Ever wanted to train like an astronaut and get a full body workout?
I have! At least, I’ve fantasized about a tour through space ever since I read Chris Hadfield’s memoir An Astronaut’s Guide to Life. I’ve also wondered what it would be like to complete a mission on the International Space Station, float around in my socks (that’s what astronauts do, right?) and workout daily to minimize muscle atrophy (it’s a thing). Though chances are pretty good I’ll never make it past the Earth’s atmosphere, I did have the chance to try Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS), a technology used by astronauts training in space, at GoGo Muscle Training in Toronto. The sleek new studio offers 20-minute personalized sessions where you don a top-of-the-line EMS suit and feel your muscles contract and relax as you go through a series of exercises. Sound totally weird? It is. Here’s everything you need to know about the full body workout.
How EMS technology works
The technology was first developed in France in 1902, but was revisited 70 years later by Russian scientists who showed a 30 to 40 percent increase of muscle strength with minimal effort and in a short period of time. Since then, EMS has been used by elite athletes, astronauts and physical therapists.
The battery-powered suit, which covers your shoulders, back, abdomen, upper arms and thighs, activates 90 percent of your muscle fibres at the same time through targeted low-frequency electrical pulses that cycle over specific muscles (as many as your trainer chooses to activate). With movement, your muscles contract and strengthen, meaning that you can achieve the effects of an hour-long workout in about 20 minutes.
What you’ll experience
I started my session at GoGo Muscle Training with a body composition assessment to take a look at my percentage of water, fat and muscle, as well as the strength in my arms, legs and core. Ideally, you would track these numbers as you go through your fitness journey to watch your progress and maintain a healthy weight and muscle mass. I actually had the assessment at the studio’s launch party six weeks before, so I was able to compare two sets of numbers. Between the two measurements, I found that I’d gained muscle and strength while losing a pound of fat because I had been consistently working out on my own.
After my assessment, I was lucky enough to complete a full body workout with Agnes Ramsay, the only Master EMS Trainer in Canada. To get ready, I donned a thin black shirt and leggings (sans bra or underwear because they interfere with the electrical pulses) and was tightly strapped into a wireless suit that had just been sprayed with water. It was cold and uncomfortable and my skin felt damp in seconds. Then Ramsay gave me a little shock. It felt like a light buzz, but as she turned up the intensity my muscles started to contract more strongly. It was never painful, but I did have a couple moments where my muscles seized for a second and I lost control. Since it was my first time, we only did 20 minutes of simple exercises like leg raises, standing crunches and bicep curls with light weights — but you can definitely train harder or do cardio. The max number of times you should train per week is three: two resistance training and one cardio sesh.
I found it really easy and fun, but I’m also not sure that I worked hard enough to see results. A fit friend of mine, on the other hand, was dripping sweat and sore for days after her first session. If I go back, I will definitely raise my intensity for each muscle group and complete more difficult exercises.
Would I recommend it?
Yes… except for one big issue: it’s crazy expensive. We’re talking $499 for a monthly membership (which includes no more than 12 sessions at 20 minutes each). If you want to book an individual session, it’s $99 in studio and $99 for an in-studio body assessment. In my opinion, it only makes sense for the extremely busy and wealthy, someone who has a specific fitness goal in mind (like running a marathon) and limited time to achieve it, or a person who has trouble working out because of old age or injury. (Ramsay told me that she has a client who was able to relieve chronic knee pain because she was finally able to strengthen the muscles around her knee without straining herself.)
No matter how you choose to do your full body workout, these Canadian health and fitness tools are must-haves.