Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) are not household words unless you happen to live with a chiropractor or physical therapist. Employed to treat pain and build muscles, these techniques are widely used medically, but only recently have they made their way into home gyms. ElectroFit wants to change that with the world’s first portable EMS and TENS device that is controlled via smartphone. Designed for consumer, at-home use, the mobile unit and its companion app can dial in just the right amount of electrical stimulation to strengthen muscles and ease the pain of recovery.
Both Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) use low-voltage electrical currents that are applied to the body through gel pads. In TENS therapy, the electrical pulses are used to combat pain by stimulating the sensory nerves to produce mood-elevating endorphins and block pain signals from reaching the brain. EMS, on the other hand, sends an electrical pulse to motor nerves causing the targeted muscles to contract. These muscle contractions can be used to warm up muscles before a workout or, as ElectroFit advertises, enhance the contraction of muscles during a workout.
ElectroFit is no stranger to electrical muscle stimulation. The company released its first TENS/EMS device in 2015 and started to work on a smarter version in 2017. With more than a decade of experience in producing TENS and EMS technology, the company has developed its flagship deivce, a portable, smartphone-controlled unit for home fitness users. The unit uses a Bluetooth-enabled controller and three separate attachments to target specific muscle areas. The controller connects to the companion smartphone app which can be used to select a particular workout and intensity level. Plug in the attachments, adjust the intensity level using the app, hit the start button, and let the device do its work.
As always with crowdfunded projects, you should proceed with caution, but for those who are interested, the device is now available for pre-order on Indiegogo. The ElectroFit unit is available at an early bird price of $99 for the base unit which ships with the controller unit and a set of ElectroPads that can be used on any part of the body.
Other bundles include the $199 Starter Pack + Dual kit which consists of the controller, a set of ElectroPads and the Dual attachment that can be used on the glutes, arms, and lower back. There’s also a $249 Starter Pack + Abs which swaps out the dual attachment and replaces it with the abdominal attachment. Those who want it all can pay $299 for the complete bundle which includes the controller, the ElectroPads, the dual attachment, and the abdominal attachment. All ElectroFit bundles are expected to ship in April 2019.
Before dropping your hard-earned cash on an ElectroFit or similar device, you may be wondering if EMS really works to help build muscles. We reached out to Dr. Bill Holcomb, professor and athletic training program director at Mercer University, who confirmed that electrical muscle stimulation “can help to restore muscle size and strength after injury or immobilization.” This technique, though, is limited in its muscle-building effects and “is not as effective as lifting weights.”
Holcomb pointed out that muscle movement during EMS “is typically isometric (no joint movement or change in muscle length),” while resistance training “would involve concentric, eccentric, and isometric muscle actions.” Yes, you can use EMS while actively contracting your muscles as you would during a workout, but Holcomb notes that “this is typically done with a single joint, not for multiple joints.”
In a nutshell, EMS can help some with muscular strength-related fitness, especially if you are injured and can’t lift weights, but it is not a magic wand to transform your body. To do that, you need to work on your cardiovascular fitness and weight control in addition to strength training — both alone and with EMS.