Over the years working for City A.M. I’ve found myself in some interesting situations in search of health and mental wellbeing. I attended Europe’s first legal ‘magic mushroom therapy’ retreat, went through an intensive ‘total body transformation’, and lived alone for a week in a self-sustaining cabin in the woods.
For 2022 I’ve signed up to receive twice-weekly electro muscle stimulation (EMS) sessions in a bid to tone up after Christmas through just two 20-minute classes a week.
EMS, which claims to be the fastest growing area of the fitness industry, is relatively new to the UK. It involves using electric impulses to “mimic the signals our central nervous system sends to our muscles”.
While not a new concept – Bruce Lee was using a form of it in the 1980s and the Russians were said to be experimenting with the technology decades before that – it has gained traction in recent years. It essentially involves strapping yourself into harness-cum-bodysuit that covers your major muscle groups with electrical pads. Through a central console, an instructor then controls the intensity of the current that’s passed through your muscles as you perform a series of simple exercises.
The idea is that your muscles are stimulated deeper and more intensely than you could achieve through a conventional workout, allowing you to squeeze far more efficiency out of a much shorter workout. I’ve signed up for a 12 week course with Exerceo, one of the first adopters of the technology in the UK, with gyms at Monument, Blackfriars and Begravia.
Down a neat alley in the heart of the City lies the Lightcentre, a collection of studios and treatment centres. Taking the stairs to the basement floor and turning right at the “colon hydrotherapy” room (that would be a very different feature), I was met by Alin, the EMS “master trainer” who gave me an introduction to the equipment and handed me a singularly unflattering “undergarment”, which I’ll wear under the electro-suit for each session.
Once I was changed and ready to go, the suit was drenched in water – to improve conductivity – and I was firmly strapped in to the suit and plugged into the console.
If you have ever tried an ab belt – a piece of equipment once mis-sold as the answer to a sedentary life – you will have some idea of the sensation caused by the electric current. It starts as a mild tickle, intensifying to a forced contraction of your muscles. The 20 minute session is made up of continuous waves of EMS on a six-seconds-on, four-seconds-off cycle, during which you perform a dozen or so movements.
Many of these movements mimic weight lifting exercises – bicep curls, for instance – but are performed without any weights. Sounds easy, right? Alas the old adage ‘no pain, no gain’ still holds up. While you might not be lifting weights, you’re working against the resistance of your own contracted muscles, and it feels like you’re hoisting a pair dumbbells around.
As the intensity increased throughout the session – in this relatively relaxed first try the currents topped out in the mid-70 percent range – the feeling becomes uncomfortable but not quite painful, although if you forget to breath out as the wave of current starts, it can knock the wind out of you a bit.
After the 20 minutes were up I felt fatigued but not out of breath or sweating, which is a strange sensation. The next day my muscles ached like I’d finished a 90-minute weight training session.
After some initial scepticism I’m sure the EMS is giving me some kind of workout, although whether it can match the results I’ve seen through regular weight training remains to be seen over the next 12 weeks.
• Visit exerceotraining.co.uk