Electronic muscle simulators are machines that consist of pads that you place on the skin with wires that attach to a machine. The machine provides a low-level electrical impulse that causes your muscles to contract. The device claims to offer an easy way to build muscle mass, develop six-pack abs and tone the thighs and buttocks. While they can be beneficial in certain circumstances, you must carefully consider the basic principles of strength training to determine if they are all they are claimed to be.
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Your muscles contract in response to the brain sending a message to the muscle. This message or impulse is basically like an electrical current. The impulse travels through your nervous system, and when it reaches the muscle fibres, it stimulates the muscle to shorten and contract. To do everyday tasks and activities, you need to keep your muscles strong. Strong muscles also help you prevent and manage chronic joint pain. To make your muscles stronger, you exercise to make the muscles contract and work against resistance. To effectively strengthen your muscles, you must move them through their full range of motion, and you must use enough resistance to overload the muscle, making it work harder than it does during everyday activities.
Since your muscles need an electrical impulse to contract, and making the muscles contract makes them stronger, it may seem logical that by simply attaching an electronic muscle stimulator to your muscles you will tone your body and become stronger. However, to really train and shape your muscles, you must move them through a full range of motion. While the machine may provide electrical stimulation, in reality your muscles are not moving very much; they are just experiencing small contractions in response to the impulse. For example, to really shape the biceps muscle in your arm, you must move your arm from a fully extended position to bending the elbow and bringing your hand toward your shoulder. This action works the entire muscle body. With an electronic muscle stimulation machine, your arm stays still and is not challenged to move against resistance. This means only a portion of your biceps muscle is actually being stimulated at a fixed angle. In addition, since you are not using resistance such as weights or machines, your muscles are not being overloaded, which is one of the key principles in any good strength-training program. So the bottom line is, while these machines may make your muscles contract and make them stronger, they are not a replacement for a well-rounded, full-body workout routine.
When used properly, these machines are safe. However, they should not be used on children. You should always first check with your health care provider, and it is best if a trained therapist teaches you how to properly use the machine for your individual situation. Always make sure the machine you are using has been approved by the FDA.
There are times when an electronic muscle stimulation machine is useful. These devices are often used in physiotherapy and rehabilitation centres. In situations of paralysis, complication of a stroke or other injury, patients may not have enough muscle strength to move parts of their bodies. Since they are unable to independently move their bodies, they are unable to do exercise to help strengthen their muscles. In this case, using a stimulation machine can help patients develop some strength. When dealing with this level of deconditioning, the machine will provide enough stimulation to get the muscles contracting again and will hopefully begin to strengthen the muscles and assist patients in being able to move independently again.
Electronic muscle stimulation machines can include both the types of machines discussed above that are specifically designed to stimulate the muscle. There are other machines called TENS units. These machines also provide a low impulse to the muscle, but their goal is to help reduce pain. The impulses created with the TENS unit serves the purpose of blocking the pain signals received by the brain. This occurs because the brain is now focused on the stimulation from the TENS unit instead of the pain signals being sent by the body. This process works because our brains tune into whatever the strongest stimuli is at the time.