What is TENS and EMS Units, Their Differences and Benefits?


Elite athletes and professional bodybuilders are always coming with new methods for performance improvement and quicker recovery. 

Many performance enhancement supplements were introduced in the market over the years, now, a new fitness gadget is making a wave in the fitness industry. 

Did you check the picture Phil Heath, an American IFBB professional bodybuilder, and former Mr. Olympia? He is a seven-time Mr. Olympia winner, doing exercises with those electric stimulator gadgets? If it’s working for the Legends like Phil Heath then you have all the reasons to try those small muscle-building units. 

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TENS stands for “Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation” and EMS stands for “Electrical muscle stimulation”.

Although TENS and EMS units are two different things with different mechanisms, manufacturers are now able to provide the combo of both mechanisms in one single unit. Let’s understand how these units work. 

TENS and EMS devices mainly work by delivering electrical impulses to the required area through electrodes. These electrical impulses stimulate the nerves and muscle cells for development and recovery. 

The frequency of these electrical impulses are always variable in nature and can be changed according to different requirements and utilities. 

What is the difference between TENS and EMS?

Although you don’t really need to get into the differences because you get TENS and EMS in the combo. 

TENS and EMS work differently. The concept of TENS revolves around pain relief and EMS function around muscle stimulation. 

While EMS helps in stimulating muscle tissues to strengthen them. 

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation helps in restricting pain signals towards the brain and the production of Endorphine hormone. 

Ahead, we will dig deep into each concept of TENS and EMS units.

Electrical muscle stimulation benefits for bodybuilding

Earlier, bulky electrical stimulators were used for years by the physiotherapists to reverse muscle atrophy after injury.  Main function of EMS is to stimulate muscle tissues with the help of electrical pulses.

EMS targets motor nerves for muscle contraction and improved blood flow. These electrical pulses are so efficient that they are used to regain strength after serious injuries and the rehab process of paralyzed muscles. 

EMS also improves muscle tone, which is important for athletes who require a certain level of elasticity, like sprinters, and can help calm spastic muscles.

So it has been used for rehab and recovery purposes, but what benefits it can deliver to a healthy individual. Let’s discuss, how EMS stimulator might help in the development of better strength and accelerated recovery to improve your athletic performance. 

Benefits of EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation)

There are numerous articles and studies (1, 2) published on the ineffectiveness of EMS machines on muscle development and hypertrophy. Presence of lesser scientific evidence on the direct effect of EMS on muscle development, but it definitly improves the strength and conditioning in many different ways. Here are the benefits. 

Improves muscle activation

Electrical muscle stimulation helps muscle activation that can lead to better strength and muscle pump. 

Some experts suggests, EMS can help in muscle activation for up to 30%. Better muscle activation leads to better strength and lower chances of injuries. 

Better blood flow

What is the most common function of pre-workout supplements? Its vasodilation and improved blood flow. 

EMS can help in improving the blood flow towards a targeted area for better pump and muscle growth. Not just that, it also helps in directing better nutrition towards the muscle tissues for faster recovery. 

Pre warmup

Lack of warmup before intense workout session is the primary reason for muscle injuries. Electrical muscle stimulators make the process a lot easier than before. 

Active recovery

Accelerated post-workout recovery is one of the most important aspects of strength development and injury prevention. 

How does EMS help? It helps in clearing the lactic buildup and improving blood flow to deliver nutrition and accelerate recovery. 

Muscle re-education

It has been actively used for muscle re-education for decades. Electrical muscle stimulation helps in strengthing the paralyzed muscle after injury. 

Its goal is to release spasm and build strength in the weakened muscle tissues. 

Muscle Atrophy

Muscle atrophy refers to a decrease in muscle mass due to some medical conditions. By keeping the muscle active, EMS devices can help in preventing muscle atrophy. This use is also FDA-approved.

Athletes suffering from injuries can also target the muscle groups to avoid muscle loss.  

What is TENS and its benefits?

TENS doesn’t work to stimulate muscle, it helps in relieving pain by disrupting pain signals to the brain. TENS machine sends electrical signals that also help in the production of endorphins (chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain). 

You can adjust the frequency of the device from low to high according to the level of pain you are experiencing. 

TENS stimulate sensory nerve endings and block the pain signals to reach the brain. 

Know the benefits of TENS

It’s natural: 

Its found to be very effective in relieving different varieties of pain. Whether you are experiencing nerve pain, muscle pain or joint pain. The best part is, it’s all-natural with no known side effect. 

TENS is a perfect option for people who like to avoid pain relief medication (3).

Production of Endorphine: 

You can call it a natural painkiller, It’s a hormone that deals with stress and anxiety. 

Natural ways to release endorphins include music, sex, chocolate, and Yoga. 

Reduce Inflammation 

Although researchers were not sure about the reasons but they found the TENS unit to be very useful in reducing inflammation (4). 

Reducing Muscle Spasms

Inflammation and injury lead to the development of spasm, it also happens due to muscle overuse and dehydration. Physiotherapists have been recommending TENS therapy to reduce muscle spasm and clearing out free radicals. 

According to the NHS, TENS may be able to help reduce muscle spasms caused by conditions such as arthritis, period pain, joint pain, back pain, and sports injuries.

What does a tens unit do for muscles? 

So we understood that tens unit can do for pain relief but why exactly do you need it for the muscle? 

Frankly speaking, TENS and EMS are coming in the combo and you don’t really require TENS until you experience some pain after an intense workout. 

A combination of TENS and EMS can help in accelerated recovery -by helping clearing lactic buildup, muscle spasm, the release of endorphins and reduction in inflammation. 

Should you buy it?

If you are someone who is into regular resistance or aerobic training then you should definitly try these out. No matter, whether you like to lift weights or you are a marathon runner, TENS and EMS will help in the faster recovery process.

Thanks for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments as always. 

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