Do Muscle Stimulators Really Work
First, let’s ask the question, what is a muscle stimulator? While once reserved for rehabilitation and physical theory, electric muscle stimulators have become more widely used by professional athletes and amateur enthusiasts alike, offering a new tool to enhance workouts and deliver greater physical performance. Of course, considering the sheer amount of fad diets, health trends, and fitness gimmicks, some healthy suspicion is appropriate. Do muscle stimulators really work? Read on to learn more.
How Your Muscles Work and Grow
While your body is also home to cardiac and smooth muscles, skeletal muscles are what you care about. These are the muscles connected to your bones that help you lift, push, pull and perform all of the other movements in your everyday life. Skeletal muscles are the muscles that you can consciously control.
Contraction is the basic movement of any skeletal muscle. That contraction starts with a signal sent from your brain to motor nerves that tell your muscles to contract. For example, performing a basic curl begins with the brain signaling the nerves in your bicep to contract.
You get the basics of how a muscle works, but how do muscles grow? Muscles are actually comprised of hundreds of thin fibers known as myofibrils. Working out causes those myofibrils to expand and contract. Lifting something heavier than you’re used to or otherwise putting your muscles through intense exercise creates enough physical stress in your myofibrils to actually damage and tear them. That’s why your muscles feel sore after a workout.
Your immune system notices that damage and begins the process of repairing and rebuilding those fibers. However, instead of bringing those fibers back the same as they were, muscle fibers get fused together, forming new protein strands that also happen to be thicker, denser, and higher in number. That leaves you with increased mass, improved tone, and a general increase in muscle strength.
Research has yet to know the most optimal way to build muscle, and considering we all have different metabolic rates and fitness needs,
Do Muscle Stimulators Work?
How do you use a muscle stimulator, and are they effective? Muscle stimulators comprise of electric muscle stimulation, also known as neuromuscular electrical stimulation, works off all the same principles that go into basic muscle movement. EMS devices generally comprise a machine that generates electrical impulses and a series of electrodes that attach to your skin. The electric impulses mimic the same signals that your brain sends to your motor nerves, causing your muscles to contract. Settings on the muscle stimulator allow you to control the intensity of these electric pulses, which affects the level of muscle contraction.
So electric muscle stimulators are at least effective in getting your muscles to contract, but can they do more than that to improve your fitness? In a meta-review, researchers looked at 89 different trials related to the use of electric muscle stimulators and their effects on trained and elite athletes. The results of the study found that EMS was resoundingly effective in enhancing physical performance parameters, which included improvements in:
- Maximum strength
- Speed strength
- Vertical jump height
- Sprint times
Another study looked at the effects of electric muscle stimulation on jump height in teenage athletes. Over an eight-week training program that combined EMS with plyometric exercises, the teen athletes showed statistically significant improvements in vertical jumping abilities.
This all shows that electric muscle stimulators do really work. It’s also important to understand that the best results come when muscle stimulators are used in conjunction with existing workout routines and training regimens. While some studies do show that electric muscle stimulation can help with weight loss when used on its own, the effects are limited and tend to taper off. Muscle stimulators on their own have an isolated effect compared to lifting weights, running laps, or performing any other full-body workout that involves strengthening the heart, lungs, and multiple muscle groups.
How Muscle Stimulators Can Help You
Electric muscle stimulation benefits you when used in conjunction with an existing workout. But, how can the treatment specifically help you?
Enhanced Muscles and Strength
Adding electric stimulation to your training engages a higher percentage of muscle fibers, essentially maximizing your muscle effort to get the most out of every single repetition and movement. That ultimately equates to a more efficient, well-balanced workout.
Your skeletal muscles are comprised of two different types of fibers. Type 1 is known as slow-twitch fibers. These are more efficient at using oxygen to generate fuel for steady, extended muscle movements and can go for much longer without fatigue. This makes slow-twitch fibers much more attuned for extended endurance and stamina. Type 2 fibers are known as fast-twitch fibers. These tend to fatigue more quickly, but fast-twitch fibers are capable of generating greater force and firing more rapidly, equating to greater power and explosive muscle strength.
Training these different muscle fiber types isn’t always easy or particularly well understood. Higher reps and exercises requiring slower movements can target slow-twitch muscles, while fast-twitch muscles thrive on fast movements and power exercises. However, many electric muscle stimulators, like those from Compex, work out both types of muscle fibers to give you the best of both worlds: muscular endurance and explosive power.
As mentioned, EMS on its own generally won’t have an extended effect on weight. In terms of physical activity, weight loss and maintenance requires cardio and full-body workouts. Muscle stimulators are far too isolated on their own to have a huge effect on calories, but incorporating EMS into your training can put you over the edge and add an extra level of intensity to burn calories and reduce fat.
Warming Up and Cooling Down
Warming up before a workout has been shown to not only prepare your muscles for a better workout but also reduces the risk of injury. A proper workout gets the blood flowing to the muscles, increases your heart rate, and loosens up the joints. With an electric muscle stimulator, you can warm up more efficiently and optimally, allowing you to prepare your body for your workout.
Cooling down following your workout is just as important. Going straight from working out to resting is like slamming the brakes in your car. Instead, you want to gently and gradually bring your body back down. This reduces your heart rate, decreases muscle spasms and cramping, and removes the buildup of lactic acid and other waste products in the muscles. Cooldowns can also reduce muscle soreness and support recovery. A muscle stimulator can provide an easy and effective means of cooling your body down after your exercise routine.
The hardest part of building muscle is the recovery period. While it’s a necessary step in rebuilding your muscle fibers to grow bigger and better, it also involves a lot of downtime. Electric muscle stimulators can speed up your muscle recovery by supporting greater blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients to your muscles while encouraging the flushing of toxins that contribute to soreness and cramping.
EMS can also help to keep pain from muscle soreness down, which won’t necessarily speed up recovery, but it can make getting through your day-to-day a lot easier. Part of this comes from muscle stimulators encouraging the release of endorphins, which make you feel good and dampen pain. Muscle stimulators may also relieve pain through the gate control theory. This states that the electric pulses from a muscle stimulator may actually interrupt the pain signals sent to your brain.
Do muscle stimulators really work? Many studies and anecdotes show that electric muscle stimulators are effective in strengthening and improving physical performance at all skill levels, but it’s important to understand that EMS shouldn’t be used as a replacement for a solid workout. Combine your training with a muscle stimulator for the best results. If you want to see for yourself, take a look through the Compex store to find the right muscle stimulator for your needs.