What you can expect from an EMS session:
Funnily enough, in 2017 I trained to teach English as a second language at the Berlin School of English just a street away from Checkpoint Charlie. My classroom was across the road from the EMS studio Body Street and whenever my attention wandered during one of my lessons (I wasn’t very good at teaching), I would catch sight of people in the window. They’d be dressed entirely in black with lots of straps and bands attached to them and they’d finish off the look with what appeared to be a bullet-proof vest. The strangest thing was they were squatting unbelievably slowly, but with these grimaces on their faces as if they had the weight of the world on their shoulders. “Wow, they must be really unfit,” I remember thinking to myself. And then I’d remember where I was and get back to teaching English.
So it’s funny that today I am standing here, in the very same Body Street window, wearing that bullet-proof vest, squatting unbelievably slowly and squawking at the top of my lungs. Because now I know that EMS stands for Electrical Muscle Stimulation and it is like exercising and getting tasered at the same time.
Walking into Body Street is like walking into the future. Everything is shiny and glossy and new. Even the plants look 3D printed. The trainers at Body Street are strong and burly, good examples of how effective this workout is. As it is my first EMS session with Body Street my trainer, Jasar, begins with a short interview to find out my fitness background. As we sit at the squeaky clean table at the back of the studio Jasar asks me about my exercise routine and health and wellness records. But I quickly turn the interview around on him. Because I’m curious to know whether EMS really is as effective as they say. How can you get fit from squatting really slowly in just twenty minutes?
“It depends on what your goals are,” Jasar says. “With EMS you can train your muscles and burn up to 500 calories per session in 20 minutes, so in comparison with other sports that’s a lot.” Jasar says that if you do EMS once a week it’s the equivalent of two hours in the gym. “It shouldn’t replace the gym,” he says. “But it’s a good accompaniment.” He says that EMS is a great way for people who aren’t super fit to build up enough muscle to start a regular training routine. “With EMS they can build muscles and burn fat and bring their body into shape for general fitness,” Jasar says.
Jasar started working at Body Street during his studies. “I needed somewhere to bring my theory into practice so I looked up EMS and I thought it looked great – it’s about strength and cardio and it fits well with my studies.” Now Jasar works as a teacher and personal trainer, guiding people through a workout routine while their muscles are zapped with electrodes.
It’s time. Jasar hands me a black long-sleeved top and black cycle shorts. I get changed in the bright clean changing area, feeling increasingly nervous about what will happen to my body over the next twenty minutes. When I emerge Jasar starts spraying down a black vest with warm water. He attaches different straps, belts and buckles to me, all of which are slightly damp to create an electrical current to my muscles.
Once I am fully strapped up Jasar leads me to one of the EMS stands and attaches even more straps, strings and magnets to me. “This is the starting position,” Jasar says and shows me how to stand in a deep squat with my arms raised above my head. “We’ll start here with five squats.” I follow his lead, fully braced for a horrific electric shock. But nothing happens. “I don’t feel anything,” I say. “Oh you will,” Jasar responds. He has a gleeful glint in his eye.
“We’ll start with your legs,” he says and presses a button on the EMS station. Suddenly I feel a low hum around my thighs, as though dozens of bees are buzzing under my skin. It gets stronger and stronger until both legs are vibrating violently. This stimulation lasts for four seconds with a four second rest period. The screen in front of me shows a green line when it’s time for rest and a red line when it’s time to be electrocuted. “Is it strong enough?” Jasar asks. I try to reply but I can’t because I am screeching. I’m totally stunned by how very uncomfortable this is and I am unable to control my facial expressions.
Next Jasar puts my butt on vibrate. It feels like my ass is being tasered. In between electric shocks I ask Jasar why everyone else I’ve seen doing EMS looks so calm? Whenever I looked through the window during my teacher training people seemed slightly uncomfortable – but not at all like they were getting struck by lightning. “I don’t know,” Jasar laughs. “Maybe you’re just extra sensitive.”
Jasar activates the electrodes that target my stomach, then lower back, side back, upper back and arms. Then he introduces some new exercises. I lift one leg up and down again slowly five times on each side and as I do I can feel Jasar slowly turn the dial up so I vibrate harder with each exercise. We do arm lifts and lunges and for some reason it feels like my fingers are going to fall off when we do standing crunches. “Tense your muscles as you pull up,” Jasar says, but I have absolutely no control over my muscles so I just nod and grimace and try to stay conscious.
I cannot express how happy I am to see the clock on the screen countdown the final seconds of my EMS session. When Jasar turns off the machine I feel like I’m floating on air, but my brain still expects to get tasered so I kind of twitch violently every four seconds for a few minutes afterwards.
I change back into my normal clothes and basically glide out of Body Street, feeling like I’m made of jelly. And as I leave I look up at my old classroom window and see that it’s full of students. I really hope they paid attention during their lesson; that their eyes didn’t wander to the window of Body Street.
If you’d like to try EMS, Urban Sports Club has tons of partners across Europe. Take a look at our site to see what’s on in your area.