The Speedfitness studio in Bendinat in Calvia is not like any other gym I have ever been in. It smells far better for a start, there’s no one grunting or sweating, there’s no gym bore hanging around trying to tell me what I’m doing wrong, and there’s no irritating music or day time television.
Instead there’s Georg Várdai , the owner, with his twinkling blue eyes and charming manner. It’s quite refreshing actually. I’m there as part of the team from Nourish the Guide to find out more about Electrical Muscle Stimulation or EMS, and we’re in the right place as Georg is an expert. We nibble on protein bars and sip filtered water as he fills us in on the history of this particular fitness tool, “did you know that the Romans were the first people to use electricity to assist health? They thought that the shocks from electric rays could help disabled children.”
As Georg explains how Speedfitness and EMS works I realise that there’s a lot more to it than my outdated perception of those terrible home shopping ads of beautiful people getting fit strapped up to an “Ab – O – Cutor” whilst they are watching the TV. EMS has a long history, back in the 17th century Luigi Galvani provided the first scientific evidence that current can activate muscle (it’s from him that we get the term “to galvanise”). Then during the 19th and 20th centuries, scientists studied the exact electrical properties that generate muscle movement. It was discovered that body functions induced by electrical stimulation caused long-term changes in the muscles. In the 1960s Soviet sport scientists applied EMS in the training of their elite athletes, claiming 40% force gains. In the ´70s, these studies were shared with the rest of the world. Recent medical physiology research has pinpointed the mechanisms by which electrical stimulation causes adaptation of cells of muscles, blood vessels and nerves. The technique is used by astronauts to maintain body composition in space, it seems that you literally could exercise whilst floating around. I’m in.
The simplified science is this, EMS works directly on the muscles, bypassing the body’s energy conservation system, so there’s no limit to the percentage of muscle fibre that can be activated. The EMS stimulus “spills over” from fully contracted fibre to activate remaining fibre (given sufficient current) allowing the recipient to experience a training stimulus that’s unattainable by any other means. And it all happens in quite a short space of time. “The body building standard is to train individual body parts over the course of several days, but with EMS you can train the whole body in twenty minutes a week,” says Georg. “It is a very efficient solution for people who have little time to exercise.” In order to benefit from EMS you only have to wear a cotton body suit, be strapped up with electrodes (don’t worry, they are perfectly safe and there is no danger of electrocution) and stand with the machine on for twenty minutes.
I think about all the other recommendations I’ve read and heard about that say you should exercise for far longer than that every day. But isn’t it cheating, I ask, you’re not really DOING anything are you. “Wait until tomorrow,” he replies, “And see if your muscles are sore, then tell me if you were cheating”. Okay, the gauntlet is thrown and it’s time to try EMS out.
The outfit is not that flattering, it’s tight to the skin with the electrodes snugly on top to ensure a good connection. But you’re not likely to have to share the indignity with many as the training sessions are for singles or couples, no more. Once we’re hooked up to the machines we’re ready to go. Georg decides what strength we can cope with, and poc a poc up we go to our individual intensity levels. The sensation is a little odd to start with, the feeling of the muscles contracting involuntarily every four seconds is novel, but soon it is just the new normal and we begin. In an EMS session you could just stand there for twenty minutes but the way to reap all of the benefits is to also do some simple dynamic exercises, like slow squatting, stretching from one side to the other and arm curls. “Your muscles are going to contract 200 more times in this session than they would in a normal two hour gym session”, Georg tells us. “You might be surprised at how much resistance you can feel in your body when you are performing these exercises”. How can I describe it best? During some of the exercises we do I feel as if I am pushing against heavy water, it’s not difficult to do, but I have to think about how I am doing it. It’s almost a brain work out as well. Georg makes it fun, and easy to follow along with him, and there are a lot of laughs.
The session is soon over and after a cool down and stretch out we have the option to take a shower at the Speedfitness facilities, whilst Georg prepares a tasty protein shake for us to drink. He tells us about how the system can also help with the reduction of cellulite, help a woman’s body to recover after labour and birth and increase stamina. EMS definitely has some interesting and valuable advantages especially if you don’t have much time in your life to get to a gym. The system works the fast twitch white muscle fibres which means that you can improve your speed and reaction times, great if you are a sprinter, dancer or football player. It’s used widely in professional sports for exactly that reason, it’s also used by amateur sports people to improve alongside their current training regimes, and also a rehabilitation tool for injuries. “Even clients with very bad back problems can exercise using EMS, in fact it is a great way to get into exercise and build up your strength before you join any group exercise programmes. It will work the major muscle groups and help them to stabilise your skeleton. I have clients who have reduced their back pain very quickly, improved their stamina and increased their energy in only two or three sessions”. The system appeals to older people as well who perhaps have stopped exercising and as they have aged have become weaker or their joints are damaged. Maintaining muscle groups is vital as you age and EMS is an easy way to do that with little effort needed. “I can also help the client to not only maintain what they have now, but improve and reach future goals, it’s all possible”, Georg tells us, his eyes full of enthusiasm. On top of all of those benefits it almost feels like a side point to mention that you can achieve a fitter, stronger looking body as well. “It’s a kind of ‘Intelligent Fitness'”, I say. “Yes!”, Georg beams at me.
The next day, and how did the Nourish team feel post-EMS? Varying degrees of muscle soreness, depending on the current levels of exercise intensity we are also currently doing. The general consensus is that the soreness was not unbearable and almost an enjoyable sensation as it reminded us that we HAD been working out. It certainly shouldn’t stop any Nourish reader from trying out EMS at Speedfitness. If you want to see fast results and changes in your body then EMS is an excellent option to consider. Personally I am going to view it as an accessory to my current training as although I know I could just do EMS to get a stronger body I also love to train in my CrossFit group and get a lot of motivation and fun from being with the other members of my group. But as EMS can help me to improve my power to lift more weights and run faster, and encourage my knee to improve after an injury a couple of months ago then I definitely want some of that thank you Georg!
CHRISTMAS OFFER: Purchase a 3 month membership by December 15th and you will recieve 5 bonus classes!
Written by Vicky McLeod, Phoenix Media Mallorca