Electro Muscular Stimulation (EMS) certainly falls into this category and the brand Compex are at the tip of the sword within the market. EMS itself isn’t a new concept having been first experimented with in XVII, however mainstream medical use boomed in the late 1900s with a rational approach based on a scientific understanding allowing for widespread medical application. EMS has been used in the medical industry by physiotherapists for over 30 years, however in more recent years the value of EMS in a sports application has been proven by Olympic athletes and specifically trail runners like Killian Jornet and Emile Forsberg.
What is EMS I hear you ask? Essentially it replaces your brain! When you want to contract a muscle your brain sends a message to that muscle via an electric impulse, in EMS training an electrostimulator (like the Compex SP 8.0) replaces the role of your brain and activates the muscle (in the same way) via an electric impulse disseminated by conductive electrodes placed on the body. This allows users to adjust the intensity of individual contractions and impulses to achieve training effects such as increased strength, power, endurance, muscle size, recovery, pain management and more.
Compex as a brand started working with medical EMS in 1986 under the guise of medical giant DJO GLOBAL and was the first brand to facilitate personal (at home) EMS use in 1996. Improvements in technology and processes have resulted in the latest offering from Compex being the completely wireless SP 8.0 model.
The SP 8.0 is the top of the range sports orientated electrostimulaor on the market, it features wireless connection to 4 separate stimulation modules, 40 pre-set training programs, 4 separate stimulation channels, a rapid 2hr charge battery time and a 3-year warranty.
As the SP 8.0 is capable of a wide range of uses as mentioned above however for this review we will focus only on the muscle conditioning programs of the unit. Each of the 40 programs is a “training session” with a duration anywhere between 9min and 49min. The programs differ from each other by variations in contraction duration, stimulation frequency range, recovery duration and number of contractions per program. For example, the endurance program will feature a shorter recovery duration between contractions, a higher number of contractions and a different stimulation frequency (intensity) than that of the explosive strength program.
Conditioning programs in the SP 8.0 are as follows:
- Warm Up: To prepare muscles before a competition or training session
- Potentiation: To prepare muscles before competition (short distance)
- Endurance: To improve performance for endurance sports
- Resistance: To improve ability to provide sustained effort
- Strength: To increase maximum strength and speed of muscle contraction.
- Explosive strength: To improve explosive power generation
- Cross Training: To train muscles different working sequences
- Muscle Building: To increase muscle tone and volume
- Hypertrophy: To increase significantly muscle volume
- Core stabilization: To strengthen the abdominals and lower back
- Ankle Twist Prevention: To improve ankle strength
- Capillarisation: To improve endurance in pre competition phase
- Over Compensation: To prepare for efforts requiring endurance or muscle resistance.
Each of the above programs is targeted towards a defined outcome for the athlete weather, that be to improve endurance or build muscle.
As such the stated benefits of Compex EMS include: (when compared to traditional training alone)
Increase in VO2 Max by 7% (Domenico Crognaie, Louis Crowe, Gluseppe DeVito, Conor Minogue (Member IEEE), Brian Caulfield (Member IEEE))
Increase in strength by 27% (Med Scl Sports Exec 2005)
Reduction in lactic acid by 25% (Warren CD, Brown LE, Landers MR, Stahura KA – Strength Cond Res. 2011)
Increase in blood flow by 300% (Zicot M, Rigaux PF, 1995)
As well as the pre-set programs Compex has gone one step further and included their 4 trademark Muscle Intelligence (MI) technologies in the SP 8.0. The MI-Scan and MI-Action technologies are the two which relate to the conditioning programs. MI-Scan automatically scans the muscles and adjusts the simulation parameters to your physiology allowing for a more efficient stimulation contraction. The MI- Action gives the user the ability to combine the electrostimulation contractions of the machine with voluntary contractions for a more personalised workout (for example using the Compex to provide more resistance to weight squat set in the gym).
Right out of the box the Compex was easy to use. After I read the quick start guide I was able to start using the Compex without any issues. The programs themselves all follow a similar structure. Firstly, you select the program you wish to do, the handheld unit then shows you where to position the electrodes (via pictures) and requests you to attach and turn on the stimulation modules. Once this is the done the program then begins.
The MI-Scan then assess each of the muscles and sets the appropriate intensity for the program warm up. The core part of the work out consists of a number of cycles of contractions and recovery, you are able to increase the intensity of both contraction and recovery from 1 to 999 during the workout with the idea of the contraction phase being the most intensity you can withstand while the recovery phase should be light muscle twitches only. Personally I have yet to advance past an intensity of 500 and have been using the Compex for about 10 weeks.
However, once you do find the programs becoming easier then you can progress the Compex through its 3 progression levels. Each level uses a different frequency range that activates more muscle fibres than the last, that results in a deeper more intense contraction. As a reference point for the Strength program I can handle an intensity of 500 on level 1, however when I went to Level 2 I could barely stand an intensity of 100. Essentially this means the Compex will be able to grow with you as you become stronger and continuously challenge your muscles to obtain results.
You can use the Compex on any of the major muscles in the body, personally I have stuck to the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and abs as these are targeted towards running however, you can use it on the neck, back, shoulders and arms as well. Surprisingly I found that the contractions caused by the Compex unit felt genuine and “natural/organic” with no underlying electric feeling or tingling which I had originally expected them to have. As with any serious strength training, I experienced DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) with the Compex sessions just as I would from a heavy gym session or hard downhill rep session, this in my mind is the proof that the Compex was working my muscles effectively.
After 10 weeks of using the Compex SP 8.0 I can personally see the benefits. I have been injured during some of this time and the EMS training has allowed me to not only maintain my previous muscle condition but improve my strength and endurance whilst not being able to run. As a reference point in the gym my max deadlift and squat weights have all increased by 15-20% and on the bike my climbing power and efficiency has also increased substantially.
In addition to results the ease of use and time saving of the Compex have been major advantages for me. As a Dad/Husband/Fireman/Elite Athlete I have found that the Compex EMS training has allowed me get out a training session on days when I would not usually be able to fit one in. I regularly find myself doing a Compex session at night after my daughter has gone to bed while I watch TV, or on my lunch break at work.
The EMS training offered by Compex is without a doubt a beneficial addition to any well-rounded, thorough training program. If used correctly it can reap significant benefits and give you the extra edge, however at the end of the day you still need to lace up the shoes and get out running.
Compex is offering readers a 20% discount on this Wednesday only (EOFY sale) which is a pretty big saving.
If your would like to claim the discount they just need to enter the code Caine20 in the checkout when going through www.compexstore.com/au
Price: Compex Sp 8.0 $1725 RRP
Local Retailer: Find Your feet https://findyourfeet.com.au/
Manufacturer Website: https://www.compexstore.com/au