What if you could accomplish six hours of strength and conditioning training in just 15 minutes? Before you write this statement off as something that is too good to be true, know this: It requires an electrical current.
Specifically, electrical muscle stimulation, otherwise known as EMS, which essentially makes muscles contract via impulses sent through electrodes placed on the skin. The muscles respond to electricity the way they would a neuron, except… well, more: When your brain sends an impulse, only about 60 to 65 percent of your muscle fiber responds. But when an electric impulse penetrates deep muscle tissue, it activates nearly all of the fiber.
It’s a science used frequently in rehabilitative physical therapy, where the technique is commonly referred to as “e-stim,” because it allows for targeted muscle penetration. More recently, though, this application has expanded beyond medicine, with some research suggesting EMS can help athletes both train and recover. And if it can help athletes, it can also help regular, everyday, healthy fitness enthusiats as well.
Manduu, an EMS fitness franchise, agrees. The Nashville-based company operates three locations in the area: Green Hills, Brentwood and Franklin.
“The whole premise is that we basically replace lifting weights with electricity,” said Wiley Robinson, a registered nurse and Chief Operating Officer at Manduu. “We put you in a specially designed, high-tech suit attached to a device with very advanced software, and we apply electricity to your body, and it makes your muscles work really hard.”
A type of high-intensity interval training, Manduu has an ultra-low impact on joints, muscles and tendons while enhancing strength and flexibility.
The trainers at Manduu have a minimum four year degree in exercise science or kinesiology and track progress by taking sophisticated measurements every time you step into the studio.
“When you leave, you’ll have more information about yourself than when you go to the doctor,” Robinson says. “We measure your body composition, fat, where it’s distributed and how healthy your cells are.”
The technology was developed in Europe and has quickly expanded over the past decade; there are 1,700 EMS studios in Germany and Austria alone.
“We like people to start off once a week until they become adapted. After that, clients can come twice per week,” Robinson said.
For contrast, experienced Manduu clients max out at two 15-minute sessions per week; beginners start at just once weekly.
The experience is tough to imagine if you’ve never tried it, but Manduu’s Robinson says our clients can expect to be in and out in less than half an hour.
Unlike traditional gyms where dozens to hundreds of people may be working out, only two people can do a workout at a time.
At Manduu, a trained professional monitors each private session – your first one is always free – which begins with an InBody scan that reports a series of clinical biometrics, from body fat percentage to resting metabolic rate. This is meant to give you a comprehensive picture of your current state so you can monitor your progress (a trainer will analyze your results at the end of the workout). I have been to three sessions, and in my experience, it was more difficult than I had anticipated.
When you arrive, first you suit up in a Manduu-issued workout outfit – not terribly unlike a Scuba suit – fitted with carbon-fiber electrodes. Don’t be alarmed when your trainer sprays you down with warm water next. Wetting down the suit’s electrodes makes you more conductive.
Next, you’ll be plugged into a battery-operated machine, but don’t worry, it doesn’t actually contain enough electricity to hurt you. The main EMS device is monitored and adjusted by the trainer, who leads you through a series of stretches and basic movements while slowly turning up the electrical current to find your threshold at each body part – biceps, triceps, pecs, abs, glutes, and quads.
Then, the workout begins. It’s low-impact and deceptively easy until the trainer starts upping the electricity. The pulses feel like tingles all over the body. It doesn’t hurt, but it feels like exactly like every fiber of your muscle awakens into action for the first time that day.
The pulses come in intervals, and, as you start to get the hang of it – remembering to never lock your knees, squeezing a stress ball in each hand, and timing your breathing to each contraction – the trainer challenges you to take on more resistance. It feels like you’re doing so much more than simply squatting, lunging, and reaching overhead.
And just like that, it’s over. Fifteen minutes flies by, and it’s time to disrobe and dry off. The trainer warns you that, much like a strength workout, you’ll likely feel pretty sore tomorrow, but you’ll really feel it the day after.
They were right. I worked out (though you’re still not convinced it’s fair to even call it that) on a Monday and by Wedesday, it hurt to sit down. By Thursday, I could barely raise my arms to put a shirt on. Any lingering doubt that this low-level electrical current didn’t really do anything vanishes when I tried to climb some stairs.
Feeling like you did seven million crunches when in reality you did maybe 10 has to mean something very good is happening, right?
Manduu is expanding rapidly and operates studios in Austin, Dallas, Chicago, Florida and California.