Author: Jim Bruskewitz
This season of event specific training and racing is waning. There’s still a lot to look forward to for most of us and even the biggest races loom for many, but I still find myself reflecting on what I’ve run across on the road to the season finale from all the conversations I’ve had with Electrical Muscle Stimulator – EMS – users. If I sort through the conversations it’s easy to categorize them from the most common to the somewhat unusual.
I speak with many first timers, those that are just opening up the case, pulling out there Globus, and trying a program or two for the first time. They have a lot of questions. Although the Globus isn’t big nor are there any moving parts but for the muscles that jump when stimulated, there are quite a few programs and a whole bunch of muscle groups that can benefit from EMS use. Figuring out where to place the electrode pads, how much current to send through those pads to elicit the desired degree of muscular contraction, and when to use the various programs are common questions. There is a relationship between the number of features and programs that a Globus unit offers, particularly the more top of the line models, and the time it takes to become familiar with those features. Besides being able to share ideas with other EMS practitioners on the E-stim Endurance List, there is information on pad placements, training plans using E-stim for running, cycling, and triathlon, as well as PDF’s on EMS technology in the free knowledge –E-stim resources section of the Hammer Nutrition website. Of course there are always live bodies – Hammer staff – to discuss the best use and practices of EMS training by phone.
Those that have climbed that first hurdle of charging the unit up and turning it on have a favorite program-at least the one they use the most. The active recovery program is so popular because it is so effective. I have the pleasure of attending the Hammer Camps/ Hammer Highline and helping people get started with the Globus units we have at the camps. I won’t say that any fights break out between campers that want there Globus active recovery session after the ride, but I’ve noticed certain strategies employed by the campers to be first in line. It’s not uncommon after a particularly hard ride for campers to try and squeeze out two active recovery sessions back to back. Luckily we have enough units available so that everyone can get there fix.
One conversation that sticks out involves an athlete that serviced his EMS unit and was without it for a week. This athlete uses active recovery daily, mainly when at his desk working. He knew that the active recovery was very helpful, but didn’t realize to what extent until he was without it. It’s a big deal for him. I don’t think he is an unusual case. We all search for effective ways to speed our recovery. How long it takes us to recover from training has a lot to do with how much training we’ll be able to absorb over time. The more quickly we recover, the more quality training fits into a week or month of training. The ability to recover more quickly makes the Globus EMS unit a very powerful tool.
EMS users commonly use the massage and stretch and relax programs. Like the active recovery programs, these programs can be used at any time. They don’t wear you out, they help you recover from being worn out in ways similar to the active recovery. We don’t have access to the entourages of therapists that follow top professional athletes around, keeping them in top form while they train and compete. One athlete I spoke with considers his Globus EMS unit as a poor man’s answer to the professional’s entourage. I’ve spoken with and observed those with low and mid-back trouble that manage their condition with the stretch and relax program. For those that suffer from a tight and sore neck and shoulders from riding, the massage and the stretch and relax program gives them comfort and prepares them for their next ride. I’ve spoken with individuals that suffer from headaches that find relief from these programs used on the neck and shoulders-my wife being one of those individuals. And for those that groused about investing the money to purchase a unit, they quickly find that the number of massages they get drops and more than offsets the cost of the unit (not to mention the time saved and the hassles associated with meeting up with a massage therapist). For all those massage therapists out there, I still enjoy a good massage on occasion.
The aforementioned programs are the most popular partly because they fit on any day for any training plan. Most of the programs you’ll find in the Globus menu are designed to build specific kinds of strength. The muscle fibers we use for sprinting differ from those used for ultra-endurance events. The strength programs address the full gamut of strength required for efforts lasting various amounts of time. Since these programs deliver a training load in order to build strength, they also require recovery time. Fitting these programs in to one’s training schedule is the topic of many conversations I have. Some of the individuals I train have EMS training incorporated into their plan. For those that make room in their training schedule for EMS strength building, they notice appreciable gains in strength. Climbing is easier, muscular endurance is improved, strength in the water increases and these gains are noticed on the order of weeks. Individuals are not waiting for months to enjoy the benefits.
On par with reports of strength gains from EMS training are reports of improved performance from the warm up programs. Warming up is well-researched and the benefits are great. One of those benefits is speeding up the cascade of chemical reactions that in total result in the contraction of the muscle. For those that feel like their muscles aren’t as fresh as they could be, they report that the short warm up programs cut way back on the time it takes for the muscles to come around after exercise begins, the quality of their training sessions thus improve. A common conversation I have with those that have used a warm up program minutes before a race find themselves in race mode at the onset firing on all cylinders. They spare themselves the time it normally takes to work into the race.
The feedback on EMS training has been very positive. As a technology that is embraced by the athletic community, EMS is in its infancy in the US. Given the technology and the trial and error by many athletes that has occurred to date, my feeling is that as more athletes become familiar with EMS, it will become very popular because of the results it can deliver. I have one last report I’ll leave you with. I confess that I just finished active recovery sessions on four major muscle groups while writing this article. I think I should go and train now. See you out there.
Jim is a multiple-time World and National Age Group Triathlon champion, a coach (www.enduranceperformance.com), and former lecturer at UW-Madison-Department of Kinesiology. He recently left teaching at UW to study and teach EMS training.