It’s the early 2000s. You’re on your parents’ couch, watching terrible late night television way past your bedtime, and snacking on your second string cheese when it comes on: The infamous infomercial. Absolutely shredded models are standing in their kitchen doing dishes, sitting at their desks in suits and pencil skirts, and lounging on the couch — all while pulsing their muscles involuntarily with electrical muscle stimulation bands, getting more fit by the moment. “Now that’s multi-tasking,” you think, while biting into a solid stick of cheese.
Those were the good old days. For at least a decade and a half, these electric devices for isolation exercises haven’t really made a reappearance. And we thought that was because of what we always knew — that deep down, there is no quick and lazy way to get a raging six-pack. And yet, here we are, seeing a resurgence of them on our Instagram ads. We blame COVID-19 for this revival, what with everyone stuck at home and focused on bettering themselves. But the question remains: Do they actually work the way they are advertised? And if they do, why doesn’t everyone have one?
Electrical muscle stimulators are usually sold as a battery-operated or rechargeable flexible band that wraps around arms, waistlines, or thighs and glutes. They look like an electrical panel one might see inside a computer or smartphone, and they produce electric currents that stimulate the muscles underneath.
They are touted as being able to strengthen, tone, and firm while we essentially sit around and do nothing in terms of exercising. They are marketed in such a way to make us believe that while sitting and working at our desk or simply watching TV, we can lose weight, slim down, and achieve rock-hard, super toned muscles. Ahh, the dream … *chews potato chip*.
The very bottom line: For the sake of our health, exercise to strengthen our muscles is imperative. Most of us want to not only appear stronger, but actually be stronger — and that cannot be accomplished with electric muscle stimulators (EMS). Exercise helps to boost circulation, move lymph, instigate detox via digestion and sweat, give us boosts of energy, and even strengthen our immune systems. In short? EMS devices cannot replicate this.
EMS machines cannot boost circulation, make us break a sweat, move lymph, or help us with weight loss — so those shredded models we see in the advertisements showing off their 6-packs, presumably from exclusive use of these devices, are an act of baseless marketing. You will not see any slimming or weight loss from EMS machines, according to the FDA.
However, electronically stimulating muscles in this very superficial manner does have some minor benefits. Yes, contracting the muscles repeatedly with electricity can eventually result in some minor strengthening and toning of the muscle in question — but it cannot create a major change in the appearance of the muscle in the absence of strength training. The only way we will see major changes in the appearance of our muscle tone is with a conscientious diet and thorough workout regimen.
That being said, EMS machines can be seen as a great addition to your exercise routine for additional tightening and muscle tone. Because we are able to send electrical pulses into the muscle with EMS machines, we can stimulate contractions of the muscle at a greater rate and for many more reps than normally possible during a workout. This is especially effective for abdominal isolation and glute isolation workouts and can help replace other isolation exercises.
And while it can’t create visible tone on muscles that reside below a layer of excess fatty tissue, it can emphasize the appearance of muscle tone on strong, already-toned muscles — particularly working on the abdominal wall, triceps, and biceps for significant toning.
So, we’re sorry to break it to everyone … including ourselves. Diet and dynamic exercise are still the only true-blue ways to the bod of our dreams. Plus, with those practices, we achieve better mental clarity and health, respect for our bodies, and real strength. And if you do decide to top off your workouts with an EMS device, make sure to stretch after, and drink tons of water to flush out any extra lactic acid!