EMS Theory Comments

Svincenz, thank you for the link. I agree the four-part presentation is very interesting indeed. I had received an abridged version from Nick Maffiuletti last year, but this one is an excellent summary of all previous and more current findings, with many many supporting charts that speak for themselves. I’m sure Number 2 and Charlie will find them interesting. I mention in the 3rd presentation the charts on Creatine Kinase (slide 5) and the original charts (I suppose) of the results obtained by Kots (slide 16). Regarding active recovery, since the date of the presentation (2006), new research on the subject has emerged. The 2006 article by Maffiuletti I had mentioned above* concluded:

Additional research is necessary to verify … the effectiveness of low-frequency ES as a recovery modality…
However, subsequently in 2007 and 2008 new research has been published on the very subject of recovery, which verifies the validity of EMS as a recovery modality, and clearing the reservations Maffiuletti had:

[li]Tessitore A, Meeusen R, Pagano R, et al. Effectiveness of active versus passive recovery strategies after futsal games. J Strength Cond Res. 2008;22(5):1402-12.
[/li][li]Tessitore A, Meeusen R, Cortis C, Capranica L. Effects of different recovery interventions on anaerobic performances following preseason soccer training. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21(3):745-50.[/ul]
I think we have to keep in mind that EMS is still a very young science, and new results keep popping up. Many important researchers, especially on the medical-rehab side Ifound, still publish results that are not able to replicate previous findings. Once I read the whole study, I see they compare apples to oranges, do not apply the correct parameters, or do not have the necessary background in exercise physiology to schedule the tests appropriately (as Charlie has attested in this forum).

Maffiuletti NA. The use of electrostimulation exercise in competitive sport. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2006;1(4):406-7.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before but EMS does stimulate GH production both locally and universally in individuals even at extremely low intensity overnight in CP children and this would seem to suppport the concept of using the Muscle Building programs at night just before bed as well as the idea that exercise itself (of any kind) is poorly understood and that concepts of minimum intensity and duration levels to constitute exercise are misguided.

I remember when you wrote about your work with children with CP. This is very interesting. Could you please elaborate more on the second part of your post, that is how little we know about exercise?

My point there is that so many argued you need a minimum amount of exercise to do any good- remember the old saw 20min per day 3 times a week for the average person. Why not 10min 6 times a week? They argued not enough int and vol. I don’t believe that at all and the incredibly low level of stim used with the CP children and the results they got would seem to dispel this myth.

Results in diseased children hardly apply to healthy adults.

As well, the hormonal response to exercise is fairly irrelevant in terms of adaptation. You can hold your breath for a few minutes and get a GH pulse. That doesn’t mean it did anything.

So that 10 minutes EMS raised GH in kids with CP doesn’t really have any relevance to exercise requirements to boost fitness or performance.

I think we still owe JoshuaHardcastle an answer I couldn’t address. All I know is that EMS Resistance Strength programs work at the lower level of FT type IIa fibers (50-70 Hz); Maximum Strength EMS programs work between 75 and 100 Hz to activate all fibers at the native frequencies of FT type IIa; and Explosive Strength EMS programs work above 100 Hz (up to 120 Hz), to work all fibers at the native frequencies of FT type IIx. However, I’m not know much about coaching. Charlie and Number Two (and Lyle?), what EMS program would you recommend to complement voluntary training done to promote hypertrophy?

it is precisely the continuum from one end of the spectrum to the other that helps us understand what works and possibly why. It is also precisely this narrow view that kept the CP children compartmentalized and from receiving the kind of treatment athletes and the general public would expect routinely.
The GH results I’m talking about was that the treated children moved from the 20th to the 50th percentile of growth after a year ot treatment (general). We also had the case of a withered hand that grew to the size of the other hand in the same period (specific). These results were not my imagination or even suspected by me before I saw them and were carefully recorded by the medical clinic. They were treated all night, every night with low level EMS (not 10m).

I’ve figured out that tight Rectus Femoris is to blame for knee pain that I have. I’ve been using EMS to try to massage it. It is working on the left leg, but the right leg starts to spasm. I vary the frequency between 2-8 Hz, but even at 2-4 it starts locking up. I’m using a two pad placement with one at the top of the thigh, and the other directly on the muscle belly of the RF. Would it be better to do the 4 pad placement and stimulate it indirectly?

I’m also doing foam rolling, self-massage, and some stretching (not all at the same time).

Perhaps I’m missing what you mean. EMS frequencies between 2-8 Hz can only elicit muscle twitches, but not muscle contractions. I’m not a coach, but when I’ve heard from other coaches taking care of knee pain with EMS, it’s generally about strengthening a weak muscle that was causing an imbalance, thus causing the knee to work incorrectly. Read for instance the blog from coach Dean Hebert, which I’m quoting below with relative links:[ul]
[li]my quads have chronic pain- just above the knee cap. It’s a tendonitis and attachment area pain.
[/li][li]Within only 3 treatments I already felt a reduction in the previous symptoms of peri-knee discomforts due to weak quad muscle group.
[/li][li]Over the past year, my quads have chronic pain- just above the knee cap. It’s a tendonitis and attachment area pain. The initial injury (hill work in the summer of 08) has long been healed but the residual weaknesses are there. Because of this I have compensated and had other niggling injuries.
[/li][li]I no longer have ANY peri-knee tendonitis issues that I had for months. And those very knee tendon (quad insertion points) were the ones that the physical therapist told me that EMS would NOT help
Most effective strengthening programs work at around 75 Hz. If instead your problem is not the knee, but a muscle contracture, my database of EMS programs shows that clinical Globus machines use for that condition a constant twitch at 4 Hz.

It is basically like a muscle spasm. The muscle does not fully relax. This is leading to excessive tightness in the RF which puts stress on the patella tendon. Basically I am trying to use EMS to relieve the spasm and get the muscle to relax and lengthen. I am not using it to strengthen the quads.

I am trying to do the same as “active recovery”. I have two questions:

  1. Will EMS possibly be effective?
  2. Should I stimulate the RF directly, or stimulate the entire quads (no pad directly on the RF)?

Thanks for the links.

  1. Likely to be effective
    2)I’d go with the 4 pads, stimulating (relaxing) all the upper leg

Thanks. I’ll try that for a little while.

All of the research I find about ems seems to be about athletes or sick people. What would happen if we went toward the middle of the curve?

Say we find some weekend warriors who know how to lift weights and run with good form, but who don’t train seriously enough to really get stronger or faster or have more endurance. Then say that we hook them up to the ems, what would the results look like? Would they gain strength or endurance?

When someone is stuck in bed trying to avoid atrophy any exercise would be better than none. It makes sense to me that ems works in these cases.

For top athletes the ability to work those last few muscle fibers without risking injury from overuse could make a huge difference.

What about the average guy?

A few years back I was a fairly strong gym-rat. I managed to do some bad lifting outside of the gym and wound up with a pinched nerve. I could not run, walk, ride, lift or do anything else to stay in shape. I lost strength. My doctors found a way to relieve the stenosis and now a bad day means a backache so I am in a much better place but I am still limited in my ability to train. I need lower back strength to help avoid further injury but I fear overdoing it with the weights or cardio. That is why I ask, if a relatively normal person were to use ems would they gain strength/endurance or is this only for people at the two extremes of fitness?

You can find plenty of middle of the curve people who use EMS in this forum. If you don’t care about joining that forum, see these other links to comments by people of different athletic background.

Raffiki, I asked for additional suggestions of Jonathan Siegel, a CSCS who uses EMS with the people he trains. These are his suggestions:

If his muscle is going into spasm, he should be hydrating. Foam rolling, self-massage AND EMS is too much on one muscle. He is probably injuring the muscle and/or not allowing it to relax. Too much of a good thing.
If he is using a Globus, then he should keep doing AR, and do it on the IT band as well as the glutes and hamstrings. He does need to do some strengthening, he also needs to “release” the complete area…

Thanks for that. I’ve been taking it easier on my recovery methods and it has helped.

I’m a little slow…Could you explain what you mean with “dynamic ems”? An example would be great!

I would gather “dynamic EMS” is when your applying physical movement when performing an exercise (conventional squats) for example.

“Static EMS” is more of an isometric hold, a static exercise, performing (planks) for example. I think I’m correct in saying iso abs knock spots of dynamic ab exercises.

He’s stating that applying movement (dynamic) during an exercise results in greater EMS activity than a static/isometric held exercise.


I’m lead to believe, For a given load an isometric contraction recruits more motor units then either an eccentric or concentric action.

Isometrics deserve more attention IMO (tendons). Tendons are where it’s at, iso’s work the tendons like no other. For many on this board its all about just working the muscles, putting on the mass, which ‘plausibly’ can slow that ass right down. Ben was only 173lbs.

Tendon Properties.

The dynamic nature of tendons are determined by their elastic behavior. They contain collagen which has the ability to return 93% of the energy it stores. In other words only 7% of the energy put in is lost as heat and not returned as mechanical work. Tendons change length in proportion to their applied load. This ability of tendons is known as compliance. In other words they can be stretched easily, but it must be added that muscle structures are also compliant. Tendons produce energy when they recoil from a stretched state. A tendon that requires larger forces to stretch it before it recoils is known as a stiff tendon.

Hopefully No2 and others can give me some input here…

When performing Max Strength with EMS do you most of you turn it up to an initial intensity and keep it there through out the session or do you turn it up each rep?

I find that I can always tolerate more the next rep so I turn it up. I plan accordingly with lowering the contraction time a few seconds bc I have a unit that pauses the count down and holds the contraction while I adjust the itensity… Which can lead to a difference in about 20, 30 or more mA from the first contraction to the last. That being said it makes me wonder how many contractions are ACTUALLY maximal and that I’m really benefiting from?? For example, last time I did the spinal erectors I started at 74mA and ended on 120…

Hope this makes sense

I do not have a direct answer for you, but only additional comments on the physiology of EMS, adding some detail to what is going on:
[li]As more blood circulates through the muscles, the resistance to current of the muscle decreases, therefore you need more a little more current to trigger and fire the motor-neurons;
[/li][li]As motor-neurons get fired, especially if they get fired a lot, as in a max. strength protocol, they are subject to fatigue, meaning they have a little less at their disposal to trigger their effect
[/li][li]Same as above is valid for pain and tactile neurons, therefore you have a decreased feeling of pins and needles; make sure not to confuse lees feeling for less contraction.
[/li][li]Similarly as above there is nerve accommodation to the electrical signal sent through it; the two mechanisms above are in effect part of accommodation, but there probably are other nervous system factors at play.[/ul]
[/li]Last comment: wow 120 mA … that’s a lot of juice!