Muscle Stimulation (EMS), also known as Neuromuscular Electrical
Stimulation (NMES) involves the use of electrical impulses to
stimulate muscular contraction. The impulses are generated by
an electrical device and delivered through electrodes placed
directly on the skin over the muscle group(s) to be stimulated.
Specific protocols can utilized to elicit different training
responses such as recovery treatment, muscular endurance, muscular
hypertrophy, muscular strength, or increase force production.
For example, high-frequency currents are used for enhancing maximal
strength, whereas low-frequency currents are used to develop
endurance (Filipovic 2012).
Contraindications and warnings include no use with pacemaker;
no use on vital parts, such as carotid sinus nerves, across the
chest, or across the brain; caution in the use during pregnancy,
menstruation, and other particular conditions that may be affected
by muscle contractions; potential adverse effects include skin
irritations and burns.
EMS is different from transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
(TENS), in which an electric current is used for pain therapy.
The FDA (2013) asserts that muscle stimulators are misbranded
when any of the following claims are made: girth reduction, loss
of inches, weight reduction, cellulite removal, bust development,
body shaping and contouring, and spot reducing.
Porcari (2002) found EMS, performed 3 times per week following
the manufacturer's recommendations, had no effect on body composition,
muscular strength, and physical appearance in college age volunteers.
EMS treatment has shown to be effective in rehabilitation
under supervision of an authorized practitioner for the following
- Prevention or retardation of muscular disuse atrophy
- When a voluntary training program is not possible due to
injury or disability
- Increasing local blood circulation
- Muscle re-education
- Relaxation of muscle spasms
- Immediate post-surgical stimulation of calf muscles to prevent
- Maintaining or increasing range of motion.
Also see Quadriceps & Hamstrings Activation
EMS has been used in former Communist Bloc countries for sport
training since the early 1950s. Many coaches now use EMS as part
of a training program for their athletes. The late track coach
Charlie Francis used EMS as part of his training program for
his Olympic-level athletes (Francis 2001).
The efficacy of the EMG treatment for sport training has been
debated particularly because
early studies using flawed protocols failed to show the true
potential of EMG training when combined with traditional training
techniques (Francis 2001).
According to Francis (2001), uses for EMS in sport training
- Enhancement of maximum strength
- Modality to enhance recovery
- Rehabilitation tool
- Motor learning and muscle recruitment tool
Gorndin (2011) reported EMS:
- Cannot effectively replace traditional resistance training
- May augment muscle function only if performed by certain
protocols (eg: intensity, pulse duration, etc).
- May improve dynamic strength, motor performance skills and
explosive movements (i.e., jump performance, sprint ability)
when EMS training is combined with voluntary dynamic exercise
like plyometrics and/or weight training.
Filipovic (2012) review of the scientific literature revealed
EMS is effective for developing physical performance in trained
an elite athletes. Significant gains were reported with stimulation
period of 3-6 weeks:
- Maximal strength
- isometric Fmax +58.8%
- dynamic Fmax +79.5%
- Speed strength
- Eccentric isokinetic Mmax +37.1%
- Concentric isokinetic Mmax + 41.3%
- Rate of force development + 74%
- Force impulse + 29%; vmax + 19%
- Power +67%
Developing these parameters increases vertical jump height
by up to +25% and improves sprint times by as much as -4.8% in
trained and elite athletes.
Finberg (2013) reported that a single EMS recovery treatment
resulted in improved sprint times during the 24-h post recovery,
which was as effective for recovery as cold water treatment.
Bentio-Martinez (2013) found that EMS applied during plyometrics
training and applying EMS prior to plyometrics training significantly
improved triple jump performance. Incidentally, applying EMS
after plyometric training provided no significant improvements.
Electrostimulation parameters involved 150 Hz frequency, 350
Hz pulse width, 3-12 second contraction rest time, 2 days / week,
12 minutes / dosage, 36 contractions / session, at maximum athlete-tolerated
intensity varying between 60 and 130 mA.
Francis (2001) recommends 10 sec contractions time for sprinters
and 6 second contraction time for shot putters and linemen. In
both cases, a 50 second rest period is suggested. The shortest
ramp up time (0 to max intensity) that the athlete can tolerate
should be chosen. For large muscle group, Ideally four pads are
applied. Since EMS contraction is strongest around the negative
electrode, place the negative pad over the largest bulk of the
muscle to keep the contraction even throughout the muscle.
10 to 15 treatments can be used to maximize recruitment velocity.
However, most off the strength benefits can be achieved within
10 treatments. The number of treatments that can be administered
before reaching a maximal strength gain plateau may vary between
15 (2.5 - 4 weeks) to 25 treatments (4-7 weeks). (Francis 2001)
Francis (2001) explains:
"A quadrennial plan for a top sprinter might include
EMS strength building twice per year during years one and two,
reducing to once during year three and only if needed in year
Both trained and elite athletes, despite their already high
level of fitness, are able to significantly enhance their level
of strength to same extent as is possible with untrained subjects
EMS in Sports Conditioning
Part 1 (27 min)
Part 2 (15 min)
Buy EMS Unit
on ExRx.net Store.
Francis C (2001), The Truth About EMS -Electronic Muscle
Stimulation: Facts and Fallacies. T-Nation.com
Porcari JP, McLean KP, Foster C, Kernozek T, Crenshaw B,
Swenson Chad. Effects of Electrical Muscle Stimulation on Body
Composition, Muscle Strength, and Physical Appearance. Journal
of Strength and Conditioning Research, 16(2): 165-172. 2002.
Benito-Martínez, Martínez-Amat A, Lara-Sánchez
AJ, Berdejo-Del-Fresno D, Martínez-López EJ. (2013).
Effect of combined electrostimulation and plyometric training
on 30 meters dash and triple jump. J Sports Med Phys Fitness.
FDA (2013) Import Alert Import Alert 89-01.
Finberg M1, Braham R, Goodman C, Gregory P, Peeling P.
(2012). Effects of electrostimulation therapy on recovery from
acute team-sport activity. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 8(3):293-9.
Filipovic A1, Kleinöder H, Dörmann U, Mester
J. (2012). Electromyostimulation--a systematic review of the
effects of different electromyostimulation methods on selected
strength parameters in trained and elite athletes. J Strength
Cond Res. 26(9):2600-14.
Gondin J, Cozzone PJ, Bendahan D (2011). Is high-frequency
neuromuscular electrical stimulation a suitable tool for muscle
performance improvement in both healthy humans and athletes?
European Journal of Applied Physiology. 111(10): 2473-2487 .