8 Benefits Of Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS)

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Electromyostimulation (EMS), sometimes called electrical muscle stimulation, has been used in rehabilitation protocols for decades.

Although its use for fitness, general health, and athletic performance is in its relatively nascent stages, there is a large body of evidence from scientific studies demonstrating the benefits, safety, and efficacy of EMS training.

But, does EMS training really work? Does electrical muscle stimulation help you build muscle? And, is EMS training good for weight loss?

In this electromyo training guide, we will discuss what electrical muscle stimulation involves and the research-backed benefits of electromyostimulation for strength, fitness, weight loss, and more.

We will look at: 

  • What Is Electrical Muscle Stimulation?
  • How Does Electromyostimulation Work?
  • Does Electromyostimulation Work? Electromyostimulation Fitness Benefits

Let’s get started!

Electrical Muscle Stimulation

What Is Electrical Muscle Stimulation?

Before we get into the benefits of electromyo stimulation, what is electro muscle stimulation exactly?

The terms electromyostimulation, electrical muscular stimulation, or electrical myo stimulation are used interchangeably to describe a non-invasive means of triggering and amplifying voluntary muscular contractions. 

Electro myo stimulation is also called e-stim in rehab contexts or EMS training in fitness contexts, and it has white applications in both.

Various forms of EMS have been used by physical therapists in rehabilitation settings for injury healing and recovery, and in more recent years, it has bridged into general fitness training outside of injury rehab due to demonstrated EMS benefits for strength and other aspects of fitness.

Electrical Muscle Stimulation.

How Does Electromyostimulation Work?

Electrical muscle stimulation helps stimulate the muscles to contract more forcefully without requiring a conscious effort to do so.

To use EMS, electrodes are placed on the skin over target areas of skeletal muscle tissue. 

An attached electromyostimulation device emits low-frequency impulses through the electrodes that mimic the natural neuromuscular impulses your brain sends through the motor neurons to get your muscles to contract.

The muscle fibers react to the EMS impulse the same way that they do to the natural neuromuscular impulses that arrive via the motor neuron from your brain. 

When the impulse reaches the muscle fibers, they contract. 

Therefore, using EMS is a way to augment the number of impulses or motor units recruited when using a muscle. 

With EMS devices, you add external, and thus additional, cues to the muscle fibers to contract.

Electrical Muscle Stimulation on the back.

Plus, you can also dial in the electrical muscle stimulation impulse intensity to make sure it exceeds the threshold of the all-or-nothing principle of muscle contraction, ensuring the muscle fibers do indeed contract when signaled.

A benefit of electromyostimulation training is that the impulses mean that a greater percentage of the muscle fibers are activated when you are using the muscle, which enables you to produce more force. 

The more force you can produce, the greater the weight or load you can use, which ultimately helps you get stronger faster.

For example, without the use of EMS, let’s say you go to do a bicep curl. Your brain signals the biceps to contract concentrically, or shorten, to bring the weight up.

Your brain may activate approximately 40% of the muscle fibers in your bicep because some of the motor units controlling bundles of muscle fibers did not receive an impulse sufficient enough to trigger a contraction.

Therefore, those muscle fibers remain relaxed and do not contribute to lifting the weight. As a result, you might be able to lift 20-pound dumbbells for your set.

Electrical Muscle Stimulation on a person's glutes.

When EMS is superimposed during the exercise and set to a sufficient intensity, up to 90% of your muscle fibers can be activated when you go to lift the weight. 

This is because, in addition to the 40% of the fibers that your own brain is successfully activating through the motor neurons, the impulses sent from the EMS device through the electrodes are able to activate additional motor units and their muscle fibers that were not successfully activated by the brain.

Consequently, because more than twice as many muscle fibers are now activated at once when you go to do your biceps curls, you can lift significantly more weight. 

As a rough example, let’s say that instead of doing 10 to 12 reps with 20-pound dumbbells on your own, you are now able to do 10 to 12 reps with 25- or 30-pound dumbbells in an EMS-aided workout.

Your muscles are able to reap the benefits from lifting heavier weights regardless of whether the genesis of the increased strength was internal from your brain or external from EMS. 

Thus, you will get stronger faster and see greater improvements in strength, muscle size and power. 

Does Electromyostimulation Work? Electromyostimulation Fitness Benefits 

Here are some of the benefits of electrical muscle stimulation for improving various aspects of fitness:

A person flexing their bicep.

#1: EMS Can Increase Muscular Strength

One study compared strength training with and without superimposed electromyostimulation during knee extension exercise on muscle strength and anaerobic power. 

After four weeks, the group that completed the protocol with EMS showed significant increases in strength relative to the training group that did not use EMS (40.2% and 31.4%, respectively). 

More importantly, after a two-week period of detraining during which no exercise occurred, the group that had exercised with EMS retained a greater percentage of the strength gained during the training period than the groups that exercised without EMS (49.1% and 24.5%). 

This points to the potential for EMS to be particularly beneficial in terms of strength retention for individuals who cannot consistently exercise or who need to take extended periods of time off between workouts.

Another study found that just a single 20-minute session of whole-body EMS training per week over the course of 16 weeks reduced intramuscular fat and increased muscle fiber tissue volume, meaning that muscle quality improved.

Finally, a once-weekly whole-body EMS training plan also resulted in significant improvements in trunk and leg strength and stability, as well as a mild reduction in low back pain after sixteen weeks.

A muscular person doing a biceps curl.

#2: Electromyostimulation Can Reduce Sarcopenia

Evidence suggests that EMS workouts can help attenuate the loss of muscular strength and mass associated with age-related sarcopenia (muscle loss).

For example, studies involving EMS exercise have been shown to increase muscle mass and improve muscle function in older adults and counteract atrophy of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

The researchers determined that EMS training improves the balance of anabolic (muscle building) to catabolic (muscle breakdown) hormones and stimulates the regenerative capacity of satellite cells involved in recruiting and firing muscles.

A larger study confirmed the beneficial effects of EMS workouts on improving strength and physical function in sarcopenic older adults.

In addition, another study found that electromyostimulation workouts helped attenuate the strength and power decline typically experienced during menopause. 

A middle aged man lifting a barbell.

#3: Power and Speed Benefits of Electromyostimulation

A large review found that EMS training is effective at improving key athletic performance factors related to strength, such as maximal strength, speed strength, rate of force development, power, and jumping and sprinting ability in both elite and recreational athletes, as well as trained and untrained subjects alike.

#4: Electromyostimulation Endurance Benefits 

A review of 11 studies investigating the effects of EMS training on endurance-related performance in healthy subjects found that those who used EMS during training saw significant improvements in maximal oxygen uptake, oxygen uptake at ventilatory thresholds, running economy, and maximal lactate blood concentrations relative to the control subjects. 

Most studies also found that EMS improved performance measures, such as time-trial performance, time to exhaustion, and maximal work capacity.

The researchers concluded that EMS was an effective, time-efficient way to enhance the benefits of training on markers of aerobic fitness and performance.

Another study found that EMS workouts increased VO2 max by 5.2% and running economy despite a reduction in training volume. 

#5: Electromyostimulation Recovery Benefits 

Electromyostimulation can also enhance recovery from exercise by increasing blood flow and improving sleep quality.

A person running.

#6: Electromyostimulation Fat Loss and Health Benefits

EMS training can improve body composition. 

One study found that electromyostimulation aided weight loss while increasing lean body mass when combined with dietary changes in those with metabolic syndrome. 

Using EMS also decreased insulin, triglycerides, and systolic blood pressure.

#7: Electromyostimulation Benefits for Back Pain

A study involving 100 adults with chronic, nonspecific low back pain found that whole-body EMS decreased back pain and improved functional strength in half as much time as traditional back strengthening exercises.

#8: Mental Health Benefits of Electrical Muscle Stimulation 

One study found that EMS caused a statistically significant increase in subjective well-being, relaxation, and the feeling of being awake rather than sleepy in healthy volunteers.

Another study also demonstrated that electric muscle stimulation treatments decreased soreness, anxiety, fatigue, and sleeplessness.

You can learn more about how to build muscle mass fast here.

A muscular woman in a gym.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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