How to Use a Muscle Stimulator
Improving your strength, muscle mass, and endurance often comes down to how hard you grind and the nutrition you put in your body. For years, athletes of all skill levels and backgrounds have been leveraging one tool to give them the edge in improving muscular tone, size, and strength: electric muscle stimulators. They are easy to use and support more efficient workouts. Learn more about how to use electronic muscle stimulator devices below.
How Electric Muscle Stimulators Work
From professional ballers to at-home yoga enthusiasts, electric muscle stimulators help to build muscle and make training sessions much more efficient and effective. If you are asking, what is a muscle stimulator, and how does it work? Well, the design of electric muscle stimulators is deceptively simple. Most muscle stimulators comprise a device that sends electric pulses through a series of wires into electrodes. These electrodes are attached to your skin, transmitting the electric pulse directly to your motor nerves. The mechanics mimic the way that your brain sends signals to your muscles, which cause the muscles to contract, resulting in muscle flex and movement.
On their own, electric muscle stimulators have received mixed results, but when combined with existing training regimens, these devices have offered positive results. In a fairly comprehensive meta-study, researchers looked at 89 trials involving electric muscle stimulators in trained and elite athletes. Study periods ranging from three to six weeks showed significant gains and improvements in several parameters, including:
- Maximum strength
- Speed strength
- Sprint times
- Vertical jump height
What’s interesting is that, despite their already high level of fitness, these trained, elite athletes improved their strength to the same degree as untrained subjects used in the control group.
How to Use Electric Muscle Stimulators
The best part about electric muscle stimulators, aside from their proven effects, is how easy they are to use. Start by attaching the pads to the muscle or muscle group that you want to target. For example, if you are working on your biceps, attach the electrodes to your bicep. Use our electrode placement guides to determine where exactly you should be attaching each electrode. Proper pad placement will provide the best results.
From there, select your training program of choice via the device’s settings. These can vary but should usually comprise some combination of:
- Active recovery
Workout with the device until the training program finishes. If you find the settings too intense, adjust the levels. Most beginners should start with the lowest settings. Remember that, while the muscle stimulator should provide an extra level to your workout, it shouldn’t be actively painful or cause discomfort.
Electric muscle stimulators are not meant as a replacement for a workout, meaning that you should be incorporating the muscle stimulators into your existing training routine.
Most experts also recommend not using muscle stimulators for extended periods of time. Everyone has their own limits for how long the muscle contractions occur. Furthermore, using an electric muscle stimulator too long and too often can make your muscles grow accustomed to them, resulting in plateaus.
What Muscle Stimulators Can Be Used For
Muscle stimulators benefits you because they offer incredibly adaptive use that extends through every step of your workout.
A proper warm-up before your workout is essential to getting your body ready and has been shown to reduce injury. Unfortunately, too many fitness enthusiasts leap right into exercise without warming up beforehand. With an electric muscle stimulator, warming up is easy and efficient. It can prepare your muscles, get your heart rate up, and keep the blood circulation flowing through your body for the workout to come.
Efficient Training for Better Gains
Adding electric muscle stimulators into your workouts engages a higher percentage of muscle fibers, optimizing your workout so that you get the most out of every single repetition. Muscle stimulators can also help you exercise both types of muscle fibers, slow-twitch and fast-twitch.
Slow-twitch fibers, also known as type 1 fibers, are better at using oxygen for fuel, allowing for steadier muscle contractions over a longer period of time. Physically, that equates to muscles with greater endurance.
Fast-twitch fibers, or type 2 fibers, are not as efficient with how they use fuel, so they tend to fatigue more easily. However, they fire more rapidly and generally have more power than their slow-twitch counterparts. That makes them better suited to strength and explosiveness.
While certain people may require one over the other—marathon runners, for instance, benefit more from slow-twitch fibers—most athletes could use a good balance of both. Some evidence suggests that muscles will switch between the two types based on training, though research still isn’t sure how this happens. However, working out with a muscle stimulator may engage both muscle fiber types, allowing for a more balanced workout.
Similar to warming up before a workout, cool down once you have finished training. This can play an important role in your fitness and muscle recovery. Going from intense training straight to a resting phase can be jarring for your system. A cool-down period allows your breathing and heart rate to return to normal while preventing blood and toxins from pooling up in your muscles. It’s ultimately a more pleasant, comfortable way for your heart and muscles to ease out of a training session. Muscle stimulators offer a gentle cool-down that can keep your muscles from cramping or stiffening.
Recovery is a necessary step in training. It allows your body to rebuild and repair any damage to muscles, ultimately contributing to their mass, density, and strength. While everyone can benefit from the occasional passive recovery, most athletes opt for active recovery, which simply involves low-intensity exercise.
Active recovery encourages blood flow to the muscles and joints and can help to reduce the buildup of lactic acid, the compound responsible for causing muscle soreness and fatigue. Active recovery also keeps up your heart rate, ensuring that you don’t lag on your conditioning.
Using a muscle stimulator during your active recovery period can speed up the process. Integrated with active recovery exercises, EMS can bring fresh oxygen and nutrients to your muscles while promoting the flush of toxins.
Some muscle stimulators also incorporate TENS systems. While it may seem similar to electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is designed to target sensory nerves and is more often associated with physical therapy and rehabilitation. EMS targets motor nerves, which activate muscle contraction. TENS targets sensory nerves, which determine how something physically feels. TENS programs can help provide pain relief by triggering the release of endorphins, your natural feel-good chemical.
TENS programs may also dampen pain via the gate control theory. When you experience pain, a signal gets sent to your brain to denote the sensation. However, the electric pulses from a TENS program can actively interrupt these signals from ever reaching your brain, blocking that pain altogether.
While dampening pain won’t make your muscles heal any faster, it can help during your recovery periods by allowing you to go through your day without focusing so much on muscle soreness and chronic pain.
Electric muscle stimulators offer benefits for athletes and physical fitness enthusiasts of all skills, sports, and experience levels. While they can be intimidating to the uninitiated, learning how to use electronic muscle stimulator devices is actually easy and opens up a whole new world of efficient training sessions and improvements to physical performance. If you are curious and want to try a muscle stimulator for yourself, take a look through the Compex store for a wide range of devices perfectly suited for you.