When it comes to weird and wonderful exercise classes, New York City really does have something for everyone. Boozy yoga, AquaCycling, early morning sober rave parties, trampoline cardio, even sword fighting and Skaterobics.
I’ve happily given many of them a stab over the years, (in the name of research) but when I heard about shock therapy workouts, I was more than a little sceptical.
"Shock Therapy Fitness is the only group Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) workout studio in the world," the website reads. "EMS makes full-body transformation possible," it promises.
Some quick digging into EMS, not a phrase I was overly familiar with, and I learnt that this type of training is actually pretty well known in Europe, and has been popular over there for years now. While it’s fairly new to America, super fit celebs such as Roger Federer, Alessandra Ambrosio, Penelope Cruz and Ashley Graham have been touting the benefits of EMS workouts for years.
Any endorphin rush backed by supermodel queen Ashley Graham is good enough for me. I signed up for a signature strength class at Shock Therapy, currently the only studio in the US offering EMS-based workouts, located in Manhattan on the Upper East Side.
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The science behind EMS training
Fun fact: Electro Muscle Stimulation was originally created to keep astronauts and professional athletes fit. Now, trained instructors have started using the same technology during workout sessions to train people of all ages and fitness levels.
The classes aim to work all large muscle groups simultaneously, distributing controlled low-frequency electric impulses to your body. These impulses cause muscles to contract and relax, so that when combined with classic strength training methods, you get a deeper, super-charged workout in record time. Just 30 minutes, to be precise – which Shock Therapy creator Esra Avuolu says is the equivalent of a three-hour workout without the EMS suit.
The science behind this kind of electricity-enhanced workout isn’t 100% proven, but regular Shock Therapy-goers say that just two sessions a week (which is the recommended amount) is all it takes to notice a change in your body and fitness. Either way, I’ll try anything that promises to cut those gym hours in half and keep burning cals up to three days afterwards.
I was advised to arrive at least 20 minutes before class in order to get "suited up". What to bring? Sneakers, a water bottle and your sports bra (which must be wireless). Everything else is provided by the studio. Once checked in, I changed into a supplied pair of black cotton tights and a long-sleeved tee, and was strapped into what looks like a wetsuit loaded with electrodes and wires. The bodysuits are hosed down with water beforehand, which is meant to help the electrical current pulses from the EMS pads better reach my muscles and start toning them.
I’m then connected to a mini power pack which is what sends the tiny pulses of electricity to activate nearly 300 critical muscle groups at once, my instructor (or “shock therapist”) explains. The intensity of the shocks are customised to my tolerance and strength, but the trainer has complete control of my powersuit using a dashboard with dials at the front of the class. All I do is follow the Avatar on the big screen as we move through the workout and inform my shock therapist which body parts I’d like to feel a little more or a little less “buzz”.
The electrocharged experience
Anyone who has ever clocked hours with a physiotherapist will recognise the bizarre pulsating sensation. Electronic stimulation is a tool physios use to help people recover from surgery or rehabilitate injuries. It involuntarily activates, or wakes up the weakened, tight muscles so that people don’t totally lose their muscle mass or function.
But try to imagine that tingly, spasm-like feeling you might have had on your ankle or quads ALL OVER YOUR BODY.
After just 10 minutes in, I was regretting telling our instructor to turn up the buzz on my abs and glutes. It’s not painful, but your muscles are working seriously overtime while completing a sequence of basic exercises like lunges, squats and arm raises while holding light hand weights, so even tiny movements give you an unexpected jolt.
The workout itself isn’t too difficult, but the shocking technology, and the weight of the wetsuit, makes everything a thousand times harder. The sensation is also different for everyone; I might have been gritting my teeth and suffering in silence throughout the class, but the woman next to me was so sensitive to the pulses, she spent the entire 30 minutes repeating “f*ck, f*ck, f*ck” and making pained, vaguely orgasmic noises every time her shocks were adjusted. Safe to say: not for her.
By the time the class was over, I wouldn’t say I felt completely defeated. But I had definitely worked up a sweat underneath my suit and was still feeling tingly as I left the studio. The next day, my muscles felt looser, not sore as I thought they might.
Esra Avuolu says four sessions is all it takes to start seeing results and feeling the effects, adding there’s no need for any other strength training. So I might even book myself in for a second shock sesh in the coming weeks.