Ask Dr. Monti: Does Electro-Training Really Work?

Answer from Daniel A. Monti, director of the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital

Dr. Monti

Q: There’s a weight-loss clinic that recently opened in Center City called Bailine Body Sculpting (they also have a location in Blue Bell). You lay motionless for 30 minutes while electric pulses cause the muscles in the abs, hips, thighs, and buttocks to contract. Can computerized muscle stimulation really give me a tiny waist without the work?

A: One of the newest wellness trends is electrical “muscle stimulation” that promises to help you lose fat and tone muscle.  Akin to functional electrical stimulation, which has long been used by physical therapists to help repair injuries, this practice employs electrical impulses that force your muscles to contract repeatedly. The impulses are delivered through pads containing electrodes, which are placed directly on the skin. Several published research articles indicate that electrical stimulation can increase muscle performance. However, the effectiveness of muscle stimulation for fat loss is less well understood, and additional research is needed to prove its efficacy for this particular purpose.

Several health spas and clinics – the majority of which are targeted toward female clients – have created niche programs that utilize muscle stimulation as a weight-loss technique. Many of these organizations have created branded computer programs that allow instructors to tailor the location, duration, and strength of muscle stimulation to each client’s health and appearance goals. For instance, if a particular client is concerned with losing fat in their hips and thighs, a specific computer program is created that focuses the impulses on those areas of the body.

However, it’s important to note that several of these clinics utilize muscle stimulation technology as only one component of a comprehensive regimen. On Bailine’s website, they explain, “The Bailine Program is built on three principles: Increase in activity (i.e. Exercise), Modification of Diet, and Mental Conditioning – combined with the computerized training program, you will have the tools to reach your goals.” Though muscle stimulation is the newest technique, it is just one part of a broader fitness plan. If a client adheres to every part of their personalized program and achieves success, the results cannot be attributed to muscle stimulation alone. That’s a big reason why it’s challenging to measure the particular effectiveness of the muscle stimulation.

In summary:

– Electrical stimulation can increase muscle tone

– Additional research is needed to evaluate electrical muscle stimulation as an intervention for fat / weight loss

– Any fitness program must be comprehensive to be successful and sustainable. That involves both a commitment to eating a balanced diet (see diet plan in The Great Life Makeover), and also a commitment to exercising at least 3 – 4 times / week. Those strategies will help you burn fat, tone up, and increase energy. Complementary activities that do not put your health at risk could potentially provide additional benefits.

E-mail Dr. Monti your question here, and he could answer it an upcoming blog post! Dr. Monti is Director of the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the author of “The Great Life Makeover”. Read more about him here.

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