Stimulating muscles with electricity
If we can do something in a shorter time and obtain similar or better benefits, why not?
That’s the premise behind Impulse (Electric Muscle Stimulation or EMS) Training, which uses electrical impulses to stimulate voluntary muscular contraction.
What Impulse Training does is reproduce the body’s natural process of voluntary muscular con-traction with “optimal” electrical impulses.
The natural process of the body is to send electrical impulses from your brain through your central nervous system to fire up your muscles, resulting in a contraction.
Impulse Training allows you to elicit deep, intense and complete muscular contractions without further taxing your central nervous system.
Just as your body doesn’t know the difference between squats or deadlifts, it doesn’t know the difference between voluntary contraction and an electrically-induced one. It only recognises stimulus.
This “optimal” contraction then allows you to target specific muscles through different intensities of stimulation, length of contraction and rhythm.
The technology has been around for centuries and has its roots in Egypt when they discovered certain fish emitted electric impulses, which were used to treat pain and ailments such as gout.
However, it only started gaining popularity in the 1960s when sports scientists from the then Soviet Union used electrical impulses to train athletes.
Subsequently, the devices have been improved to amplify the effects of the workouts, which claim to provide four times the amount of muscle exertion compared to traditional exercise.
Impulse Training has been applied in the fields of physiotherapy, pro-athletic sports, sports rehabilitation and medicine.
Once astronauts land from space, they also undergo this training to reduce muscle atrophy.
A number of high profile coaches favour this method to supplement the training of Olympic-level athletes. Among EMS proponents are golfer Tiger Woods, sprinter Usain Bolt and footballer Christiano Ronaldo.
Its popularity in Europe has exploded over the past 10 years, and among the first to introduce the technology in Malaysia is Impulse Studio in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.
Co-founders Jinie Kamal and Dirk Schmellenkamp are the duo behind Impulse Training, which arrived here in 2014.
“Our focus is on strength training because that’s what most people, especially women, are lacking.
“They often think they’re going to build ugly bulk if they lift weights, but this is not true. You need to lift weights to keep your bones strong as you get older.
“We’re not targeting active people, but sedentary ones, because all you need is really twice a week of Impulse Training to increase your muscular strength,” said Jinie.
With Impulse Training, you do a variety of functional, dynamic and easy-to-follow exercises using your own body weight.
Since it elicits much more powerful muscular contractions than is possible from regular training, you cannot do it for more than 20 or 25 minutes at a time.
Impulse Training is gentle on the joints and claims to reduce body fat, build your muscles, shape your body, increase muscular strength, and reduce back and shoulder problems.
Get fit(ter) in half the time? Only twice a week? I put it to test on my body.
There are four different programmes to choose from at Impulse Studio: Weight Loss, Slim/Shape/Tone, Body Sculpting and Sports Performance.
Based on my body composition analysis (unbalanced strength between upper and lower body), Jinie put me in the Slim/Shape/Tone programme.
First, I had to change into a compression garment before she sprayed my front and back down with warm water. (Tap water is a good conductor of electricity. The more the water, the more the client will feel the impulses.)
Then, I was suited up with a spacesuit-looking vest covered in electrodes, wires and straps, before being hooked up to the device.
I was also given a pair of squishy grip balls to squeeze my pain away should the going get too tough.
A tingling sensation rushed through my body, bit by bit.
The electrical impulses generated (in place of weights), are controlled by the trainer via the Impulse Training device.
Jinie gently increased the pulses according to what I could maximally manage.
We warmed-up with a series of slow jogs, heel-butt kicks, high-knee runs, jumping jacks and lunges.
Then it was onto strength-training exercises such as bicep curls, flies, chest presses, tricep kickbacks, deadlifts, etc.
When I felt I could take more “weight”, Jinie ramped up the impulses.
My workout consisted of 12-15 functional exercises, including sprints, mountain-climbers, squats and plank jacks.
Jinie pushed me to my limits and though it didn’t seemed terribly tough, I was sweating aplenty at the end of the 20 minutes.
We ended with a minute of plank.
“Up to 50,000 muscle contractions happen in one session and 90% of all muscles are trained simultaneously,” she explained. “
After two sessions, you should feel your stamina increasing, but if you want to see faster results, you have to up your protein intake.”
I felt light, and it was almost therapeutic to get out of the suit.
I didn’t feel any pain the next day and that was a good sign.
The sceptic in me started doubting the efficacy of the workout, but 48 hours later, muscle fatigue slowly started creeping in.
I couldn’t lift my arms overhead and squatting on the toilet was excruciating as my muscles screamed for mercy!
Jinie recommended waiting seven days before the next session as the workout can increase the level of creatine kinase (CK is an enzyme chiefly found in the brain, skeletal muscles and heart) in the body.
The levels may increase to as much as 30 times the upper limit of normal within 24 hours of strenuous physical activity, then slowly decline over the next seven days.
The degree of CK elevation depends on the type and duration of exercise, with greater elevation in those who are untrained.
So, if you do a blood test within this seven-day period, the doctor might think you have a medical problem as levels can rise after a heart attack, skeletal muscle injury, strenuous exercise, drinking too much alcohol, and from taking certain medications.
Once your body adapts to the workout, the CK levels normalise.
The question on everyone’s mind is, is Impulse Training dangerous?
Absolutely not. The low frequency impulse only activates skeletal muscles and does not reach the organs or the heart.
According to studies, there are no negative side effects for active healthy humans. However, Jinie cautioned, “If you wear a cardiac pacemaker or have certain pre-existing acute illnesses, then Impulse Training is not for you.”
I’m happy to report that after five sessions, my fitness score was higher, and I’d gained 500 grams of muscles. That’s a lot considering I didn’t make any dietary changes. My muscles are definitely more toned and I feel trimmer.
Ok, maybe there’s only a little bit to trim, but it’s a trim nevertheless!