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Does EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) actually work?

Jul 03, 2023

There is no fast solution to health and fitness, is there? Feel Electric would beg to differ

What's your New Year's Resolution? And have you broken it yet? If it's to get fit, it could be that the first steps on the fitness path you know you want to walk can be taken in a small studio in Wilmslow.

Joseph Gourvenec, director at Feel Electric, which opened an EMS studio in Wilmslow last autumn, says: "EMS uses safe electrical impulses, tailored to each individual, to reach deep muscle layers much harder to activate through conventional workouts. Clients undertake a 20-minute workout, designed to achieve their stated goal, with a fully qualified personal trainer, and as every move you make is enhanced by the EMS routine, it's super-effective. It's low impact, so greatly reduces injury risk. Because the EMS goes deep into the muscle, you will burn calories for 72 hours afterwards – up to 2000 more than after a conventional workout. The EMS strengthens your muscles and sculpts them, for better definition, and you will lose weight faster."

Strike a pose... Engaging every muscle as the EMS pulses through ensures deep muscle fibres are activated (Image: Natasha Cadman)

Intrigued, I decided to give EMS a go for myself. At my first session I am handed a very (not) flattering pair of cycle shorts and t-shirt, told to strip off and put them on, and head to the weighing station. Yikes. My age, height, weight and gender are fed into the machine and, as I grip two metal handpieces, the levels of body fat, visceral fat, muscle and bone in my body are measured. This bit is fairly simple science – electrical impulses travel at different speeds through different materials, so it's able to measure what's going on inside me, not just the bits we can see.

I then sit with Lauren, while she goes through my results. She's kind. It's not too bad, to be fair. My weight is within normal range, as is my muscle mass, though my body fat is a bit high, as is my visceral fat – the hidden bad fat that sits wrapped around your organs and can be raise your risk for serious medical issues. Heart disease, Alzheimer's, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and high cholesterol are some of the conditions that are strongly linked to too much fat in your midriff.

We discuss my objectives. It's quite simple - I want to tone up, start reducing the levels of visceral fat, and feel like I am doing something for myself. I have a hip injury that has prevented me from doing pretty much anything for months and months, and I can feel my shape changing and it doesn't feel good.

EMS requires pads being strapped to the torso, glutes, thighs and biceps (Image: Natasha Cadman)

My first session is a bit of a shock. A jacket is strapped firmly to my upper body, feeling a lot like the stab jackets one wears for scuba diving (or if you’re a police officer, to avoid being stabbed). First, it's sprayed with water, to ensure maximum conductivity. It's not pleasant, standing there feeling more and more chilled, as more pads are strapped to my butt, thighs and arms, all of them cold and wet. I am next led over to a machine, to which I am attached by a long electrical lead. Lauren explains she’ll start me off gently, gradually turning up the electrical impulses as we go.

At first, it feels like a light vibration, in every part of my body where a pad is situated, but as we go on, Lauren turns up the volume, and wow, I start to feel it!

The EMS only works if you participate in the programme, which means following the instructions given and striking a pose – a squat, or a lunge, or a bicep curl – and holding that pose, every muscle as engaged as you can get it, for a count of ten, while the electrical impulses push deep into your muscles. It's weird. Very, very weird, but not painful – it's like intense vibrations running through your body, a deep buzzing sensation. As the volume goes up, I find the harder I clench every muscle, the better it feels.

Twenty minutes later I am thoroughly warm, and done for that session.

The next session is slightly different. I weigh in, get strapped into the cold wet kit, and take my position at the machine, but this week we’re doing a high intensity workout. Twenty minutes of leaping about doing repeat lunges, squats, leg raises and even a plank, twice, while the pulsing EMS flows through my muscles. I am not keen, preferring the static engagement of the previous week, but by the end of it can totally feel the buzz of exercise and accomplishment. And it's only 20 minutes. Lauren has devised some workarounds to protect my hip and I feel totally safe.

Lauren and Adam are ready to get you started on your fitness journey at Feel Electric, Wilmslow (Image: Sam Turpin)

Over the next several weeks we alternate the static and high intensity workouts, and soon my results show the effects. My weight has actually increased – but my muscle mass is up, and my body fat down, by a good amount. This shows in my jeans – my favourite pair had become ‘standing only’, but now I can sit in comfort, making them a regular go-to, instead of just looking at them in the wardrobe. My visceral fat has also gone down a notch, which is great news. I am stronger, and more confident in my movements – the very act of engaging each muscle while striking a pose has made me more aware of how each bit of me works.

Perhaps one of the best things is that Lauren, and her colleague Adam, who takes over on my later sessions, have proven to me that I can go to an exercise class, look totally ridiculous, and be happily pushed hard, and harder, to achieve my goals. They are the perfect balance of positivity and parade ground sergeant – cheering me on, while taking me to my limit – turning up the EMS pulse till I shriek (with laughter, not pain) and ensuring I get the very maximum benefit for my commitment. Maybe a gym membership isn't so unlikely a step in 2023., Wilmslow

There is no fast solution to health and fitness, is there? Feel Electric would beg to differ