You may well be familiar with Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) and how it’s used as a tool to boost fitness and increase the effectiveness of exercise regimes.
But you might not be as clear on the different types of EMS devices available, and the differences in how and why they are used.
There are 3 major kinds of electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) devices. Small, portable EMS devices have 1-2 electrodes that can be placed upon the muscle group that you want to target. Wired EMS devices in the gym are usually full EMS bodysuits, which allow users to workout under the guidance of a personal trainer. Finally, a fully wireless EMS bodysuit enables users to train with EMS anywhere and anytime.
EMS devices use electrical stimulation via electrodes attached to the body to artificially cause muscle contraction, which when used correctly, can be a very useful tool in increasing, and maintaining, health and fitness.
So, if you want to know more about the benefits and differences between the three major kinds of EMS devices, read on!
EMS Style #1 – Portable EMS Devices
We’ll start with the most basic form of personal EMS device that comes in the form of a small handheld or belt-strap control unit, with electrodes connected by wires to the unit that the user attaches to their skin.
Two electrodes are applied to the skin covering the muscle group that the user wants to stimulate and current is delivered in order to cause muscle contraction.
The setup of these devices can be broadly broken down into three types:
- Wired Devices
- The control unit is directly connected to the electrodes using wires. The user can select the intensity of the current or select pre-set programs according to their requirements. As this is the lowest-tech form of device, these tend to be the most budget-friendly options on the market.
- Wireless devices with control units
- These essentially function in the same way as the units explained above, with the exception that the signals are sent from the control unit to the electrodes wirelessly, allowing for greater comfort and freedom of movement.
- Smartphone-linked wireless devices
- These units do away with a control unit altogether, and instead use an app to control the current flowing from the electrodes into the user’s muscles wirelessly, via Bluetooth. Such a setup has obvious advantages in terms of convenience and portability.
- Another notable benefit of this kind of device is that the user’s EMS data and routines can be recorded, and sent via the internet to their health practitioner or fitness coach, who can then quickly provide professional feedback and guidance to their client.
- As this kind of device is at the cutting edge of EMS technology, expect a much higher price tag when compared to the simpler and/or older products available on the market.
So that’s a quick rundown of portable units the differences in terms of physical features.
But you may now be asking yourself – what are the differences in terms of how they are used and who they are suitable for?
The short answer to that is: not much!
All of these devices are similar in terms of the therapeutic or fitness-enhancing benefits they offer. Although there are some differences in the types of programs each device offers that may make one slightly more suitable for one set of needs than another, the main differences lie in the portability, convenience and aesthetic/user interface styles of the higher-end models when compared to their more budget-friendly counterparts.
The amount of money you’re willing to part with and the features mentioned above that you may, or may not, consider important are entirely up to you.
EMS Style #2 – Wired EMS Machines
In terms of portability, this type of EMS machine is at the opposite end of the scale to the small handheld/smartphone-linked units we’ve looked at just now, i.e. zero portability.
But if that is not an important factor for you and you like to do your workouts at the gym, this style of EMS training could be absolutely perfect for your needs.
The device is usually a full-body suit, with electrodes applied to a wide variety of muscle groups, wired up to the main unit controlled by a personal trainer.
The user does sets of conventional exercises such as lunges, squats, pushups, while the trainer applies electrical current via the electrodes, adjusts the intensity as necessary, and of course offers motivation, guidance and advice.
The goal of gym-based EMS sessions (of course with a carefully planned schedule under the guidance of a professional trainer) is to see the same results as conventional workout sessions, but with much less time and effort invested.
A typical schedule is just two-three 20-minute workouts per week. But of course such convenience, high-tech equipment and personally tailored services come at a cost, and to see results you can expect to part with many thousands of dollars, rather than the tens or hundreds you may spend on basic handheld devices.
Still, if you have the cash but don’t have the time for more ‘traditional’ gym schedules, this may well be the option for you.
EMS Style #3 – Fully Wireless EMS Bodysuits
Now on to our last of the three types of EMS tech – the wireless body suits.
These have become very popular in the fitness world in recent years, and for good reason – they offer some very noteworthy advantages, not least the combination of portability and flexibility with full-body EMS-enhanced workouts.
As with most things in life, these benefits don’t come for free, and the price tag of a wireless body EMS suit is much higher than that of a basic handheld device. But depending on your health and fitness needs, the extra cash spent could be an excellent investment rather than an unnecessary expense.
So let’s have a look at the features of these suits and how one of them could be used to maximize the effectiveness of your fitness regime.
Wireless EMS suits are fundamentally similar to the gym-based wired EMS in a number of ways. Both types:
- are full-body suits
- deliver an adjustable level of electric current to muscle groups (full-body or specific groups)
- can be used in conjunction with conventional exercise regimes to increase their effectiveness and deliver results in shorter time frames
However, some key differences with wireless suits are that they:
- can be used anywhere, unlike the gym-based suits described previously
- can be worn and used at home to stimulate muscles during everyday household tasks (doing so can still provide benefits but these will much less than when the EMS suit is combined with a conventional physical training program)
- are entirely operated by the user him/herself, allowing for much greater freedom, versatility and portability.
It’s important to note that EMS is a powerful technology and perfectly safe when used correctly.
To ensure safe use, users should:
- fully understand and carefully follow the instructions for use
- take responsibility for ensuring they are healthy before use
- pay careful attention to contraindications (for example this type of equipment is absolutely NOT suitable for those with medical implants such as pacemakers).
For more information on using EMS safely, take a look at our post “Is EMS Training Safe” which includes some guidelines for use.
Having said that, providing that these conditions are met, a wireless EMS suit can be the key to transforming a fitness plan delivering mediocre results into one that gets you into the shape you want to be in, in a fast and effective way.
Having read this far, hopefully you have a good idea of the benefits you can get from training with EMS.
Let’s finish by reinforcing our main points.
Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is used for fitness-enhancing and/or therapeutic purposes
The 3 major types of EMS device available:
|Small Portable EMS Devices||most budget-friendly option highly portable wired wireless options available uses a handheld/belt-strap control unit or smartphone to control the current|
|Gym-Based Wired EMS Machines||fixed machines used in the gym full suit with electrodes placed all over the body, wired to the machine machine is controlled by personal trainer, who also can offer guidance and motivation used in combination with conventional physical exercises to enhance their effectiveness|
|Wireless EMS Bodysuits||fully portable suit with electrodes integrated into the suit train anywhere, anytime user controls intensity of electrical current delivered most effective when used with conventional fitness regime can also deliver results when used during non-physical, daily activities like shopping and laundry|
So there you have it – an introduction to the different types of EMS tech out there at the moment, which has hopefully given you a better understanding of which device, if any, would be beneficial to your fitness training program.
EMS is fast transforming the way that pro and amateur athletes alike train.
But whether you choose to go for EMS-enhanced training or not, we wish you every success in your efforts to be as fit, healthy and in the best shape you can possibly be.
Until next time, safe and happy training everyone!