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.

Ben Greenfield
Episode #223
Electro simulation therapy

Tip #2: Do Isometrics With EMS

Isometrics combined with EMS is a very effective way to increase the amount of lactic acid in a muscle, which can cause improvements in the ability to tolerate lactic acid during hard workouts or competitions such as 5Ks, cycling races, or weight lifting events. To use EMS in this way, you begin by getting into an isometric position.

See also: Get More Lean Muscle With Isometric Training


An isometric exercise, which combines the Greek words “isos” (“equal” or “same”) and “metron” (“distance” or “measure”), involves a muscle contraction without any visible movement in the angle of the joint.  This is in contrast to traditional moving isotonic contractions, in which your muscle length and joint angle change throughout the exercise.

If you’ve ever performed a wall squat (when you sit in an imaginary chair with your back against the wall for as long as you possibly can), then you’re familiar with teeth-grittingly high levels of lactic acid and muscle burn that isometric training can produce. Other examples of isometric moves are lunge holds, push-up holds, planks, or pull-up holds.

To combine isometrics with EMS, you simply stimulate the muscles that you’re working during your isometric sets, which significantly increases the number of muscle fibers you recruit and the amount of lactic acid that builds up inside the muscle.

Tip #3: Use EMS When You’re Sedentary or Injured

Let’s face it: there’s absolutely no point in sitting on the couch with a bunch of electrodes attached to you unless there’s a really good reason for you being on that couch. A good reason is an injury that has left you unable to move around much, or perhaps a really, really good movie or televised sports game. In most situations, it’s better to simply move around, go to the gym, or head outside to exercise.

But if you have indeed been relegated to a sedentary position, you can use EMS to keep your muscles activated (and as the latest study has shown, to burn fat too). In addition to working muscles while you’re recovering from an injury or watching a movie, you can also use EMS during car rides and on airplanes (yes, I’ve done it and the TSA is fine with it, although you may get funny looks from your seatmate). You can even work your calf muscles while you’re sitting at your desk at work if you’re unable to use a standing workstation.

Finally, you should be aware of the following:

  • A TENS unit is often mistaken for an EMS unit, but they are not the same. TENS is short for “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation” and it's a measure of nerve stimulation, not muscles. While good for pain management, TENS is much different than EMS

  • If your goal is fat loss or performance gains, you should know that the necessary frequency of electrical stimulation to achieve results can be a bit uncomfortable. When you use EMS, you are literally shocking yourself. And if you don’t know what you’re doing you can either place the electrodes improperly and stimulate muscle in a dangerous way (such as pulling joints in opposite directions), you can also get skin burns, or you can simply get no result at all. Be sure to thoroughly read the manual and usage instructions for any EMS device you use.

Do you have more questions about whether you can use electrical stimulation for fat loss? Have you used an EMS device? Tell us about your experiences in Comments below or head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy and join the conversation there!

EMS image courtesy of ultrasonicslimming.com.


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.

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