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Plug It In: electrical muscle stimulators

Although they may not help you spot reduce and get lean, believe it or not, they may help athletic performance.

Ever watch one of those wacky infomercials at 2 a.m. when you can’t sleep because your dog is freaking out because of an impending thunderstorm or your kid is crying because she can’t find her friggin’ Cinderella doll? I used to see ads quite often for electrical stimulation devices. Plug the sucker in, put it around your waist and’abracadabra!’your rectus abdominis is totally striated.

Naysayers are correct in arguing that spot reduction is a myth. Don’t think you’re going to get rid of that slimy yellow fat around your midsection that way (and believe me, it is slimy and yellow, as I learned firsthand in anatomy class while slicing through an obese subject with a body mass index of more than 40). But there’s more than meets the eye regarding these electrical muscle stimulators, or EMS.

Although they may not help you spot reduce and get lean, believe it or not, they may help athletic performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research states that ‘short-term (four-week) EMS protocols have been reported to increase maximal isometric and dynamic strength of the plantar flexor.’1

Also, a recent investigation looked at four weeks of EMS training on vertical-jump performance in volleyball players: If you’ve ever watched a volleyball game, you know those guys and girls can sky like Vince Carter.

EMS consisted of 20 to 22 ‘concomitant stimulations of the knee extensors (quads) and the plantar flexors (calf muscles) and lasted 12 minutes.’ What happened? The average height and power generated during a 15-second bout of countermovement jumps’that is, starting from a standing position, squatting down and then extending the knees in one motion’increased. Ten days after the last EMS session the maximal height of each jump was greater than baseline.

So if your goal is to improve power, it may be worthwhile to try some kind of EMS protocol. Picture it: After you’ve done some heavy chest work, strap the electrodes to your pec muscles and turn up the voltage. It’s possible that if you do that three times per week for four weeks, your power output will increase. If your power output goes up, you’ll be able to train harder and with heavier weights. That will translate, over the long haul, into greater muscle gains.

L-carnitine and muscle damage. Carnitine is not only important for transporting long-chain fats into the mitochondria, but it can also help you recover from a killer lifting session. A study at the University of Connecticut had 10 healthy men who were recreational lifters take two grams of L-carnitine daily (a divided dose at breakfast and lunch) for three weeks.2 The subjects performed a squat protocol consisting of five sets of 15 to 20 repetitions. They repeated that exercise bout under placebo and carnitine-supplemented conditions. As expected, immunoreactive growth hormone (GH) and immunofunctional GH increased above rest during the first 30 minutes after exercise, and testosterone increased during the first 15 minutes, but there were no differences between the carnitine and placebo groups.

The real difference came in the muscle-damage arena. The amount of muscle tissue damaged was 16 to 23 percent in the carnitine group and 29 to 39 percent in the placebo group.

So here’s the lowdown. We know that if you train like a madman and tear up your muscle fibers, there’s a bit of downtime because of the muscle-repair process. Having damaged muscles for a prolonged period can negatively affect growth and performance. I’d recommend that in addition to taking a postworkout protein-carb shake, you swallow two grams of L-carnitine to expedite the recovery process (by alleviating the damage to muscle). By the way, the concentrations of L-carnitine in that study have been shown to be safe.

Mark Spitz coulda used it. Unless you were around in the ’70s, you wouldn’t remember when Mark Spitz won seven Olympic gold medals in swimming. Imagine what he’d have done if he’d had access to creatine. It seems as if there are new reports daily about the benefits of creatine. It improves squat strength, bench-press strength, vertical jump’you name it, creatine helps it. Even high-skill sports like swimming can be enhanced. Division III swimmers were given .3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight of creatine (that’s about 27 grams daily for a 200-pound guy) for five days, followed by a nine-day maintenance dose of 2.25 grams. The swimmers’ 50- and 100-yard swim-sprint times improved significantly. So even guys in Speedos and funny bathing caps can gain from creatine supplementation.3


1 Malatesta, D. (2003). Effects of electromyostimulation training and volleyball practice on jumping ability. J Strength Cond Res. 17:573-579.
2 Kramer, W.J., et al. (2003). The effects of L-carnitine L-tartrate supplementation on hormonal responses to resistance exercise and recovery. J Strength Cond Res. 17:455-462.
3 Selsby, J.T., et al. (2003). Swim performance following creatine supplementation in Division III athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 17:421-424.

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

Instantized Creatine- Gains In Bulk

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