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Can You Lose Fat With Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS)?

Can you actually “shock” yourself fit? Is Electrical Muscle Stimulation for real? Get-Fit Guy explains whether or not you really can lose fat with electrical stimulation.

By
Ben Greenfield,
February 23, 2015
Episode #223
Electro simulation therapy

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You’ve probably seen it before. The infomercials on TV that features a man or woman lounging happily on the couch while some fancy electrodes stimulate their stomach into an instant 6-pack. These electrode machines, also known as Electrical Muscle Stimulation or EMS are becoming more and more common at online shopping website and in fitness magazines.

But isn’t this too good to be true? How on earth could you actually “shock” yourself fit? In this episode, you’re going to find out whether you really can lose fat with electrical stimulation.

Is There Research on EMS?

A recent study entitled “Effects of high-frequency current therapy on abdominal obesity in young women: a randomized controlled trial” is a perfect example that looks into this very question.

In the study, a group of subjects received 30 minutes of high-frequency current therapy via a series of electrodes placed on their stomachs. The subjects did these sessions 3 times per week for 6 weeks, for a total of 18 EMS sessions. The researchers measured waist circumference, body mass index, subcutaneous fat mass (that's fat found under the skin), and body fat percentage.

The results were surprising, especially considering these women didn’t modify their exercise or diet.

The electrical stimulation caused significant effects on decreasing waist circumference, abdominal obesity, subcutaneous fat mass, and body fat percentage, leading the study to note in the final results that: “The use of the high-frequency current therapy may be beneficial for reducing the levels of abdominal obesity in young women.”

Other studies have shown EMS to be helpful for everything from pain management to helping increase muscle blood flow for warming up prior to performance-related activities. I discuss both these concepts and research in detail in my article How To Use Electrical Muscle Stimulation to Enhance Performance, Build Power and VO2 Max and the podcast episode How the LA Lakers, The Boston Red Sox & Over 104 Other Professional Teams Are Maximizing Recovery.

So now that you know these devices aren’t a complete sham, how can you use them? Here are 3 quick and dirty tips about EMS:

Tip #1: Work Out With EMS

I own several EMS units and one of the workouts that I do with the more powerful unit called a “Compex” is to attach the electrodes to my quads and hamstrings, then do 5-10 sets of body weight or barbell squats while I simultaneously run the electrical current through my legs.

This allows me to recruit more muscle fibers than I’d normally be able to during a squat, which makes the workout far more difficult. I can then attach the electrodes to my chest, my shoulders (or both), and do push-ups, overhead presses or bench presses for an upper body effect.

Most EMS units allow you to choose the intensity of the electrical current, so you can increase the pulse as you get stronger in the same way that you can increase the amount of weight you use for lifting as you get stronger.

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