Prevent Injuries With EMS

Training for a big triathlon this summer? Maybe it's an Ironman, a half-triathlon or an Olympic race. Whatever distance it is, you know that you will need to put heavier-than-usual loads on your body to meet the training plan.

Do you feel the stress already? What are the chances you will get to the starting line with no injury? Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) may be the final piece in your training plan puzzle to stay healthy, not just for the race, but for the entire season.

In the late 18th century, medical pioneers learned that electrical current in the body caused muscles to contract. By the 1960's, Soviet coaches were using EMS as an integral part of their elite athletes training regimens. Over the course of several decades, the coaches claimed and various research projects showed that treatments produced remarkable gains in the power output of the people in their programs.

Infomercials selling very inexpensive devices have given the market a bit of a black-eye in the last decade. However, the reputable manufacturers of EMS devices, like Compex and Globus, continue to enjoy widespread usage of their tools by professional soccer, volleyball, and cycling teams in Europe. Slowly, but surely they are making headway in the U.S., primarily as a recovery tool.

A number of top professional triathletes use EMS as regular part of their training program. One of them happens to be Chris McCormack, winner of the 2010 Ironman world championship in Kona. "I use it predominantly as a recovery tool," he said.

How can you use electrical muscle stimulation to best speed your recovery from hard days and reduce the chance of a training-induced injury? Here are three good ways:

  1. First, think of the tool as "frosting on the cake." Coach Al Lyman, based in Connecticut, says about 20 percent of the triathletes in his stable use the tool, in his case, devices manufactured by the Italian company, Globus. His is emphatic that an athlete must not use the machine to skip the other three key foundations of solid recovery—sleep, differentiated training and proper nutrition. Only when an athlete has completed these, should he or she rely on EMS. "It will not replace the first three steps," he said.

  2. Warm up your muscles before beginning longer workouts. All the major products have warm-up programs targeting muscles specific for swimming, biking, and running. Built in instructions on the screen will show you where to place the pads. 10 minutes on the machine will leave muscles warm and less likely to be strained on the hill repeats or intervals you have planned for the day.

  3. Use active recovery after your major workouts. Chris McCormack uses his device for active recovery four times a week. A big benefit for Chris is that he can do other things while using the device. "I put it on and watch television. It couldn't be better than that," he said.

Both McCormack and Lyman have used the tool to supplement strength and force programs. For certain athletes, Lyman will use the conditioning programs to supplement weight training on the same day. On the morning an athlete focuses on lower body weight training, he will have the person use the EMS strength program on the same muscles that night, always followed by active recovery.

In his quest to win a bid to the Olympic Games, McCormack is experimenting with the Compex machine to increase his short course speed. His team is working to see how to get his muscles "firing a little quicker."

Is the science backed up by verifiable results? "You always have to draw your own conclusions," McCormack said. "I personally have found great results from the machine and I always wake up fresh."

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Stay injury-free for your next triathlon.

Paul Tyler is an active triathlete in the New York City area. Paul and his team at Triessential.com enjoy racing, training and inspiring others to do the same. Please note that Globus offers Active readers a $50 discount on all electrostimulators purchased online through the Globus site when you use the "TriEss" code at the time of placing an order.


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