The German-made Miha-bodytec machines in BodyTec's Cape Town studio which releases the electric impulses.

Electro Muscle Stimulation, or EMS, involves sending electric pulses through your body to activate up to 90% of your muscles. Its purveyors contend that it is the exercising solution for busy people, replacing an entire week’s workout with just one 20-minute session.

In less than 30 minutes, you can have a full work out, shower and already be back on your way to work, says Boris Leyck, owner and founder of BodyTec South Africa

"We have several corporate (executives) coming during their coffee breaks … they typically have kid, a family and a demanding schedule, and can simply not afford to spend hours at the gym,” Leyck told Business Insider South Africa. 

But professor Elmarie Terblanche of the University of Stellenbosch sports science department, believes EMS should be considered as a complementary exercise to a normal workout routine.

“The claim that a 20-minute EMS per week, like it is advertised, will lead to an improvement of health is simply untrue, because EMS only improves muscle mass and strength. It has no other health benefits such as any other exercise,” Terblanche said. 

A trial session costs R195, with a six-month contract going for R270 a session, and 12-month contract R225 a session

I visited the BodyTec studios in the Cape Town’s foreshore to see how it works: 

Before the session, you get asked what your goals are, and whether you train outside of BodyTec

Personal trainer Riaz Jogee at BodyTec's studio in the Cape Town foreshore (James de Villiers, Business Insider South Africa)

Riaz Jogee, who helped us for our session, made it clear that EMS is a strength training replacement, but you’d still have to do cardio outside of it. He said EMS activates all the muscles for a complete workout, and because it is more tiring than normal strength training, more than one session a week is not advised. 

BodyTec supplies you with a fitted outfit you have to wear, without underwear, to ensure the best conduction of the electrodes 

James dressed in his BodyTec outfit

The EMS electrode suit, as well as your clothes, are lightly sprayed with water “because it is a good conductor” of the electrodes

Your upper-body muscle, middle back, lower back, glutes, quads, biceps, pectorals, and abs are strapped to devices which distribute the electrical charges. 

Once suited, a 5-minute trial is done to ensure that amount of electrodes does not hurt you

The strenght settings after the five minute adjustement session.

BodyTec makes use of Miha-bodytec machines, which are developed and manufactured in German. As the intensity builds up, the contractions hurt, and feels like when you overtrain your core muscles. I was also a bit distracted by tingles in my lower back. 

Once the correct settings have been determined, the twenty-minute workout begins

The electrodes are released for four second periods, with a rest period in between each. I did basic movements such as lunges, with no resistance training. After 10 minutes, 20 minutes feel like an eternity.

I didn't build up a sweat in the twenty minutes, but my muscles were tired

It didn’t feel like a typical workout where I struggled to cycle back home because I felt too tired, but I could feel that my muscles were exercised - particularly my abs which have never looked more defined. BodyTec says EMS users can typically only start seeing results, such as improved strength, muscle growth and reduction of muscular pain like back pain, after four to six sessions. 

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