The few times that I’ve gone to a physical therapist for an injury, I was hooked up to a machine that used transcutaneous nerve stimulation, or TENS. It sent small electrical impulses to my nerves, calming my muscles and relieving pain.
What I didn’t know is that for decades, another type of machine with a similar design has been used in Europe to enhance workouts. The machine offers electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) by sending impulses to your muscles to help them contract.
A company in Hungary, called XBody, makes an EMS machine called Newave for years. EMS has been used by professional athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Usain Bolt.
With the Newave, participants strap into a full-body suit that sends electrical impulses to major muscle groups like the glutes, quads, abs and upper body. Where traditional workouts only activate 40 percent of your muscles simultaneously, EMS actives 90 percent of them. In just 20 minutes, XBody claims, you can accomplish the work of a 90-minute workout.
As someone who doesn’t work out that often, the convenience of only dedicating 20 minutes twice per week to exercise sounded appealing. I knew I had to give EMS a try.
I got in touch with Body Reform Fitness, a new gym on Pineapple Avenue in downtown Sarasota and one of the only gyms in Florida offering EMS training. Owner Adrian Fudyma, a longtime personal trainer and certified EMS expert, offers free consultations and completes several Newave personal training sessions per day.
“I remember trying on the suit and working out in it for the first time at a fitness convention in San Diego a few years ago,” Fudyma recalled as he showed me around his sleek, red-and-black themed space. “It was like nothing I’d tried before. I felt sore for days after, as if I’d completed a two-hour workout.”
The Newave suit was hanging in a corner of the gym, looking like something a superhero would step into to fight crime. I was intimidated. But Fudyma reassured me that people of all fitness levels can try it because it’s easily customizable.
XBody requires trainers to be re-certified each year to use the machine, ensuring optimal safety. Between the machine’s cost and exclusivity (only certified personal trainers can purchase it), the number of gyms in the country using the technology is limited.
I was given a health questionnaire to fill out upon arrival to confirm I didn't have any heart conditions or major health problems. (People who have heart conditions or diabetes may not be best suited for the technology, which was approved by the FDA two years ago.) Then the fun began.
I changed into a tight, cotton long sleeve shirt and leggings, which everyone must wear before putting on theNewave suit. Fudyma explains that cotton is conducive to electrical impulses, whereas polyester or other "dri-fit" material may hinder them.
Then I stepped onto a pedestal with outlines for my feet, where I received a 3-D scan of my body. This is a separate offering at Body Reform Fitness that can help you determine body fat percentage, measurements and projected calorie intake and expenditure per day.
“The scans are a great way to keep track of your progress and can be a motivator to keep working toward your goals,” Fudyma explained.
We returned to the suit, which is made out of material similar to a wetsuit, and Fudyma unbuckled the front to show me the electrical pads on the inside. He began spraying cold water on the pads, which serves as a conductor for the impulses.
The suit was tight (there are three different sizes) and had several buckles and velcro straps to ensure it securely fastened to my upper thighs, upper arms and torso.
“There are three settings we can choose from—muscle development, endurance and relaxation,” Fudyma explained. “They all come with different impulse levels, and I can adjust them at any time depending on the move we are doing.”
The first setting, muscle development, uses 80 Hz. of electrical energy, which activates a certain type of muscle fiber (Fast Twitch or Type II) responsible for muscle growth. "This results in an increased metabolic rate over conventional training," he adds.
Fudyma also explains that, just like your brain sends messages to your muscles to contract, the EMS machine does the same, but from an external source. He says the machine works in tandem with your brain to make your muscles work even harder.
We performed a series of squat jumps, lunges, chest presses with resistance bands and planks, while I watched the screen of the machine as a timer, with green numbers indicating when to “go” and when to rest. It was extremely user-friendly, and once I got the hang of it, I was following the machine’s prompts on my own.
When I did bicep curls, Fudyma increased the upper arm impulses and decreased legs, and vice versa. By the end, Fudyma was cheering me on in classic personal trainer form as I broke into a full sweat. I felt exhausted but accomplished—exactly how you want to feel from a workout. We ended the session with a high five, followed by a cool-down using the machine's relaxation setting.
“This is an important part of the workout people often forget,” says Fudyma. The yogi in me loved this part the most, as we performed deep stretches and breathing exercises to calm down. The tingling pulses from the machine were like a warming sensation for my tired muscles.
I changed back into my street clothes, chugged a ton of water, and fueled myself with complex carbohydrates and protein, as Fudyma recommended.
That afternoon, the soreness kicked in, but I continued to move and stretch throughout the day as Fudyma instructed. The next day, I was impressed by how sore I was. On a soreness scale of "could run a half-marathon" to "not able to move," I was comfortably in the middle.
“The Newave was Europe’s best-kept secret for sculpting the body, targeting difficult muscles and improving muscle tone,” Fudyma says. “I’m glad to see it get more recognition, and hopefully a wireless suit will be available soon, to make it even more accessible to clients around the world."
EMS training is an exciting new option for anyone looking to change things up and get a taste of what pro athletes are doing. I survived the electrical impulses of the XBody Newave training suit. I should put that on a T-shirt.
For more information on Body Reform Fitness and EMS training, click here or call (941) 444-9752 to schedule a free one-hour consultation with Fudyma. The eight session promotion costs $480; individual sessions are $85. Body Reform Fitness is located at 529 S. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota.