Is This "Shocking" Workout the Next Fitness Craze?

POPSUGAR Photography | Kat Borchart
POPSUGAR Photography | Kat Borchart

Can you imagine getting the effects of a three-hour workout in only 20 minutes? It very well might be possible. A new wave of fitness is making its way west from London, and it's called EMS training. Have you heard of it? Seen it on Instagram? It's still so new in the States that not many people in the US have tried it yet. We're going to give you the rundown of this training style that claims to be the future of fitness.

What Is It?

EMS stands for electrical muscle stimulation; in training, a machine delivers electrical pulses that stimulate muscle contraction. If you're thinking, "But wait, electrical impulses in the body already stimulate muscular contraction. It's called action potential!" then congrats — you aced physiology! And you are correct. But EMS heightens those contractions, intensifying your workout in a way that your body could not on its own.

"Every day our brain sends electrical impulses to muscles to achieve movement. EMS uses the same natural principle to stimulate your muscles," said Jose Luis Zamorano, founder of SF-based EMS training facility METAFITclub.

It makes your exercise even more challenging and can help you burn more calories. A Wall Street Journal reporter said it made her four-pound weights feel like 20 pounds.

How Does It Work?

You strap yourself into a device — connected to an EMS machine — that places electrodes all over your body on different muscle groups. These electrode pads are placed on the bulkiest part of your muscle and typically secured by velcro straps (sometimes you wear a vest).

"Our device comprises of a special suit equipped with 10 electrode pairs matched with a comfortable and breathable material that allows a freedom in exercise," said Zamorono. "A vest and a pair of shorts made of light and strong fabric are the heart and soul of the our devices." He also mentioned that they're not like sweaty, gross gym rental equipment — they're made of "antibacterial, easy-to-clean, and breathable fabric."

Once you're all hooked up, a trainer guides you through a workout that is tailored to your body, and the pulses start firing up your muscles. "Paired with a certified personal trainer and EMS device, the client begins with simple gymnastics and strengthening exercises," Zamorano told POPSUGAR. The workouts can be as short as 20 minutes, but they claim to be as effective as a three-hour session.

"This begins the process of muscle development and fat burning, which is up to 10 times more efficient than working out manually," which essentially means you can get a better workout with less exertion. "As all muscle groups are exercised at the same time, the average length of a workout session is reduced to one-sixth," said Zamorano.

After an ultraintense workout, the electrode pads go into "massage mode" for your cooldown, so you can recover quickly and reap the benefits of your training session.

"The stimulation of 350 muscles combined with active exercise obtains outstanding results," Zamorano told us. "No other training method exercises all the body's muscle groups as effectively. This combination makes our technology a unique and highly effective training method, allowing you to reach your fitness goals in just two 20-minute sessions per week."

Is It Safe?

EMS reportedly does not hurt, and anyone can do it, regardless of skill level. Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey told The Fashion Spot, "There's definitely a strong feeling, but it's not really pain. It's tingly."

This is a "don't try this at home" scenario, according to some governments (including ours). In 2009, the FDA warned about muscle stimulators that claim "girth reduction, loss of inches, weight reduction, cellulite removal, bust development, body shaping and contouring, and spot reducing," saying that they're "misbranded," and said, "There are currently no acceptable uses for these devices when labeled for over the counter use." The Health Ministry in Israel had similar sentiments and warns against the use of EMS at home or in the gym, warning that the equipment should only be used by "doctors and physiotherapists for diagnosis of medical problems and rehabilitation."

Speaking of those over-the-counter spot-reducers, Zamorano said this is not the same kind of technology. "Our electric muscle stimulation method combined with active exercise helps muscle development and toning, and is NOT to be confused with the beauty treatment, commonly applied in a lying position with no activity."

Because this kind of muscular stimulation has been used in physical therapy treatments for years, and EMS training (when done correctly) is done with a professional machine and trainer, it's likely safe to try, but as always before you try anything new with your body, check in with your doctor.