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Can You build Muscle With EMS Training?


You've probably heard of EMS – Electromyostimulation – and its incredible potential in the fitness realm. But the big question is: Can EMS really help you build muscle effectively?

In this post we’re going to unravel the science behind EMS, and how it can be integrated into your training regimen to enhance muscle growth.

In a previous post we discussed the science behind how the body adds muscle. You can read that here, but we'll go over the basics briefly.

Muscle growth is a complex process initiated by three key mechanisms: mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.

Mechanical tension is the primary driver of contractile hypertrophy and occurs when muscles are subjected to weights or resistance they're unaccustomed to. This tension, especially during heavy lifting, signals the body to strengthen and enlarge the muscle fibers.

Next up is muscle damage. You know that soreness you feel after a tough workout? That's a sign of microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. This damage isn't harmful; in fact, it's essential for muscle growth. It triggers the body's repair process, which not only repairs the damage but also enhances the size and strength of muscles.

Lastly, metabolic stress plays a crucial role in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. When you engage in high-rep, lower-weight exercise, it causes a build-up of metabolites like lactate in your muscles. This build-up is associated with that burning sensation and is a signal for the body to adapt by increasing muscle size and endurance.

Muscle Building with EMS

So how do we achieve the three mechanisms with EMS?

The EMS devices that we use have two modes for workouts, muscular development and endurance. Each mode has separate and individual frequency settings for the stimulation. We have control over those frequencies and they determine which type of muscle fibers are activated during your training. In the lower frequency range, the slow muscle fibers are activated and on the higher frequency range, the fast muscle fibers are activated. This is often why we talk about the importance of the quality of the EMS device that you use.

With traditional training or weight training, the different types of muscle fibers are recruited in specific order due to Hennemann's Principle.

Diagram of Hennemann's Principle for Muscle Building

This principle states that under load, the muscle fibers are recruited in the following order. Slow twitch, which are the low force, fatigue resistant muscle fibers are activated before fast switch, which are the high force, less fatigue resistant muscle fibers.

But with EMS training, the electrical impulses trigger the end plate of motor neurons, which facilitate reaching the action potential of the motor nerves. These excitations of motor neurons are transmitted to the muscle fibers via the motor end plate where they generate muscle fiber responses. In other words muscle contraction.

Depending on the parameters of the electrical impulses that we use, the pulse frequency, different types of muscle work can be imposed on the stimulated muscles. Low frequency stimulation, 1 to 35 hertz, evokes separable muscle contractions, or what we call single twitches. While the higher frequency stimulation, 35 to 100 hertz, results in constant muscle work or what we call tetanus.

In the lower frequency, the muscle never fully contracts and never fully relaxes and the stimulation never shuts off for the full duration of the workout.. This causes metabolites to build up and cause metabolic stress that creates adaptations in muscle tissue.

Muscle work according to EMS impulse frequency

Think of the most intense muscle burn you've ever felt. That's what we're achieving in that workout in the EMS system.

With the higher frequency, we can create extremely strong muscle contractions, even up to the point where you lose control of the contraction and the device will take over the contraction, causing an involuntary contraction or what feels like a muscle cramp.

Because of the way EMS stimulates the motor neurons directly and the level of contraction, we achieve extremely high mechanical tension, but also cause quite a bit of muscular damage. The two contributors for contractile hypertrophy. This is also the reason that we have longer recovery periods between EMS sessions than with traditional workouts.

Activation of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers according to EMS frequency

With EMS we have direct control over the frequency of the stimulations applied to the muscle, and we can achieve all three mechanisms of hypertrophy depending on the frequency that we use during the workout. That makes EMS an exceptionally efficient way to add muscle.


We covered the science, the mechanisms, and the different ways EMS can target your muscles like never before. Whether it's the intense burn from the low frequency stimulation that causes metabolic stress or the powerful contractions of high frequency sessions leading to high mechanical tension and muscle damage, EMS training offers a unique and effective approach to building muscle.

Don't forget the quality of your EMS device matters! If you don't have control over the frequencies, you don't have control over how you're building muscle.


Want help becoming the healthiest, fittest, strongest version of you?

Most of us know that eating well, regular activity, and managing our sleep and stress levels are important for a healthy life. Still, we struggle to apply that information into our already busy lives. That's why the Active Wave coaching programs help you create a strategy to lose fat, get stronger, and improve your health, all in the context of your own life. We know that's the only way to keep those changes for good, no matter what situation you're in. If you'd like to chat about how you can start to change your life and reach your health and fitness goals, book a free, 10 minute call with one of our coaches today!

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