She Tried It! Electric Muscle Stimulation Personal Training At NOVA Studios
When it comes to fitness, most of us would do anything to achieve maximum results with minimal effort. And while there are plenty of fad workouts that promise as much, only NOVA Studios can back up the claim of reaping the benefits of a 90-minute workout in just 20 minutes.
NOVA is a boutique studio in New York City that uses Electric Muscle Stimulation (EMS) technology to make your workout three times more efficient than your traditional regimen. The President of my division introduced me to Founding Partner and CEO Jackie Wilson, II, who invited me to Nova Studios’ Midtown location for a free workout of my own (they also have a location in Tribeca). Here’s my experience.
The EMS technology that’s the basis for NOVA Fitness is harnessed in special full-body suits with sensors across the chest, back, arms, and upper thighs that are activated throughout the workout to involuntarily stimulate muscles. I was told from the outset that this workout is suitable for people of all sizes and fitness levels, but when I saw the suits, I wasn’t quite so sure. By the grace of God (and my current fitness regimen), I was able to fit into the size large suit my trainer handed me, but it was a squeeze and I can’t say I felt totally comfortable. The suit wasn’t especially flattering around my midsection and I also had to adjust to the fact that you can’t wear a sports bra underneath. To be honest, I felt doubly exposed (especially in a room full of impeccably fit trainers) but I was told you can wear a t-shirt over the suit if you prefer.
NOVA’s selling point of being suitable for all fitness levels is based on the fact that workouts are extremely low-impact. In fact, the EMS technology used at NOVA is the same as what you would find in a rehabilitation center, making the workouts especially ideal for those recovering from injuries due to the low impact on your back and joints. (Eight-time Olympic Gold Medalist Usain Bolt is also a fan of EMS workouts.) That doesn’t mean the workout isn’t intense, however; you just won’t feel the burn per se (which can reach up to 700 calories per session) during the exercise.
During my session, I was paired with Yamisi Fanga-Mbourounda, a Vanderbilt grad with more than 15 years of experience training athletes and other clients. Before we began, she gave me a rundown of what I could expect, specifically from those 20 sensors in my suit. Those electrodes, she told me, would stimulate my muscles as I performed various exercises (activating more muscle fibers at a faster and more efficient rate than with traditional exercise) and the intensity of those pulses would be controlled by her via a tablet-like device. She assured me she would start off low and increase the pressure as time went on, letting me know I should alert her any time I felt like the stimulation was too much. I was also warned that if those electrodes moved during the workout and were no longer flush with my skin, the stimulation might feel like more of a shock than a pulsation. She was definitely right, but I’ll get to that later.
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100% customizable workouts from our epic trainers and an iPad 😉—the compression suit equipped with 10 electrode pairs, strategically placed on the body's major muscle groups. The electrodes deliver low and middle frequency stimulation directly to the muscles, eliciting involuntary contractions. The coupling of involuntary contractions by EMS with exercise results in activating more Type I (slow twitch) and Type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers at a faster and more efficient rate than traditional exercise. Aka our trainers will have you feeling the 🔥 in under 20 minutes!
The workout began with a short, stimulation-free walk on the treadmill before Yamisi guided me through a few resistance training moves. We began with kneeling overhead presses with light hand weights, so light in fact that I wondered if I needed to inform my trainer that I can bench press 95 pounds. Before I flexed my mouth or muscle, however, Yamisi told me because of the electric stimulation that would be sent to my muscles (40 micro-contractions per second), there’s no need to use heavy weights during EMS workouts. You can reap massive benefits with just 5 lb weights.
When the electrodes were activated, I immediately agreed with the feedback Yamisi said she’d gotten from other clients, which is that the pulses actually feel like a light massage. I can admit I was expecting jolting shocks, but the pressure was light and not at all distracting from the exercises she asked me to do.
After a few more circuits with the resistance bands to work my back and biceps, Yamisi had me do calisthenics, including jumping jacks, which are right up there with burpees on my list of exercises I hate. Mindful of the fact that I was not wearing a bra, I thought, This is going to hurt, but, surprisingly, the suit provided enough compression to minimize bounce as I hit those jacks. Unfortunately, I did experience the separation of the electrodes from my skin which did cause a stinging, shock-like sensation, but it was temporary and when I asked Yamisi to turn down the intensity on the pulses during that exercise, she obliged with no problem.
Roughly 20 minutes later, Yamisi said the words everyone can’t wait to hear during a workout session: “Now we’re going to cool down.” But as thrilled as I was to be done, I was also thinking, That’s it? I’d barely broken a sweat, let alone had to catch my breath for long (except after those jumping jacks) so I wondered why my company president had acted as though he almost died during the workout. And then I took off the suit.
Let’s just say, what you don’t feel during the workout, you will definitely feel after. During the session, I didn’t perform many lower body exercises at all, yet when I changed back into my regular clothes and started walking to the train, my thighs felt exactly like they do after a 45-minute HIIT class. My arms also felt the tension of those weights I thought were too light for me and by the next morning, though I wasn’t as sore as I would normally be from a weight lifting session, I completely understood why you can only do EMS workouts twice a week max. Again, while you may not feel the pain of your muscles being stimulated during the workout, afterward your muscles will certainly react the way they would had you actually done a 90-minute workout as they work to repair themselves.
Aside from time being an obvious benefit of these workouts — many clients pop in for a 20-minute session during their lunch break — the personal training aspect of the studio is also a big plus, ensuring you focus on the areas you’re looking to strengthen or repair and maintain proper form during exercises. As a member of the studio, you’ll receive your own suit when you sign up and you can book your 30-minute sessions right from the site website. As someone who struggles with knee pain from time to time and isn’t in as best physical shape as I have been before, I was definitely intrigued by the efficiency of the workouts at NOVA studios and interested in seeing what progress I might make if I was able to incorporate these sessions into my workout regimen for a few weeks. If you’re equally curious, click here to sign up for a starter session.