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Electrical muscle stimulation- can a machine get you fit in 15 minutes?

January 21, 2013 Reviewed by Marta 17 Comments

My esthetician, Ildi Pekar, travels to Europe once a year and usually comes back with whatever is the latest rage there. This time it was something called Creative Fitness and a machine that does some kind of version of electrical muscle stimulation (EMS). I love exercise and keeping fit is an important part of my life, but my first reaction when I heard about electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) was to think “tone-a-matic.” You know, one of those things in an infomercial that you strap around your waist so that its magical pulses will give you a six pack while you sit around eating junk food and watch more infomercials. In other words, a waste of time and money that doesn’t work. Even if it did work, it would be cheating….right.

Ildi’s machine comes from Germany and she has named her process Creative Fitness. I must say, that after trying it out, feeling real post exercise muscle soreness for the following two days and, after doing some further research, I am something of a convert.

First, the experience was rather good fun. I changed into a tight-fitting black suit of leggings and long-sleeved top and then slipped on a jacket that was a cross between something you’d wear for diving or jumping out of a plane. It was kitted out with pads (pre-soaked with warm water) straps (which are pulled for a corset-like snugness) and wires that tethered me to a machine. Other pads were strapped around my hips, thighs and upper arms.

The Miha Bodytec EMS machine works out eight different muscle groups simultaneously. Initially, I turned dials that switched up the electric current to each of the pads so that I could get a feel for things. Ildi then took charge of the controls, increasing the intensity – although it never felt uncomfortable or scary. Unlike the infomercial things, I actually had to do a work out and it was surprisingly hard at times to move against the resistance that the pads created. After 10 minutes of side kicks, lunges, arm curls and such, Ildi had me running on the spot for a further five minutes. I consider myself fairly fit, yet I was feeling quite winded by the end.

And this is the thing about these EMS workouts; they are theoretically very efficient, achieving the equivalent of a long run or an hour in the gym in about a quarter of the time or less. Theoretically…. But was there any real evidence to back this up.

Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) has been around for a while and has been much studied in the last 20 or so years. The electronic pulses that I could feel were actually eliciting a contraction of the muscle and, therefore, the muscle fibers are being trained. The result is a stronger and more toned muscle. There is more or less agreement on that and it seems to be great for helping to stimulate and ultimately strengthen weakened or atrophied muscles.

There has been less agreement over the years on how EMS works. One theory is that the muscle contraction occurs in a similar manner to “voluntary” exercise. More recently, there has been a growing view that EMS communicates with nerve fibers. When the stimulation is applied, the brain sends a nerve impulse to the motor point of the muscle. This signal causes the muscle to expand and contract. Either way, there is a contraction.

The FDA has been on the case of EMS device sellers who claim certification of devices that claim weight reduction. Calorie burning is marginal at best (source). Anecdotal reports that I have heard of “looser pants” may be more to do with muscle toning than loss of fat. There is usually a healthy eating program that accompanies EMS if the goal is weight loss.

EMS has demonstrably been shown to stimulate and tone muscle and strengthen weakened muscles. However, claims of significantly increased muscle strength in athletes has not been substantiated (as far as I know) as there has been little standardization in trials. It is generally accepted that weakened muscles are helped greatly, but (according to a review conducted in the mid 1980s) tests have failed to show whether EMS is any more successful than normal exercise.

My own take is that EMS is not a substitute for normal exercise, but it would be excellent for someone who has been away from the gym for a very long time and can’t bear the thought of or find the time for the hour or so investment needed for every session. I can see that EMS could be a great jumpstart, giving quick results that would hopefully motivate someone to start exercising as part of their lifestyle. Also, if anyone has been forced to quit regular exercise due to an injury, bad back or uncooperative knees, EMS could provide a curative way to get restarted.

If intrigued New Yorkers are reading this, then do call Ildi Pekar’s salon in midtown Manhattan and mention Truth In Aging for an exclusive discount on Creative Fitness.

  • January 25, 2018

    by Kissila

    I would like to know if who gots epilepsy can do EMS ?

  • May 2, 2016

    by Marta

    Hi Jessica, you can go to Ildi Pekar. There is a mention and a link in the last sentence of this article.

  • May 2, 2016


    I´m moving to NY in june. I practice EMS fitness and I would like to know if there is a gym or a place we I can keep traning as soon as I arrive in Manhattan.
    Thanks very much.

  • February 14, 2016

    by Maria

    I found a great ems device from Slimwave Technologies, they sell premium machines at affordable prices. I bought a professional unit( they have personal units) but I wanted the bigger option. They train you on their machines, I love how it transformed my body. I am very happy with their product, I think the company is located in Canada.

  • January 12, 2016

    by Marina


    You cannot put this machine at your home and use it by yourself. They are for professional use only. Find EMS Fitness in your city, it is usually a 20 minutes workout under the supervision of a personal trainer .

  • June 2, 2015

    by Leyla

    Where can I Byu machine like this?

  • April 21, 2015

    by mohsen

    Where can i buy a machine like this?

  • November 26, 2014

    by Colin

    Hi there,
    I have had a Body tek machine for ten years or more. Do the company stock stick on stimulators similar to Tens machines.They would make life a little easier for me.
    Colin Padwick.

  • November 3, 2014

    by ale

    Can you tell me please, is there any The Miha Bodytec EMS machine in Long Island NY?

  • April 28, 2014

    by Marta

    Hi Patricia and Elda, these machines are for professional use only.

  • April 28, 2014

    by Elda

    Where can i buy a machine like this?

  • April 13, 2014

    by Patricia Lopez

    Where can i buy a machine

  • May 15, 2013

    by Dragan Mrak

    like Joe, I'm personal coach for past 11 years. This machine is revolution in fitness industry! 10 years from now we where laugh how we workout today. Just like we open one's eyes to our great parents walking around and have no clue that cars will ever exist. Technology goes furthure and beyond. Of course, there is scepticism lika always and fear of unknown, but the good wins. Always was and always will.
    This is good for people, making their life easier and healthier. Joe, did you ever had a pain in your back? Well, 80% of population had more than once in lifetime.
    So, milions of personal coaches around the world including you and me couldn't stop that back pain in past decades. So, give electro doctor a chance, maybe he can do it. This machine is great and thanks miha-bodytec for that creatio.

  • January 26, 2012

    by Joe

    :) something is ALWAYS better than nothing:) when it comes to keeping yourself in motion:)

  • January 26, 2012

    by Marta

    I mostly agree with you Joe. I would never give up exercise - which I love anyway - for this. But I do think if someone needs a quick fix or has injuries to deal with this could help kickstart them towards a proper exercise regime.

  • January 26, 2012

    by Joe

    I was a personal trainer in the 90's on the Upper East Side for 5 years. I saw many gadgets and machines come and go. I have been to physical therapy and chiropractors for various conditions ranging from degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, and car accidents. I have never used this particular machine and I am always keep an open mind but have to admit skepticism and caution on the side of safety for particular readers that may have any devices implanted in themselves for medical reasons- clearance from their doctors is advised. As with any diet, exercise regimes : if it's too good to be true, it's probably not true. To date I doubt there are any easy fixes, easy anythings except the mind set to just take it EASY on yourself regarding your body image, and appearance. Work with what you got, keep a positive, joyful outlook on life, do not WORRY about things you can not do anything about, and the rest will all fall into place. I may have missed the pricing because I haven't had any coffee yet. But a good walk, an exercise ball, resistance bands are all good starts to an exercise program. Having the machines do the work for you (although you did say you had to exert yourself) reminds me of those self vacuums that run around your house like something out of Star Wars lol. As long as there's a return policy, go for it. If you believe something ''will work'' for you, chances are, it will. But it your belief more than the product:)

  • January 25, 2012

    by Junko

    Marta! You're always on top of the latest and greatest! One of the many reasons why I love TIA! Interesting Machine * Enjoyed the Read * Thank You!

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