You may have seen Cristiano Ronaldo sitting bare chested and looking sulky whilst wearing a SIXPAD recently (like this). He’s the main athlete being used to advertise the brands selection of EMS products. An acronym that stands for Electronic Muscle Stimulation.
Hold on! I hear you you shouting at the screen. Isn’t that the technology that people used to buy in the 1990s so they could sit and eat pizza whilst a little device shocked their abs? Well, yeah kind of. It’s the same concept essentially and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was ridiculously sceptical about a product that trains the body without you actually having to do anything. But based on the fact they’ve opened a store at Westfield, have Ronaldo as their ambassador and have a pretty high price point, I was interested to find out if I was missing something.
The science behind it
Electronic muscle stimulating is by no means a new concept, with scientists and researchers using it for various experiments dating back to the 19th century. The fact that muscles can be activated through electronic stimulation isn’t really under debate. The real question that exists – particularly for cynics like me – is can electronic stimulation actually help build muscle or increase athletic ability. In more general terms, and a question highlighted by many marketing campaigns using similar devices, will EMS replicate real fitness training, without actually having to do anything?
Toshio Moritani is SIXPAD’s resident sports scientist and a man that’s been researching training effects of EMS for over 40 years. Although the EMS market uses a variety of frequencies, Moritani claims that effective training of the muscles is achieved at a frequency of 20 Hz.
Studies, including one featured on the SIXPAD site, offer results to show that EMS usage does actually cause muscle fatigue, much like actual exercise, albeit fatigue that may affect differing types of muscle fibres. The full overview is here, so I won’t try to explain it.
Anyway, there is research to suggest it has an effect. Unfortunately there’s no way that I can actually validate those studies in a few weeks of testing a device. So what I’ll do is give an overview of how it works, what it feels like and if I found any issues with it. You’ll have to make up your own mind about the effects of EMS and the best way to use it as part of a training plan.
If you’re really interested in EMS, there are are companies out there using it as part of a training plan as well, Like these guys.
What is it?
The SIXPAD leg belt is an EMS device specifically designed to be used on the leg muscles – presumably because it’s a bit bigger than some of the other devices on offer.
The belt itself can be connected via bluetooth to the SIXPAD app in order to run the various training programmes available. It’ll act as a training calendar so you can see what you’ve done and how often. You can also just work the strap by using the little electronic dial that’s connected to it.
How easy is it to use?
I actually found the set up of the belt a bit tricky. The device comes with some gel pads that need to be stuck to the device before you put it against your skin. It’s the gel that allows the electric currents to pass through to your muscles. The only problem is that the gel pads are disposable, apparently running out after about 30 uses. So you need to make sure you do it properly the first time. It took me a few read throughs of the online instructions to get it right as most of what I found online in terms of explanation was specifically for some of the other EMS products. Once you work it out it’s pretty simple, but you can’t rush it.
Secondly, I found the straps a bit of a struggle to connect to the device. It comes with two detachable velcro ones and some additional bits of velcro. I actually couldn’t find any documentation online to show me how to do it, so I had to have a play around myself. Sure, velcro straps aren’t the most perplexing thing in the world, but for £250, you don’t want to get anything wrong.
Using my Honor 9 phone I wasn’t able to link the app up to the belt controller. I did try and troubleshoot this however I couldn’t seem to resolve it. Luckily the system works independently from the app. All you need to do is hold down the button to turn it on, wait for the light to come on, then press it to set the 23 minute workout. You can modify the intensity of the workout by pressing the + and – buttons. The system will turn itself off after that.
What it feels like when you’re wearing it
I had a vague recollection of some sort of electronic stimulation device from many years ago. I remembered that hurting quite a lot, so I was a bit apprehensive before putting on the leg belt. Once you’ve worked out the straps the belt holds on securely, the next thing to do is simply just turn the thing on.
Man alive it feels weird for the first few minutes. The electronic impulses start slow and light, but soon start to get stronger. The most I’ve managed to get it up to is about halfway – any more than that and it’s pretty intense. I actually gritted my teeth for the first few minutes, however your body gets used to it after a while.
In a stationary position my leg spasmed with every electronic jolt. Initially it feels quite unnatural, but does feel okay after a few minutes. By the end of the 23 minutes you do oddly feel like you’ve had a bit of a workout.
Who is it for?
I would say that based on the price point, the leg belt is a product designed for someone who is very serious about marginal gains as part of a detailed training plan (like Ronaldo). If you’re someone who does very little exercise and thinks this will mean they can watch TV whilst getting a great workout, you’ll probably be shoving it in your cupboard for quite some time after buying it.
If however, you know how to train and subscribe to the methodologies of EMS, then the product itself seems do the job. I can’t tell you that I gained muscle or developed my nervous system in any way, but I can tell you the product, save for the fact I couldn’t get the app working, does appear to deliver a EMS effectively.
How much does it cost?
The leg belt comes in at £250, with the other electrode products starting at about £175. Take a look through the range on the website here. There’s also a store at Westfield White City if you want to go and take a look at the products.
- Rechargeable battery lasts for 5 hours
- Feels like it’s made to be sturdy
- Issues connecting to app (Honor 9)
- Need to replace gel packs quite frequently
Note: SIXPAD supplied a free test product for use in writing this review.
Picture Credits: SIXPAD