BBC Article on EMS Fitness

BBC Article Rebuttal

I read a BBC article about EMS. Here’s what I thought…

Recently, the BBC published an article “Can electrical stimulation improve your gym workout?” I have a few things to say about it.

I’ll start by admitting my two biases. 

I work solely in EMS fitness and offer EMS education. I’m even part-owner of a West Coast-based startup called Bodybuzz, offering at-home electro-muscle stimulation personal training services. So you could argue that I need to defend my source of income by rebutting most of the erroneous and misleading points made in the article.

However, I didn’t have to work with EMS. When I discovered EMS fitness over 3 years ago, I was working as a personal trainer with a full book of clients, worked as an exercise consultant at a diabetes center, and had the role of Director of Fitness for FitLore, a high-end amenity design and operations company in NYC. I was busy.

I dove into EMS fitness because I found it to be the solution for the majority of obstacles people face when trying to exercise consistently. More about this below. 

My other bias: I have problems with the type of journalism that creates the illusion of a fair fight where two opposing opinions are pitted against each other. It sends the message that both arguments are well-researched and equally important. The most abhorrent example I’ve come across is about climate change. When TV shows or articles present environmental specialists on opposite sides of the issue to debate whether it is caused by humans or not, it creates the impression of a 50/50 dichotomy, when in fact the split is really lopsided – it’s closer to 84%!

In my first draft of this piece, I mistakenly wrote that 97% of scientists believe climate change is human-caused, because I remember seeing that number before. So, to make sure, I fact-checked myself and found a Forbes article detailing why that number is misleading. I’ll admit to this mistake because I’m not a journalist, and even I think fact-checking makes common sense.

Back to my issues with the BBC article. The article starts by describing the experience of a client from Iron Bodyfit after one 20-minute EMS fitness session, comparing the soreness to that of several hours of working out. 

A little nit-picking here, the article says Iron Bodyfit is a US chain when it’s in fact a French chain that opened studios in the US, as mentioned on the official company website. 

The article then explains that the “EMS global market” will increase from $122m in 2020 to $184m in 2030 with a link to the report. Except, when you click on the link those numbers are for electrical stimulation in medical settings only. That linked report doesn’t list a single EMS fitness company. 

It’s important to make a clear distinction between TENS units and NMES which are for medical use, as referenced in the report, and whole-body EMS which is a fitness service provided by a personal trainer. You can read our blog that covers the difference between TENS units and EMS fitness here.

The article then quotes the UK Director of Miha Bodytec (one of the major EMS device manufacturers) as saying “We are bypassing the brain”. This has been one of the major criticisms I’ve seen on social media so far about electro muscle stimulation: “it’s not how the nervous system works”, “it damages nerve receptors”, “it’s unnatural”.

There isn’t a single research study I’ve encountered that proves any of these claims.

The quote about bypassing the brain is taken out of context. I’ve completed Miha Bodytec’s education course as well as courses from the other major manufacturers (XBody, E-Fit, and Wiemspro). The primary instruction to train with EMS fitness is to queue the client to contract their own muscles first (pre-contract) and then have the EMS stimulation add to their voluntary contraction while performing exercises. This maintains the natural pathways of neuromuscular contractions.  

The BBC article has a couple of links to other pieces on the topic, and links to a systematic review from 2018 that reveals inconclusive results on the question “Does EMS fitness work?”

After I read that systematic review, I agree that more research with higher scientific rigor is indeed needed. That said, the review still points out greater increases in strength for subjects using electro muscle stimulation versus control groups. The whole point of EMS fitness is to increase strength and this systematic review confirms it if you don’t stop at the abstract or skip to the conclusion. 

EMS fitness has questionable results when it comes to fat loss, which we’ve also explained in our blog: Weight Loss and EMS Fitness. Basically, exercise in general, EMS workouts, or any other fitness modality, is only a portion of the fat-loss equation, with diet, sleep, stress, and hormones making up the rest. 

The BBC article continues with two expert opinions, one from Swiss orthopedic clinician Nicola Maffiuletti and another from Robert Herbst, a 64-year-old professional weightlifter. Maffiuletti explains that we don’t know what the right dosage is with electro muscle stimulation, either too little so it doesn’t work, or too high, and then it causes too much muscle damage. Herbst says it doesn’t work because it doesn’t cause enough muscle damage. 

The question about dosage is a valid one but not impossible to answer. With EMS fitness, the recommendation is to have standard settings (we use similar settings as those used in research studies) and then go by the client’s subjective physical sensations. A good trainer would never push a client beyond reason or their comfort level.

EMS workouts get complicated because there are three distinct components to every session: the technology, the client, and the trainer. 

  • Technology: we can play with the frequency and depth of the stimulation, cycle duration (stimulation ON vs OFF), and total duration of the workout. 
  • Client: we need to take into account any limitations, prior training experience, and how they’re feeling that day (Hydrated? Sore? Tired? etc.) 
  • Trainer: knowledge and experience with EMS fitness, exercise selection, technology proficiency, and communication.     

To say that “EMS doesn’t work” is equivalent to saying “personal training doesn’t work”. There are too many factors to consider to make such a blanket statement. And Herbst’s statement that it doesn’t cause enough micro-damage to the muscle is simply not true as evidenced even in the systematic review with “inconclusive results”. EMS fitness increases strength by creating micro-tears in the muscle. 

The article includes a couple of testimonials mentioning that EMS fitness can be fun and effective while adding the service can be pricey. 

A note on pricing: EMS delivers the equivalent of an hour to 90-minute workout in 20 minutes via a personal trainer. The price comparison should be with personal training services and not with the monthly membership to a gym for example. If personal training is typically 60 minutes long, should a 20-minute EMS session with a personal trainer that gets you similar results cost more or less? 

Sure, there is less human-to-human contact time, but if you are getting stronger in less time, effectively giving you back more time to do something else, shouldn’t it be priced at a higher rate? Direct flights typically cost more than flights with layovers. High-speed internet costs more than low-speed internet. Streaming services such as Disney+ or Hulu cost more without ads than with ads. 

I’m glad EMS fitness is getting talked about in mainstream media outlets, it helps spread the word on what is still a very niche service in the US. However, I hope articles will start including more expert opinions from people that actually work with electrical muscle stimulation. If you’re going to link research studies, maybe read through them to draw your own conclusions. And if you’re going to pit positive client experiences against a couple of expert opinions that are simply wrong or contradict one another, maybe choose better experts. 

I’ll finish with how I started this post: EMS solves a lot of issues around exercising consistently. 

The major obstacles to exercising are having enough time, motivation, dealing with injuries, experiencing aches and pains, and knowing what to do. 

A personal trainer already solves the motivation and the knowledge components, can help with aches and pains, and could train you around injuries. 

A personal trainer using EMS fitness includes all of the above in less time, and can also help you make progress with strengthening muscles even if you can’t move that part of your body. 

EMS fitness is great for most people, and for certain people without time and mobility problems, it is the best option. 


Director of Education and Technology


Bodybuzz combines Certified Personal Training with Electrical Muscle Stimulation, giving your body a deeper, safer, and more effective workout. 20 minutes twice a week is all it takes!

Our personal trainers will guide you through a custom EMS workout designed specifically for you. Whether you’re looking to build strength, lose weight, get toned, or recover from an injury or illness, we offer a safe, low-impact solution to help get you there.

EMS has now been FDA-cleared for use in the US and we are proud to be one of the first companies to introduce this technology. It is a full-body workout that uses a special muscle stimulating suit that sends low-level impulses to your major muscle groups to trigger muscle contractions. It’s a unique sensation that is painless and invigorating. EMS workouts are designed to achieve optimal conditioning, burn fat, develop strength, build muscle, tighten skin, combat cellulite, jump-start your metabolism and restore your body’s natural balance.