EMS has long been popular in studios across Europe for its short, effective workouts, and the trend is slowly making its way to the United States. (Similar technology is also used in medical settings to aid in injury recovery.) But Katalyst has the only FDA-approved EMS technology in the United States for home use, and currently has a waiting list of more than 70,000.
Curious, I tried a week of Katalyst workouts to see if it lives up to the hype.
How does muscle electrostimulation work?
EMS workouts use a suit that contains electrodes to send small electrical impulses to the muscles, causing them to contract. It’s not that different from the signals our brains usually send to our muscles, says Asha Gallagher, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital, except this external activation better involves type two (or fast twitch). ) muscle fibers that may be more difficult to access.
“Our brain activates our slow-twitch fibers first, and then it will activate our type two fibers as needed,” says Dr. Gallagher. “EMS is mimicking that voluntary contraction, but it’s easier to engage the larger neurons and fast-twitch fibers, so you get everything at once.” This is the science behind Katalyst’s claim that it can activate 90 percent of the muscle fibers in the body, which Gallagher says, in theory, verifies: “The benefit of this is the ability to engage muscles that you probably don’t even know.” you didn’t even know they existed,” she says.
What it’s like to use Katalyst
Getting started with a Katalyst session is significantly more involved than your typical home workout. First, I put on my base layer, a thin shirt and shorts designed to lock in moisture. Yes, moisture, and lots of it: the Katalyst kit comes with a large spray bottle, which is used to spray the suit’s electrodes with water, as they must be soaked to conduct electricity.
Then I put on the suit (a Katalyst team member showed me how to put it on via Zoom before my first session), a vest, and shorts with electrodes on each of the major muscles. The suit is very tight, so much so that I felt my range of motion was limited (I soon learned that this is necessary for the suit to work, and having full mobility isn’t really important, as the suit is contracting the muscle for you) .
After hooking up my battery pack, which fits in my suit pocket, I did a little prep where I determined how strong of a push I could handle on each of the major muscle groups. (You can individually adjust the intensity for quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, mid back, upper back, chest, biceps, triceps, and abs.) At the lowest level, the electrical stimulation feels like a tingle or gentle pins. and needles. But for Katalyst strength training, the idea is to set the impulses at a level that causes the muscle to fully contract. You know it when you feel it: the feeling is startling at first, like your muscle has a mind of its own and is contracting more forcefully than it would during a normal workout.
In Katalyst strength workouts, which founder Bjorn Woltermann says represent the classic use of EMS, these impulses, and thus full muscle contractions, last for four seconds and then stop for four seconds to rest. Simple movements like squats, bicep curls, and lunges are coordinated with swings, as coaches demonstrate in videos recorded in the Katalyst app. The trainers increase the intensity of the impulses throughout the training (the app connects to the suit’s battery via Bluetooth).
Boosts make typically easy moves much more difficult. Especially as the intensity increased, I felt a lot of muscle fatigue. Even the muscles not directly targeted by the particular exercise were working. I found the pulses in my abs, for example, to be a helpful reminder to activate them at all times.
I was warned that I would be extremely sore for the next few days, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought (which made me wonder if I was too scared to turn it up high enough). One thing that probably helped: Katalyst’s recovery mode, where I could lay down and have the suit send out very mild electrical pulses, meant to help remove lactic acid buildup. Katalyst also has two other training modes, cardio and power, which feature more dynamic movement and more frequent, less intense pulses. There are a variety of exercise videos in each category, including some with a specific focus (such as ACL injury prevention or stability and balance), as well as others based on other types of exercises (such as yoga and weight loss). boxing).
While I can’t say that 20 minutes of a Katalyst workout made me feel like I put in two hours of work at the gym, I found the workouts to be fun and super easy for the little ones in the house. spaces, since they are mostly standing exercises that do not move much. However, on the other hand, I found the relatively complex setup to be a bit of a disincentive to fit in a session.
Is it legit?
Dr/Gallagher says Katalyst and other EMS workouts could work well for those looking for a more efficient workout, but more research into the technology is needed before it can be fully endorsed.
Still, he says EMS’s low impact on the body (no jumping jacks or external loads like weights) makes it an attractive option for those recovering from injury, living with arthritis, or experiencing joint problems to keep doing a workout. challenging exercise.
Use Katalyst or any EMS device with caution, he says, as too much intensity could lead to muscle breakdown. Do not use if you are pregnant, have heart problems, have a pacemaker or any other implanted medical device, and talk to your doctor if you are not sure if it is recommended for you to use.
While the FDA says Katalyst is safe for home use, you’d be wise to try EMS in an in-person study first, both to get hands-on guidance from an expert and to make sure you like it (especially considering Katalyst comes with a hefty $2,385 price tag). ).
One thing is for sure: Katalyst and workouts like it are becoming more popular. “We’re going to see devices like this on the rise,” says Dr. Gallagher. “We are going to see people who want to use this and want to get that advantage.”