T Nation

Electronic Muscle Stimulators

Hello all, I have a question about the electronic muscle stimulators (EMS) that are advertised on TV and elsewhere (i.e. Dr. Ho’s infomercial shit). Now before you write me off as a joker looking for the easy way out, I’ve been training really hard for 5 years and have put on around 45 lbs. of muscle in that time. I’m really curious about these things, and here are my thoughts:

From what I understand, EMS gadgets aren’t a viable muscle-builder because they don’t provide anywhere NEAR the amount of stimulation that you get from lifting, but might they have recovery-aiding benefits?

Two reasons I ask this: first off, I’ve always found that the day after a heavy workout (biceps for example) when I’m feeling really sore, if I do a light set or two of biceps (maybe just 15 to 20 reps) it aids my recovery significantly (and I have heard others say this aswell).
Secondly, almost everyone knows that getting deep-tissue massages post-training (perhaps even just once or twice a month) significantly aids recovery abilities. Since these Dr. Ho contraptions were originally made for soothing massage properties, might they provide low levels of stimulation that might aid recovery?

I’d love to hear from everyone on this topic, especially those who have tried EMS gadgets!


I have used EMS in the past and have recently purchased my own unit. I use it for rehab and recovery purposes. At a low setting it is like getting a deep tissue massage.It really does help move latic acid out of the tissue. The higher settings which are used to try to stimulate growth I do not prefer because it feels like a bad cramp.

You are wrong on the point of them not providing as much stimulation as weights. In actual fact during weightlifting, even for a 1rm you will not be displaying your true maximum strength. But by sudden electrical stimulation at an appropriately high voltage you can (I am not recommending this BTW). I actually had EMS performed on me by my physio and its not a pleasant experience but useful for isolating particular muscles. I’m not really qualified to answer your last point but as far as I’m aware and admit I’m not totally sure most of the commercial EMS kits are not the same ones used by therapists and of doubtful value.