Using EMS-trainings in professional and amateur sports

David Haye – multiple world heavyweight-boxing champion. Usain Bolt – multiple Olympic sprint champion. Batu Khasikov – multiple world champion in kickboxing.
From this article, you will learn what is electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) and how it can be used in professional sports, recovery training, as well as in fitness studios and sport clubs. The article is based on the researches of global institutes of sport, medicine, physiology, as well as on the publications of Soviet scientists.
The content of the article

The history of using EMS-technology and Soviet Union athletes’ achievements at the 1976 Olympics

USSR team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics (URSS is an alternative spelling of the USSR in French and some other languages)
Despite the fact that today EMS-technology is considered to be very unusual and innovative method of training, the first steps towards muscle stimulation with electric current were made more than 200 years ago. In 1791, the famous Italian physiologist Luigi Galvani discovered the direct mechanical response of the frog’s muscle to a single electrical impulse. However, for humankind it took another 150 years to extrapolate EMS-technique from animal to human. For example, in 1969 the method was invented to train the thumb’s muscles by applying an electric current to the ulnar nerve.
However, 1976 Olympics has become a real turning point in athletes training. To prepare for this event Soviet Union physiologist Yakov Kots used myostimulation technology. At the Games, the USSR took first place in total medal count, having won 125 medals, including 49 golden ones. No wonder that Kots and his experiment were in the spotlight of the entire global sports community. The same year, The New York Times published the article “New Soviet ‘Weapon’ Puts Muscle in Athletic Affairs”, and the technique itself got the name “Russian Current”.
Of course, because of the specifics of that time, Kots could not disclose all the details and principles of his work to the international community. However, in 1977 he attended a conference in Canada where he presented some research and experimental data that had helped the athletes to achieve outstanding results.

Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) and its principle of impact on muscle fibers

To understand how electrical muscle stimulation works, first of all, let’s consider the natural process of muscle contractions in human body. For example, when a person makes any random motion, motor cortex receives a certain signal from other parts of the brain and sends it an impulse to the necessary motor neurons (nerve cells) of the spinal cord. Motor neurons are attached to muscle cells by axons (nerve fibers) and transmit an impulse through them, thus irritating these cells, due to which the muscle contraction happens.
With electrical muscle stimulation, the muscles receive impulses accurately adjusted in depth, frequency and form directly, bypassing the brain and spinal cord. This causes them to contract and transmit information about the action taken, back through the nervous system. Combining electrical stimulation with real (or simulated) exercise strengthens existing neural connections and also creates new ones, thereby increasing the response speed (reaction speed). Therapy is based on the same principle, for example, after strokes, when the human brain is unable to reproduce the impulses necessary for movement by itself, but it is able to learn with the help of artificially created stimulus generated by feedback from contracted muscles.

Early studies and American Olympian’s success

Back in 1971, 37 sambists aged 15–17 years participated in the experiment, which revealed a noticeable increase in maximum voluntary muscle contraction (MVС). Despite this, the first serious confirmation of the effectiveness of the EMS method was the result of a 27-year-old American weightlifter, participant of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
The study lasted 14 weeks and consisted of four stages. The first four weeks included only traditional training. During the second four-week phase, EMS-exercises on the quadriceps were added three times a week. In the third phase, EMS-sessions were excluded, and at the final stage, which lasted two weeks, they were returned.
The study recorded a 20kg increase in squat strength and, what is more important, the significant increase in snatch and push strength after every EMS training session.
This experimental data, as well as the speeches of Yakov Kots at different seminars and conferences, attracted close attention of sports scientists. More and more new studies, designed to evaluate the effectiveness of EMS-technology in various sports, began to appear regularly with representatives of both professional athletes and untrained amateurs (involving control groups as well).

EMS effects on athletes’ physical performance: individual sports


14 male professional swimmers participated in the study. They were divided in 2 groups of 7 people. The first group was exercising using EMS-equipment, the second (control group) did the same exercises, but without electrical muscle stimulation. Swimming workouts were held three times a week for 3 weeks.
The aim of the study was to evaluate the EMS-training effect on the latissimus strength. Peak moments, registered during flexion and extension of the arm, were determined with an isokinetic dynamometer at different speeds (from –60 to 360 degrees).
Three weeks later, the representatives of the 1st group showed an increase in the isotonic strength of arms by 10–15% and, as a result, an increase in speed of 25m and 50m freestyle swimming. Swimmers from the control group did not show any changes.
24 national-level swimmers participated in another study; they were divided into 3 groups (8 people in each). Every group was devoting 20 hours a week to swimming. Meanwhile, the first group used EMS-equipment three times a week for 15 minutes to train the latissimus, and the second group had additional 40-minutes trainings five days a week on land. The third was a control group and they only did swimming.
According to the results of 4 weeks, the participants of the first (EMS) and second (that had additional on-land workouts) groups improved their results in 50m swimming by 1.7–2% and increased the isotonic strength of the arms by 11.2–16.9%. Meanwhile, it should be noted, that compared to those who had on-land workouts, athletes from the EMS-group spent on additional exercises 4 times less time. In control group no changes were found.


16 young female gymnasts participated in the study, the aim of which was to examine the effect of EMS on leg muscle strength and on vertical jump height. The athletes were divided into 2 groups, and they did identical exercises to train muscles responsible for knee extension, for 20 minutes 3 times a week during the first three weeks and once a week for the next three weeks. In addition, both groups were doing gymnastics according to the same program, while the first one used EMS-equipment, and the second one was the control one.
After three weeks, the gymnasts from EMS-group showed 35–50% increase in leg isotonic strength, and after six weeks, the result in vertical jump improved by 14–20%. One month later, after finishing EMS-training, jump indicators were measured again, and it was found that the result maintained. This shows the high efficiency of combining EMS-training with classic gymnastics.
Results of using EMS in gymnastics:
Right knee extensor torque/angular velocity ratio for electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) and control groups at week 0, week 3, and week 6. (Fig. 1)
Vertical jump indicators in EMS groups and control groups; SJ: squat jump; CMJ: Counter Movement Jump; SL: split leap; VJ: vertical jump after handstand; SALTO: back flip. (fig.2)


98 athletes (51 men and 47 women, 18 y.o. on average) participated in the study; they were randomly divided into 4 groups. The aim of the study was to investigate the effect of eight-week (2 days a week) training periods, which combined plyometric exercises with neuromuscular electrical stimulation, on young athletes’ jump height.
In those groups where athletes did plyometric exercises using EMS-equipment, an increase in jump height by 4–28% was recorded. The athletes from the control group didn’t show any fundamental changes.
Results of the EMS experiment in athletics:
Chart of the experimental results with 3 EMS groups (G1, G2, G3) and a control group (Control)


12 professional tennis players (5 men and 7 women) participated in the study. They integrated 16-minutes EMS quad exercises 3 times a week into their usual tennis training.
The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of EMS-training integrated in tennis lessons on the athletes’ anaerobic performance during pre-season training. At the beginning of the study, the participants were tested, and their performance was being monitored weekly for 4 weeks after the end of the study.
Thanks to electrical muscle stimulation, the participants succeeded in reducing the time in the shuttle sprint 2 × 5 m by 3.3% and increased the jump height by 6.4%. During the entire experiment, maximum isotonic strength of quadriceps was increasing: during the first three weeks of EMS-training it increased by ~27% and continued to increase during the next 3 weeks when they weren’t using EMS-equipment. Four weeks later, after the end of the experiment, isometric quadriceps strength score began to decrease.
Sprint time 2 × 5 m (open diamonds) and 2 × 10 m (solid diamonds) before (week 0) and after the electrical stimulation training (ES) (week 4-7)
The study showed the effectiveness of combining a short-term EMS training program with match practice, as it was shown in hockey, volleyball, football, and other sports (see below). Since one month later after cancelling EMS-equipment, the effect of increasing anaerobic performance disappeared, the scientists requested to support it with additional sessions during the tennis pre-season and in-season.

The impact of EMS on the physical qualities of athletes: team sports

Professional hockey

17 players of the second division of French hockey league participated in the study. They were divided randomly into 2 groups (the first – EMS, the second – control). Training sessions were held 3 times a week for 3 weeks. The aim of the study was to investigate the effect of a short-term EMS-training program on skating speed, knee extensor strength, and vertical jump height.
After three weeks, the players from EMS-group showed a significant improvement in 10m skating speed (time improved by ~5.8%), while 30m skating speed remained unchanged. It was measured using an infrared photovoltaic system. Knee extensor isokinetic was determined using Biodex dynamometer: it increased by 18–25%. Meanwhile, jump height worsened by ~6.1%. Control group didn’t show any changes.
10m and 30m speed of the groups, respectively. (ES) - EMS group, (C) - control group.
The scientists who did the research note that developing jump height exercises are not included in hockey mandatory training program, and10m sprints are much more important than 30m sprints in game situations.

Amateur hockey

A similar research was done among amateur hockey players. 30 hockey players participated; they were randomly divided into two groups. EMS-sessions were held once a week for 12 weeks with a four-week break. There was no control group: all hockey players followed the same training program using EMS-equipment. Meanwhile, the training sessions themselves were aimed not on working-out the specific muscles, but included complex exercises to train the whole body.
The purpose of the study was to identify the EMS-effect on 10m skater’ sprint speed, slap shot strength, knee extensor muscle strength and jump height.
After 12 weeks of training, jump height increased by 5.15% in both groups (although this factor is not significant for hockey), 10m skating time reduced by 5%, and the maximum isokinetic quadriceps strength increased by 7 %. Meanwhile, there was almost no change in a slap shot. This is largely due to the fact that, first of all, slap shot strength depends on technique.
Results of EMS-training sessions among amateur hockey players:
Average change in sprint time for group A and group B. Lightning shows the relevant period of EMS-training – during the first 6 weeks static EMS-trainings were held, and for the second 6 weeks – dynamic ones.
The study demonstrated the high efficiency of EMS-technology in terms of improving the athletic performance of amateur hockey league players, even if it is used rarely and without focusing on specific muscles.


20 football players from French amateur league participated in the study. They were divided into two groups of 10 people: a group that was using EMS-equipment to train quadriceps, and a control group that did the same exercises, but without EMS. Both groups were training for 12 minutes a day three times a week for five weeks and they also played football for five hours a week on average.
The purpose of the study was to evaluate how EMS-training effects on a jump height, 10m sprint speed, and a shooting power. The athletes’ performance before the experiment was compared with the performance they demonstrated three and five weeks later.
Shooting power was measured using 44 special radars. The shoots were done from nine meters. The measurements showed that the speed of the ball at no run-up shot increased compared to the initial indicators during the third (by ~8.7%) and fifth (by ~10.6%) weeks. The ball’s speed at a run-up shot increased in the fifth week (by 5.6%). Control group didn’t show any changes.
Shooting power was measured using 44 special radars. The shoots were done from nine meters. The measurements showed that the speed of the ball at no run-up shot increased compared to the initial indicators during the third (by ~8.7%) and fifth (by ~10.6%) weeks. The ball’s speed at a run-up shot increased in the fifth week (by 5.6%). Control group didn’t show any changes.
The comparison of kicking performance in EMS-group (left) and control group (right). Shoot without run-up and shoot with run-up were tested at the beginning of the study, after 3 and 5 weeks, respectively.


10 professional male volleyball players participated in the study. The training sessions (plyometric programs combined with EMS) were held three times a week for four weeks. Each session consisted of three parts: exercises for knee extensors (48 contractions), EMS-exercises for the plantar interossei muscles (30 contractions) and 50 plyometric jumps.
Subjects were tested at the beginning of the study, during the second week, after the end of four-week training program, and after two weeks of regular training at the end of the experiment.
During the second week, the maximum voluntary muscle contraction increased compared to the initial level: knee extensors - by 20%, plantar interossei muscles - by 13%. After four weeks, an increase in the height of half-squat jump by 8-10% was recorded, and squat jump - by 21% (compared to initial indicators). After additional two weeks of volleyball training, the resulting progress was preserved.
In another study, 12 volleyball players participated, combining EMS training with their traditional activities. The training sessions were held three times a week for four weeks and included EMS-sessions with 12-minutes exercises to train knee extensors and plantar interossei muscles.
10 days later, after finishing the trainings, the vertical jump height increased by 4-6.5%, and the scientists concluded that sports activities using EMS help the central nervous system to respond faster and control muscles better.
Results of using EMS-training in volleyball:
The chart to the left (the 1st study) shows relative percentage increase in vertical jump height for different types of jumps between the baseline and week 2 (white columns), the baseline and week 4 (gray columns) and the baseline and week 6 (black columns). The chart to the right (the 2nd study) shows an average vertical jump height in cm and an average power of CMJ (counter movement jump) before and after 4-weeks EMS training program and 10 days later after the last EMS-session.


10 basketball players participated in the study. Training sessions were held 3 times a week for 4 weeks and included legs flexion exercises using EMS-equipment.
Tests were done before the training sessions started, in the fourth week, and at the end of the study, after 4 weeks of regular basketball training sessions.
Four weeks later, isokinetic and eccentric leg muscle power increase by 29-37 and 30-43% respectively was registered, as well as an increase in squat jump height by 14%. Countermovement jump remained unchanged. After the next four weeks the measurement showed that the countermovement jump increased by 17%, while the progress in squat jump was fully preserved. The study proved the high efficiency of EMS in terms of increasing knee extensor power and, as a result, improving vertical jump performance, even as part of a short strength training program.
EMS-training efficiency in basketball:
Torque/angular velocity ratio of knee extensors in the moment. There is a chart of the ES group on the left; there is a chart of the Control group (lower graph) on the right.


25 professional rugby players took part in the study. There were randomly divided into 2 groups: 15 people in EMS-group and 10 people in control group. EMS-trainings were focused on knee extensor muscles, glutes and plantar interossei muscles. Trainings were held three times a week for six weeks and then once a week during the next six weeks.
The purpose of the study was to identify the influence of EMS-trainings on leg muscle power, effectiveness in scrum (starting position before the ball is in play), barbell full squat power, sprint velocity and vertical jump height.
After the first six weeks of EMS-trainings squat power increased significantly (+8,3%), and after six weeks more it raised up to 15% compared to the initial values. Vertical jump height increased by 10%, however, sportsmen’ scrummaging performance did not change. Control group representatives did not show any significant changes.
Effectiveness of using EMS-trainings in rugby:
Squat performance (kg) for EMS and control group before (white column) after 6-week (grey column) and after 12-week period (black column). (Figure 1)
Scrummaging performance (kg) for EMS and control group before, after 6-week and 12-week period. No changes were found in groups.
As an outcome of the study, the conclusion was made that in a relatively short period EMS-trainings can significantly improve some rugby players’ performance.

EMS-trainings in therapy and recovery

Electrical stimulation has been used in physiotherapy as a muscles recovery method after traumas and operations for more than 50 years. In 1960s, EMS was frequently used to prevent atrophy, which happens with denervation of skeletal muscles. With the development of the technology, it has become more and more popular in treatment of patients with the damage of central nervous system, caused by brain damage. In 1980-s scientists invented the devices that were able to generate electric waves of different shapes, which started to be used for the recovery of patients that had orthopedic surgery. It was clinically proven that EMS helps with muscles atrophy and, as a result, has positive effect on spongy bones of human skeleton. You can find the detailed study on United States National Library of Medicine official site.
Metaphysis and epiphysis trabecular parts of the distal femur were analyzed by microtomography and histomorphometry. The figure shows the bone without any muscle activity of the section (HLS) and subsequent states when stimulation is applied to the muscles (without any other load) at 1 Hz, 20 Hz, 50 Hz, 100 Hz, respectively. Myostimulation with 50 Hz frequency showed a significant preventive effect in all respects. Dynamic muscle stimulation with a specific regimen may be useful in fighting osteopenia and osteoporosis.
EMS strengthens joints and reduces injury risk because exercise are done without weights. At the molecular level it improves anabolism and catabolism and stimulates the regeneration of satelles. Scientific studies show that the technology is great for people who have problems with the lower back, knees, shoulders, etc.
Sometimes EMS is used for fast and active recovery from serious workload, for example at time-out time. This has become possible because EMS improves blood circulation and, as a result, accelerates the removal of lactate (lactic acid decay product) and various metabolites from blood. Compared to other recovery methods, this one is the easiest to use and suitable for people who cannot or do not want to use other rehabilitation measures.

EMS in urban fitness centers and sport clubs.
Development prospects

In the last decade, EMS-equipment has become more affordable, and you can find it not only in specialized fitness centers, but also in ordinary fitness centers, beauty parlors, sport clubs, and even in specialized EMS-studios. Firstly, this availability depends on price. Before, only professional athletes and wealthy people could afford such sessions, but now the average cost of one training session is comparable to the price of a regular session with a personal coach in gym.
This article considers the use of EMS in business.
It’s an interesting fact, there are various reasons why the EMS-technology itself attracts completely different sectors of society:
  • busy entrepreneurs, new mothers and those who don’t want to spend more than half an hour on training session;
  • people with muscle imbalance, who are recommended to limit physical activity, as well as those whose first priority is low injury risk and the ability to work out certain muscle groups;
  • the clients of beauty parlor and aesthetic medicine centers, mostly interested in EMS as a method of lymphatic drainage and anti-cellulite massage;
  • elder people, whose goal is to strengthen the cardiovascular system, improve joint mobility, connective tissue flexibility, and increase vitality in general;
  • those who prefer to train in small studios one-on-one with a fitness coach; those who are just started to do sports; those who want to lose weight or develop the certain muscles powers and those who are looking for additional ways to achieve their goals, and many others.

Building muscle mass with EMS

Yes, EMS stimulates muscular hypertrophy (growth), as well as the growth of slow-twitch muscle fibers (oxidative fibers) that affect overall stamina, but only in proper combination with physical activity. EMS is not lazy fitness at all, but, in contrast, super-intense training, during which body or certain muscles, including deep ones, receive the maximum load in just half an hour. It is intensity that largely explains the muscle building and the acceleration of metabolism that ultimately leads to the result.
It is also important to remember that there are contraindications for EMS-training, including pregnancy, epilepsy, pacemaker, circulatory disorders, and some other. Before training session, you should consult with a specialist.
However, whatever goal the trainee sets for himself: to reduce body fat, build muscle mass, or just to feel healthier and more energetic, it is important to remember that in addition to proper exercising, the key factors to achieve any sports goal is proper nutrition and rest. Meanwhile, some equipment manufacturers and EMS-studios state, “the EMS-trainer will do everything for you” in their advertisement. This is not true and contradicts the results of scientific researches.

Conclusions about the effective use of EMS-training

The main conclusion that can be drawn from the results of the above studies is that EMS exercises reach their maximum effectiveness when combined with specialized sports training programs. Meanwhile, in most experiments, EMS took only about 10% of the main training sessions' time. It is also important that the positive trend in indicators was recorded among both professional athletes and amateurs that indicates the high efficiency of EMS-training, regardless of the training level.
EMS training for professional athletes:
Iles Suleymanov, the coach.
Master of Sports of Russia, black belt 3rd-dan, member of the Russian national team, the winner of Russian Championship, the winner of European Championship. The founder and the head of kudo GRIZZLY FIGHT CLUB.
In most of the studies, in order to obtain valid results, not only experimental but also control group participated, consisted of athletes of the same qualification (often even from the same team), who were engaged in an identical training program, but did not use EMS-equipment. In a relatively short period of time (from one to six weeks), representatives of the experimental groups increased muscular strength by 10–50% and, as a result, improved a number of key skills for their sport. Such progress can be seen as an exceptional result, since it takes incomparably more time to achieve similar performing with traditional training sessions only.
Many athletes may be interested in including EMS-training in their program to periodize the training process. Thus, for example, thanks to EMS you can increase the intensity of training session and therefore develop your aerobic endurance in a short period, loading the body with the same exercises (boxing, for instance), which (without EMS-equipment) you can do for hours without feeling tired.

Informal confirmation of the effectiveness of EMS-trainings

The studies reviewed above are only a part of public scientific experiments confirming the effectiveness of the use of EMS in sports. In addition to scientific information, many coaches, sportsmen, physiotherapists etc. and those who they are working with say about the effectiveness of EMS based on their personal experience. Of course, we cannot consider these statements as a scientifically proven fact. Nevertheless it is notably that representatives of such sports as rowing, kayaking and canoeing, swimming, gymnastics, etc. (both athletes and coaches) have stated repeatedly, that in their practice, the integration of EMS technology into the training process had a positive effect on overall stamina, and on short-term peak power performance of muscle contractions force.
Thanks to the fact that healthy living is gradually transforming from a trend into a lifestyle, the popularity of certain sectors of the fitness and beauty industry, including electromyostimulation, is growing. As a result, there are more and more documented studies confirming the effectiveness of EMS in combination with various physical activities and its positive impact on skin condition, blood circulation, lymph flow and other internal processes. It creates new opportunities for the development of both physical qualities of individuals in particular and EMS-industry in general.

The following sources were used in the article:

  1. Official Journal of the Society for Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience (scientific portal supported by the American Academy of Neurology);
  2. US National Center for Biotechnology Information;
  3. Washington University School of Medicine, USA;
  4. Laboratory of Physiological Adaptation University of Poitiers, France;
  5. Faculty of Sports Sciences, University of Burgundy, Dijon, France;
  6. Institute for Research and Innovation in Biomedical Sciences of the Province of Cadiz (INiBICA), Cadiz, Spain;
  7. Royal Spanish Athletics Federation, Spain;
  8. Department of Medical Sciences, University of Jaén, Spain;
  9. Neuromuscular Research Laboratory, Schultess Clinic, Zurich, Switzerland;
  10. Department of Physical Education and Sports, University of Seville, Seville, Spain;
  11. Laboratory of Physiology, PPEH, Saint-Etienne, France;
  12. Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Munich, Germany;
  13. Department of Physical Education and Sports, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canarias, Las Palmas, Spain;
  14. Faculty of Physical Exercises, University of Milan, Italy;
  15. Department of Kinesiology and Sports Management, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, USA;
  16. Department of Psychology, Northern Michigan University Marquette, Michigan;
  17. Department of Traumatology and Orthopedic Surgery, HU Virgen del Rocío, Seville, Spain;
  18. Laboratory of Biomechanics, Department of Physical Education, Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Hellas, Greece;
  19. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Stony Brook University, New York, USA;


  • Issurin V. B. Training of athletes of the XXI century: scientific foundations and designing of training program. — M.: Sport, 2016.
  • Nikolaev A.A. Electro-stimulation in sports
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