsama natin yung impulse coming from the brain, and then from an outside stimulus, pinagsama natin lahat. So it makes the stimulus greater. So mas malaki ngayon yung contraction na kaya iproduce [ng muscles], kasi dalawang kuryente yung sources,” he said.
(So what we did is, we combined the impulse coming from the brain and then from an outside stimulus, we combined it all. So it makes the stimulus greate. So the muscle can produce greater contractions, because there are two sources of currents.)
Before I knew it, the workout was done, just I was about to keel over at the battle ropes. When they said 20 minutes, they really meant it. And while my mind was thinking I could do a bit more, my body was saying otherwise – my arms and legs were jelly.
As coach Randell sent me off, he said that it was important that I drink a lot of water and eat. He also warned me of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which could come up in a day or two. I told him I planned to go boxing the next day, but he told me it was best if I skip it because with this type of training, recovery is super important.
Once I left the gym, I did notice that I was much more hungry and thirsty than usual. I was also really tired – as if I had just done my usual hour-long strength-training routine, but with cardio on top of it.
To my surprise, I didn’t experience DOMs in the days that followed. I did, however, feel more energetic – like there was more of a spring in my step. I also felt stronger and much less stressed.
All of these, Randell said, are just some of the immediate results of EMS training. As for the long-term results – toning, increased muscle mass, and fat loss can be expected within three to six months of consistent twice-a-week training.
At the moment, the scientific jury is still out on whether EMS training is the wonder workout it actually claims to be. That being said, all the immediate effects are real – at least as far as my experience goes.
Of course, you’d get these benefits from any type of exercise that challenges you. But not all exercises take just 20 minutes.
Ultimately, I still love my long workouts. The hour and a half I take in the gym is that much time I spend just with myself – disconnected from overwhelming to-do lists and work emails, and adult responsibilities.
However, there are way too many days when I simply don’t have that time to spare. It’s a great comfort to know that even then, fitness is always within reach. – Rappler.com