The science of EMS
19 Jan 2017
The abbreviation EMS actually stands for Electro-Myo-Stimulation. Electro from the Greek word for electric, Myos from the Greek for muscle and Stimulation from the Latin word Stimulatio, meaning activation or stimulus.
In EMS, electrodes are applied to various parts of the body (via our custom training vest), which deliver low frequency pulses of electric current. Whilst in conventional training the muscles are controlled by electrical signals sent via the Central Nervous System, in EMS the muscles react to the electrical impulses from the externally applied electrodes. The muscles do not differentiate between stimulus from the brain or an external source, meaning they still react with a contraction.
We often get asked what this feels like – it can be best described as a pulsating sensation in different parts of your body. It’s not uncomfortable, and can be turned up or down in intensity to suit your endurance threshold and training needs.
While EMS training is relatively new to the commercial fitness industry, its history actually goes right back to 200BC when electro-therapy was used in Asia using animals as the external electricity source. In fact, the first written reference to this form of therapy was made by a Roman doctor who recorded the treatment of headaches using electric eels!
Fast-forward to the 19th century when mechanical electricity generation was used to control local muscle areas. Designed by electricity pioneer Michael Faraday and neurology specialist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne, this work still forms the basis for modern electro-stimulation today.
By 1939 researchers had discovered that by artificially stimulating muscles produced far stronger contractions than those stimulated naturally by the Central Nervous System and by the 1960s, EMS was being widely used in professional sports, while at the same time similar technology to control pain based on the original ancient methods saw a resurgence in popularity and the TENS machine (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) was born.
Since the end of the 1990s, EMS devices have been used professionally for both therapy, and in professional sports training. Since then EMS has become more established in sports and fitness, with the first whole body EMS device was launched in 2003, and Surge launching the first EMS fitness studio in Hammersmith in 2017.