Strength training: Is EMS training too good to be true?

EMS is a training method that claims you don’t have to be active every day – all you need is 20 minutes a week. Is this too good to be true? Kath Hudson reports|

Already popular in Germany and embraced by many of its country’s Olympic athletes, a survey in that market showed that 40 per cent of respondents cite EMS (electronic muscle stimulation) as a fitness trend they’d like to try in 2017, at one of the country’s 1,300 studios.

Similar studios are already popping up in larger cities across the UK, but there’s still much education to be done before this market gets to the penetration levels of Germany. Nevertheless, suppliers believe that, once people start to see the benefits, the trend will take off, thanks to its appeal across the whole fitness spectrum. Serious athletes will use it to improve performance, while those who hate exercise will use it as an easy way to shape up.



Simply put, a finely tuned electrical impulse is sent to the muscle telling it to contract; it feels like a vibration, not a shock. As a result, the muscles gain muscle mass, which leads to an increase in strength and power.

But EMS has also moved out of the medical and rehab environment and into elite sports, with athletes such as Usain Bolt and Bayern Munich FC recognising the impact the technology can have on power, strength and speed.

Studies have shown improvements across a wide range of measures among professional sports people, including a 4.8 per cent improvement in the sprint time of ice hockey players over 10m (Brocherie et al). Meanwhile, in freestyle swimming, a 1.3 per cent improvement in 25m times and 1.45 per cent for 50m have been recorded following EMS training (Pichon et al).


And now the technology is moving into health clubs, as Bambach explains: “We’re seeing year-on-year growth in the private fitness market – and that’s because it works, as well as adding differentiation to a health club’s offering.” To back up his claims, he references a study that found untrained people using EMS combined with isokinetic training increased muscle size by 10 per cent over eight weeks.


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