Author: Jim Bruskewitz
The Globus Sport and Fitness model Electro Muscular Stimulators are powerful training tools currently underutilized in the United States. As athletes become more familiar with what electro muscular stimulation (EMS) is and the benefits it confers, EMS will become as commonplace as heart rate monitors, inertial pace/mile running meters, and power meters for cyclists. EMS doesn’t measure relative or actual amount of work being done like the aforementioned devices, but rather improves the amount of work that one is capable of performing while training or racing.
How does the thing work?
The brain sends electrical signals via the nervous system to stimulate the skeletal muscles to contract and move our bodies. A motor neuron (nerve cell) and the ten to a thousand or so muscle fibers it stimulates are called a motor unit. A muscle is made up of very many motor units. When a motor unit fires, a very small part of a muscle contracts. A larger portion of a muscle contracts therefore when more motor units are recruited to fire synchronously. A Globus EMS unit substitutes for the brain and sends a very small current through electropads placed on the skin over the target muscle group. This small current is enough to cause the muscle to contract.
Why use the Globus?
What? Are we so lazy that we should turn off our brains and let some device do the work for us? No. Using the Globus EMS is not a substitute for doing the activities that give us the pleasure of exercise. However, the Globus is capable of doing some things more effectively than we do without its help. When used in conjunction with training, the Globus can help elevate normal human growth hormone levels and lower the level of metabolites like lactate and the enzyme produced when the muscle is damaged from exercise. The results enable muscles to more quickly accept more training.
Not only can the Globus improve the rate at which one recovers, but it also can improve strength more quickly and to a greater extent than sport specific and general strength training programs. We can increase strength in a number of ways. We can increase the number of contractile units within a muscle fiber. This adaptation occurs on the order of months of strength training. We can significantly increase the muscle fiber enzymes needed to deliver the energy required for a muscular contraction. This takes a couple of months. We can remove some of the neural inhibition that keeps us from contracting most of our motor units when we will a maximal muscle contraction. Most of the strength gains that come from training are due to training with maximal contractions that when repeated over three to six weeks will help remove a significant amount of neural inhibition. What’s exciting about the Globus EMS is that it enables you to recruit more motor units at any point in time than you can by voluntarily contracting your muscles. The result is the removal of more inhibition and the gaining of more strength. Once the motor units are available to contribute to a muscular contraction, the unique pattern in which they fire for a particular activity can be trained. The result is more muscle ready and trained to move your body.
What can the Globus EMS do?
Muscles adapt very specifically to the way they are trained. Pushing maximally one time is quite different from rhythmically pushing sub-maximally over long periods of time. Gently squeezing the blood out of the muscle, sending it on its way back to the heart and making room for fresh blood requires yet another type of muscular contraction to promote this kind of recovery. Warming up in preparation for a sprint employs a different set of muscular contractions than does the warming up for an endurance event. It is not too surprising that the Globus EMS has a variety of programs built into the unit that are specific for various kinds of warming up, strength programs that range from maximal strength and reactivity to strength of endurance, and for recovery. Remember, recovery is the time when we get stronger and faster from the training that we’ve done. It is the mainstay of any successful training program and the Globus EMS units have a program for that too.
How does one get started?
Pulling a Globus EMS unit out of the box, placing the electrode pads on various muscle groups, choosing the program to meet your needs, and
organizing your training to take full advantage of the Globus EMS may seem intimidating. There’s quite a bit of support available to get you started and keep you going. Of course the Globus EMS units come with an operating manual and quick start guide. The Hammer website offers easy to use pictures of proper pad placement for all the major muscle groups. The Electrostimulation Forum is an online group discussing the best practices of EMS. Hammer staff follows up purchases to help new practitioners and are available to answer questions about how you can get the most out of your Globus EMS unit.
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.