The ABC’s Of EMS

EMS and training by Baraa El sabbagh, dietitian and personal trainer in Dubai

I love when you guys ask me about different workouts and trends, there are so many out there and life is all about learning and trying new things. Today’s topic is about EMS, which a lot of you have asked me about. 

A 20 minute workout that’s like a 2-4 hour workout at the gym? Sign me up, right? Not so fast. It’s essential that we look into everything new with a grain of salt: What are the pros and cons? Is this healthy long term? What exactly does EMS do to the body? Is it a foolproof weight loss program?

What Is EMS?

Picture a muscle in your body. When you’re doing a regular move at the gym, that muscle is contracting, right? It’s activated to about 50% of its ability. Now, add an EMS bodysuit equipped with electrode pads (sounds so science-y but bear with me). That bodysuit is sending electrical impulses to that same muscle and activating it up to 98% of its ability instead!

How does it do that? The currents sent to your muscles are targeting neurons that force the tissue to contract. So the effect of the move you’re doing on EMS is multiplied by a lot more than if you were doing it on your own.

Sounds easy enough, but it’s no picnic. The intensity of the sessions will keep increasing week by week and the sensation feels like you’re getting pricked by tiny little needles apparently (I’ve never tried it but I can imagine that’s not fun.)

You might be thinking, “I'm getting stronger faster, which means I’m definitely going to lose weight quicker!”

You already know that if you build muscle, you’re burning more calories. But of course know that you can’t out train a bad diet, right? So you could be doing EMS for weeks and feeling stronger, but if you’re not taking care of your food, then you can’t lose weight. 

So a lot of it comes down to food at the end of the day just like it would with any other workout. 

Here’s the thing with EMS and basically every other strength training program: sure you’re gaining muscles, but if you’re not monitoring your food intake, eating the right amount of carbs, and getting enough protein, your body fat percentage and muscle mass won’t see much change. 


Here Are Some Pros

  • It’s time saving. I get it, we lead busy lives and sometimes an hour at the gym seems daunting compared to a 20 minute session that breaks the same sweat. 
  • It’s a relatively easy workout that won’t be hard on your joints.
  • It works the often neglected parts of the body. EMS can target specific areas that a conventional workout might skip, like the muscles in the pelvis. 
  • If you’re an injured athlete or can’t move a body part, EMS can stimulate muscles you physically aren’t able to. It’s great for recovery when your body needs it and sends a stream of blood flow to muscles all around. 

Moving On To Cons

  • Removes the “functionality” from exercise. 
  • Most people lead sedentary lifestyles, which means sitting at the desk from 9-6, barely walking or moving, so doing EMS worth 20 minutes of movement won’t do their cardiovascular system any good. Personally, I love the fact that I’m moving for an hour or hour and a half during my workout session. 
  • It’s a little repetitive. I think by the third week you’ll be craving for some variety in a workout and EMS won’t provide that. It’s a pretty standard formula that doesn’t leave room for change. 
  • It’s pricey. Maybe the cost changes from gym to gym, but generally EMS is expensive and wouldn’t be feasible to do for a long period of time. 
  • If you’re pregnant, have epilepsy or a pacemaker, or you suffer from kidney problems, you’re not supposed to do EMS. The con here is not knowing about any kidney conditions and doing EMS anyway, which could make it worse. 
  • If your instructor isn’t properly trained or their machine isn’t up to code, side effects could include skin burns, shocks, and muscle damage. Those don’t sound like minor issues, so if you are doing it, just make sure it’s at a licensed and reputable gym.



Should You Do EMS?

I’m all about that mindset if it means it could motivate someone to get active and fit at the beginning, and then slowly move on to endurance and flexibility training when they feel up for it.  

Like I said, everyone’s different, so I can’t definitively give you an answer on whether you should book that first EMS session. 

  • Will it help with weight loss? Yes, if you’re careful with your food choices. 
  • Is it a program you can stick to for a year? I wouldn’t personally do it as I love being functional and move during my training session. 
  • How long should you do it for? To see any real results with any training you need at least 4-8 weeks on a program. But I recommend having your phase 2 plan ready after you’re done with EMS.  
  • Is it a great supplement to regular training? Yes, studies tell us EMS can increase your overall exercise performance. 
  • Is it helpful for muscle rehabilitation? Yes, if the trainer is properly trained and the machines are top notch. 
  • Are you just curious? Then go for it! I think it’s a great idea to switch up our routines sometimes so we don’t get tired of the same workouts. 

Like with all new programs, there’s still a lot to uncovered in regards to EMS. Nothing is 100% proven yet, but most of the science behind it has been promising and positive. All we can do it keep reading, learning, and arming ourselves with knowledge about EMS & any other training program we come across! 

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