EMS technology initially came about as a means to stave off muscle atrophy in spinal injury sufferers, and has also been used for muscle re-education for those having trouble with muscle contraction – stroke sufferers, for example. So it has a solid scientific background.
Essentially, electrical current is pushed through the muscle, causing a contraction, which automates the need to knock out endless reps. Such is the theory, anyway.
Having tested the EMS ABS stimulator for more than two months now, I can at least say that the system works from a strength and conditioning perspective. I made genuine strength gains that left the sceptic in me surprised.
But those looking for a shortcut to a six-pack will be disappointed to hear that the EMS ABS stimulator isn’t a magic-bullet solution. You’re still going to need to put in some hard graft – and fix your diet – if you want those rippling abdominals you’ve always dreamed about. Sorry, abs really are made in the kitchen.
The EMS ABS stimulator is available as either the Abs Fit, which is worn on your abdominal muscles, or the Body Fit, which can be worn on your arms, legs or waist.
The Abs Fit device is designed to match the shape of your abdominals, with the intensity control unit at the centre of the device. The Body Fit is shaped more like a boomerang, since it’s meant to wrap around your limbs or waist. Both devices are made from a soft, flexible rubber that contours to your body.
They have a slim design, which means that you could theoretically wear them under clothing without anyone noticing – at least until you turn them on, but more on this later.
The system is far more elegant than EMS systems that have separate control units connected to individual pads through cables, although with those you can be more specific with individual pad placement.
Both devices require you to attach conductive gel pads to the rear electrodes, and one set is included with each of the Abs Fit and Body Fit kits. The gels help to carry the electrical current into your body, but are an ongoing cost you’ll need to keep in mind as they need replacing after around 30 uses.
The Abs Fit uses six gel pads and the Body Fit uses two, and these are available as complete packs.
A transportation sleeve is included in the box, alongside a hard backing to help preserve the gel pads when not in use. The sleeve is essentially one of those sliding bar folders you probably used in school – one of the sleeves managed to jam shut during testing, so they’re not great.
The EMS ABS stimulator kit is small enough to take with you on trips where you know you’re unlikely to have time to train, which is handy for those who get anxious about not hitting the gym.
Once you’ve applied the gel pads, simply insert the included watch battery into the main control unit. You then line up the EMS ABS stimulator device with the corresponding muscle group. When the gel pads are fresh, they have a decent amount of stickiness to them, so you’ll find that the EMS stays in position well. After a few uses the adhesion deteriorates, however, so a velcro belt is included to hold it in place. It’s advisable to use the belt to ensure a consistent level of conduction.
With everything in place, you turn the Sixpad on by holding the “+” button on the control unit. You then have 15 levels of intensity, which you can dial up or down using the controls. Holding the “-” button will turn the unit off if you want to finish early; otherwise, a session takes about 20 minutes.
EMS ABS stimulator advises that you start out on a low level and then gradually increase the intensity each time you use the device. I, too, would recommend taking this approach since it allows you to apply some linear progression as your muscles adapt to the training stimulus.
A single session runs in a distinct pattern, gradually ramping up with short bursts of current interspersed with longer durations and pulsations. This means your muscles experience different types of contractions during a session and some short rest periods too.
Speak to any bodybuilder or weight-trainer and you’ll probably hear the phrase “time under tension”, and it’s this that causes the muscle breakdown and corresponding repair that leads to growth.
The varied current, which is specifically delivered at 20Hz, is designed to maximise this time under tension for the aim of muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth), which requires a specific level and type of stimulation.
When it comes to using the EMS ABS stimulator, the actual training experience between the Abs Fit and the Body Fit devices differs quite drastically, so I’ll describe each separately.
The Abs Fit is definitely the more comfortable of the two. The feeling of a contraction is similar to what you’d experience doing crunches. While the contraction is definitely something you feel, you’re still largely able to go about your day with it on and it’s still relatively discrete. I’d be able to watch TV or browse the internet, allowing me to multi-task without issue.
I initially started out on an intensity of level 8, but I’m now using it on 15 – the top-most level – and that feels like a limitation. The highest level doesn’t feel that intense after a few sessions, so a few extra levels would have been welcome.
EMS ABS stimulator advises that you shouldn’t use the device more than once per day, so it’s difficult to see how you can apply any additional progression if you can’t add more time to the equation.
The Body Fit is a whole different experience, however, especially when worn on your arms. Even on a relatively low level, such as 5, the contraction is so strong that you involuntarily flex your arms, which in fairness is what you want for muscle stimulation.
But the electrical current even travelled down my forearms into my hands, causing my fingers to contort and lock in position rather uncomfortably. The loss of bodily control is really rather disconcerting.
Any notion of multitasking while wearing the Body Fit goes right out the window. Even on a low level the contractions are so distracting and powerful that your hands are essentially rendered useless. I wouldn’t call the experience painful, but it’s very uncomfortable and I did stop the session early on a few early occasions.