An Electrical Muscle Stimulation Tool to Aid Workout Recovery
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The Marc Pro Plus may seem like it jumped off the back pages of a 1990s muscle magazine. Electrical stimulation tools have been around for quite a while and many benefits have been hypothesized. In this review, we will go over the basics of electrical stimulation, its uses, and the Marc Pro machine specifically.
What Is EMS?
Electrical muscle stimulation units (EMS) have been around for many years. In the 1950s, Soviet scientist began using this tool as an aid to track and field runners. The basic premise is that it sends an electrical signal that causes a muscle to fire. The frequency of this signal can be adjusted to fire faster or slower. There are multiple uses for these machines, such as:
1. Muscle Strength
One of the first touted benefits of EMS units, was that it could build muscle strength by allowing muscle fibers to contract more quickly. Muscle fibers need to activate and reactivate quickly in explosive movements. The Soviets used these machines to help build this rapid firing. Because the outside current activates muscles in reverse order than they inherently fire (slow twitch fibers activate first and the faster twitch fibers follow), this device is a way to generate more force all at once (Note: for those who are interested, Pavel Tsatsouline has been writing about building the slow muscle fibers for greater absolute strength).
Research is mixed on whether these devices work to build greater muscle strength. There might be some limited effect in the first ten sessions. However, the effect does not increase after a point. We can probably say with great certainty that you will not get six-pack abs by sitting on the couch with one of these units.
2. Activating Less-Used Muscle Groups
Another use of a EMS machine is to assist the body in using less-used muscles. We hear terms like “gluteal amnesia,” where we forget to activate the glutes. These machines may be useful in helping us remember those muscles. Specific muscle groups where I might suggest it for this use are spinal erector muscles and the soles of the feet.
3. Warm Up, Rehabilitation, and Recovery
This third purpose is where EMS units have the most promise. By stimulating muscles, we can create more blood flow into specific areas. This can help us in our warm up and in our recovery. The Marc Pro is specifically created for this purpose.
A Few More Definitions
Before we get into the details of the Marc Pro and Marc Pro Plus, we should define a few other terms:
- Frequency - Frequency is how often an electrical stimulation is applied to the muscle. The Marc Pro Plus has two settings, high and low. On the low setting, it is like a slow twitch across the muscles. If the machine is attached to the upper back, it is like a shrug of “I don’t know” repeatedly. The high frequency setting goes quickly. It feels like a steady state of muscle contraction. In the same area of the back, your shoulders will go up, but without the full release of the next contraction. Some people are afraid of feeling an electric shock applied to their body. The low frequency setting feels very comfortable. The high setting will feel a bit more shocking at first. It feels like an electric tingle. (Note: The Marc Pro Plus comes with both settings, while the Marc Pro comes with only the low frequency, which is perfect for recovery.)
- Intensity - Intensity is how much electricity is applied to the muscle. As you turn the intensity dial, you start to feel the slight bit of electricity and then you feel your muscles activate as you get higher amounts. Because of this control, it is easy to get used to the intensity level before moving up. Luckily, it is not an on-off switch that immediately turns on full power.
- Duration - Duration is how long the muscle is activated. The Marc Pro units do not allow for changes in duration as it is set to activate and release the muscles in quick succession.
What Is in the Box?
The Marc Pro Plus feels like a professional medical device. It comes with a carrying case and six sets of reusable electrode pads. These units have two sets of wires, so you can use it on two different areas. It also comes with a detailed and easy-to-use instruction manual.
What Is It Like to Use?
The best way to use this device is to gather everything you might need for the entire twenty- to thirty-minute session and sit it next to you. You can expect to have the applied muscle group jump up and down and be useless during the treatment. Thus, don’t expect to type if you have it applied to your upper back.
The manual suggests using the machine for thirty to sixty minutes for recovery and thirty minutes for warm up. I attach it right before bed and let it run until the battery runs out. Whether this will work for you will depend on how deep you can sleep or if it will keep you awake.
The process itself is interesting. Having your body convulse might feel strange the first couple of times, but it is easy to get used to. It does seem to work on reducing the level of muscle fatigue I feel the next day. It also helps to loosen up tight muscles.
The Marc Pro Plus is a great tool for recovery. The system provides detailed instructions and seems to be medical-grade quality. There are two different models, with the Plus model having a high frequency setting. I like having the option, but for most of my recovery needs I use the low frequency setting found on both models.
The Marc Pro Plus is available for $949.99 at MarcPro.com.