EMS/TENS: Reasons Why Athletes Need to Adopt this Technology Now
What is EMS and TENS?
EMS is an abbreviation of Electrical Muscle Stimulation.
TENS is an abbreviation of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.
Transcutaneous means "across the skin". In simple terms, a TENS stimulates your nerves via an electrical current through your skin.
All training programs should integrate Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) to contract muscle forcefully. The best minds in sports performance all agree that EMS is a valuable tool, particularly at the highest levels of performance. However, professionals in all sports, particularly at upper levels, do not fully understand the applications and benefits of EMS technology. With just a little knowledge, you can make a big improvement in your athletic performance.
Using EMS regularly to aid athlete development, recovery, and rehabilitation. EMS contracts muscles forcefully. Is this not what training athletes themselves do on a daily basis in the weight room, on the track and the field? Coaches and strength professionals understand the principles of progressive loading, recovery, work-to-rest ratios, and the careful integration of multiple training elements in a complementary fashion. These are the same principles required to master EMS technology with an athlete.
Any athlete that is comfortable with implementing effective conventional training programs should have no problem understanding the value and applications of EMS.
There are infinite reasons to use the technology on a daily basis, particularly in professional sport where the schedules are ambitious and the wear-and-tear on the athletes is significant. Remember, we are all breathing, walking, and talking because of our brain’s ability to send electrical impulses throughout all areas of our body in an exceptionally coordinated fashion. Without electricity, we would cease to be thriving organisms. Although electricity can be considered a hazard, in the right amounts and forms, it can be used effectively to further our health and well-being. In some instances, innovative medical researchers, like Dr. Bjorn Nordenstrom, have done truly amazing things. Dr. Nordenstrom successfully used electricity in the treatment of cancerous tumors. While we do not expect all EMS users to solve the world’s health problems, we can expect to find simple and effective ways to improve muscle function with some straightforward guidelines.
Below are four reasons why the sporting community, both competitive and recreational, should embrace EMS technology on a broad scale.
1. Research has proved that EMS works. Positive results support the use of EMS for strength enhancement and performance gains. Like any training tool, you will achieve optimal results when using the technology appropriately in terms of specific settings, timings, frequency, and overall volume of work. You must have clear goals and objectives for EMS, as well as a plan for using the technology.
Athletes maximize EMS benefits when they integrate the therapy with a well-planned conventional training. Many research studies say the use of EMS alone, at best, provides the same benefit as voluntary training, that EMS is no better than regular training methods. Because EMS requires no central nervous system input, it will not fatigue the brain of an already over-taxed athlete. The combination of conventional training and EMS provides a significant advantage over either method alone because the cumulative effect of both methods provides a boosted training scenario with less energy cost to the athlete. This is a win-win proposition, especially if the stresses of life and training over-stimulate our athletes’ nervous systems.
2. EMS delivers a clean, complete muscle contraction. Using an EMS, an athlete can contract a muscle group more completely and cleanly than by lifting weights. EMS bypasses the “noise” and works directly on the muscle to get a complete contraction. This is particularly important when targeting fast-twitch muscle fiber, which you can preferentially target with the correct stimulation frequency.
If you plan to use EMS as a sole means of eliciting strength gains in muscle, you can be certain you will get a more effective muscle contraction—albeit using an appropriate amount of current—than when training three times per week. However, I do not recommend that you rely exclusively on EMS for your strength training unless you are using it for rehabilitation purposes, or you are trying to reduce wear-and-tear on a specific joint structure. EMS works best when integrated with a conventional training program that requires a coordination component for more efficient transfer of the training adaptation. You will achieve the best results by supplementing conventional voluntary training with EMS sessions in proper proportions, supported by general conditioning and recovery.
3. Using EMS makes us more intelligent athletes and rehabilitation professionals. Not only does the use of EMS make us think more about the recruitment characteristics of skeletal muscle, but it also helps us to diagnose problems related to fatigue and injury in both the peripheral and central nervous systems. When an Olympic weightlifter had suffered a significant knee injury, voluntary strength training was not restoring the atrophied quadriceps muscle. In essence, the lifter’s brain was not allowing the muscles to contribute fully to the movement of the knee joint in basic squatting and pulling motions. The message from brain to muscle was not getting through, and inhibition was dominating the program. Even when my team started using EMS, the amount of current required to contract the quadriceps muscles on the injured leg was two to three times that of the healthy leg. As a diagnostic tool, the EMS unit also indicated when the inhibitory response was dissipating, and larger volumes of conventional exercise could be successfully reintegrated into the athlete’s training program without re-injuring the knee.
The reconditioning specialist, Bill Knowles, brought up a good point that all peripheral injuries are also “brain” injuries. A muscle injury damages the connections between mind and body and thus disrupts the brain. EMS helps to repair those connections and work through the inhibitions created by the brain’s self-imposed protective mechanisms. In the case of the Olympic weightlifter, the use of EMS was essential in moving past the obstacles and inhibitions to providing maximal recruitment of that muscle group on the injured leg, particularly since we could strengthen the quads without stressing the knee joint. Once recruitment patterns were re-established and, through both isolated EMS use and superimposed EMS training, the quadriceps muscle was fully restored, the knee did not present any further problems for the athlete.
In cases of both fatigue and injury, the signals between the brain and the body are easily disrupted. EMS can not only restore, but also enhance those connections. Additionally, EMS can help assess the neuromuscular system by monitoring the amount of current required to contract the muscles in question. As the neuromuscular system improved through the rehabilitation process, less and less current was required to attain a full contraction. Monitoring the levels of intensity on the EMS unit can show the progress of muscle-rehab (and the central nervous system) in injured states.
4. EMS facilitates recovery. In tight schedules, when athletes might not have the time or energy to implement recovery and regeneration protocols, EMS is an extremely useful tool. Active recovery protocols that encourage circulatory mechanisms within the body help facilitate a more complete and expedient recovery. Optimally, athletes can implement tempo running, but sometimes stationary bike intervals or swimming-pool exercises can hasten recovery. Because not all situations are optimal, other tools can aid recovery.
EMS is effective in situations where athletes must travel. Long trips and waits in airports can be not only exhausting, but also can lead to the stiffening of muscles and joints. If athletes perform periodic recovery protocols with an EMS unit, they can keep their bodies supple and well maintained, in terms of oxygen circulation and removal of waste products. Athletes report feeling significantly better after using the EMS unit for their trip, and some sleep better when they arrive at their destination.
It is also important to note that athletes using maximal strength, power, and speed protocols with EMS have reported feeling more recovered the next day in terms of muscle looseness and joint mobility. EMS has the ability to essentially reset muscle tone and provide athletes with not only the means to contract muscle more efficiently, but also relax and de-contract muscle more effectively. This benefit is critical in explosive cyclical movements, such as sprinting, where the nervous system is required to contract and de-contract muscle in a very short amount of time, at very high speeds. EMS can help these athletes minimize muscle stiffness, cramping, and general peripheral fatigue.
Studies shows with professional sports teams (NFL, NBA and NHL) confirm that athletes who rely on their bodies for their income realize the benefits of EMS. The schedules and demands of the regular season are so stressful that every athlete needs help with their recovery and the maintenance of strength. EMS provides a simple, convenient solution to this problem.
Sports Massage Therapy offers EMS/TENS Therapy to help athletes and active people. Inquire for a complementary 5 minute EMS/TENS Therapy treatment on your next massage appointment.