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E-Stim to Get Trim

Here it is, 2004, 32 years after Bruce Lee?s death. What?s the verdict on electrical-stimulation units, or e-stim?

I was watching ‘Dragon’The Bruce Lee Story’ (made in 1993) the other day; great flick. Bruce Lee was clearly way ahead of his time when it came to martial arts. Before anyone ever heard of the Octagon or mixed martial-arts contests, Lee espoused the notion that you need to study all styles of fighting’grappling, boxing, traditional karate and kung fu. He believed that you should take what is useful and discard what is useless. He took the same approach to training, though he did some things that at the time were fairly bizarre. One scene in the movie showed him sitting at a typewriter, electrodes strapped to his pecs and biceps. In the movie he says (in reference to the electrical-stimulation unit strapped to his chest and arms) that ‘it’s like doing 100 pushups.’ Hearing that from a guy who could do pushups on his thumbs only, you had to think either that he was completely nuts or that he was really on to something.

Here it is, 2004, 32 years after Bruce Lee’s death. What’s the verdict on electrical-stimulation units, or e-stim?

A group of Japanese exercise physiologists discovered (32 years later’scientists always figure it out later) that Bruce Lee was indeed on to something, but perhaps for the wrong reason. E-stim may not be the best thing for inducing tremendous muscle hypertrophy, but it may be a great way of promoting the burning of carbohydrates and enhancing overall calorie expenditure. Yes, sitting with your pecs, bi’s, tri’s, lats, quads, hams and calf muscles all strapped to an e-stim unit firing away while you chill on your La-Z Boy recliner watching reruns of ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ may become part of your overall training plan.

Okay, before you mutter an expletive saying something bad about me or a close relative, take a look at the following info published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.1

Researchers had eight male subjects lie on their backs and stimulated their lower-leg (tibialis anterior and triceps surae) and thigh (quadriceps and hamstrings) muscles. They were sequentially stimulated to co-contract in an isometric manner at 20 Hz with a 1-s on/off duty cycle for 20 minutes. The authors compared that to voluntary exercise (VE) on a cycle at the same oxygen uptake.

The electrical-stimulation group increased oxygen uptake only slightly, whereas blood lactate went up significantly in the first five minutes after the onset of the ES. Voluntary exercise showed no such changes in blood lactate at identical oxygen uptake.

ES also induced enhanced whole-body carbohydrate oxidation, as shown by the significantly higher respiratory-gas-exchange ratio than the VE group had. Thus, ES elevates anaerobic glycolysis. Furthermore, whole-body glucose uptake showed a significant increase for at least 90 minutes during and after the end of ES. And get this: Whole-body glucose uptake was much greater after ES than after VE.

Electrical stimulation using the protocol described above can significantly increase calorie and carbohydrate burning and promote whole-body glucose uptake. Meaning you can literally sit on your ripped gluteal muscles, strap yourself onto a machine like Frankenstein’s creation and work out without working out. Think of it. When you’re in a carb-depleting phase of your diet, you could use an e-stim unit as an additional tool in (not a substitute for) your training regimen. You could further deplete your muscle glycogen and burn calories, all in the comfort (okay, slight discomfort) of your home.

E-stim may be a useful modality for those with type 2 diabetes. Clinically, the use of ES has been shown to be helpful in rehabilitation. In terms of muscle physiology, unlike the way low-intensity voluntary exercise recruits slow motor units (or muscle fibers) before the larger, faster motor units, e-stim works in reverse. The activation of type 2, or fast, fibers occurs first.

I’d suggest that if you’re an athlete looking for an edge (especially a legal edge), experimenting with e-stim units as a method of enhancing energy expenditure is worth trying. If you’re looking to burn off a few extra calories after your cheat meal of pizza and beer, then, hey, give yourself a little jolt. It may be just what the mad doctor ordered.

1 Hamada, T., et al. (2004). Electrical stimulation of human lower extremities enhances energy consumption, carbohydrate oxidation and whole-body glucose uptake. J Appl Physiol. 96: 911-916.

Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., CSCS, earned his doctorate at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He is a co-editor (with Jeffrey R. Stout, Ph.D.) of and contributor to Sports Supplements (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins), Sports Supplement Encyclopedia (Nutricia), Supplements for Strength-Power Athletes (Human Kinetics) and Supplements for Endurance Athletes (Human Kinetics). For more information click your way to IM

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