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This is Part 3 of a 3 part series, written by Ovidiu Octav Florea. He is a Rugby coach and Rugby fitness coach in Canada, France, and Romania. He earned his Masters degree in Sport Management from Université de Technologie de Troyes (UTT).
Part 1 discussed Rugby Training Challenges: Agility, Balance, Coordination & Power
Part 2 discussed Rugby Training Challenges: How EMS should be considered
Guidelines and suggestions about EMS using in rugby players conditioning
From my experience I could observe some interesting aspects at EMS users.
Electrical muscle stimulation could give easy the impression to be a fast way to achieve some interesting “results” with less effort… Some athletes will definitely prefer the “back-laying training” programs controlled by a device, than running and assuming the whole mental/nervous tension – focusing, “suffering” and responsibility – of the classic training… And this is not only an affirmation, but a statistical observation. More than that, I’ve met cases and seen players (i.e. only a few) getting addicted to their "devices". It is exactly the same pattern as for using the EMS in order to reach faster the much desired 6 pack abs. Most costumers didn’t buy EMS devices because they previously have tried out all the methods, but for them, there was an easier, faster and definitely not so exhausting way "to score 6" on their abdomen!
Rugby has an important mental dimension related to fatigue and the idea of "self-sacrifice", to abandon the self-preservation and to fight until the last drop of energy… Rugby coaches simply need and love this story. Is actually what we are looking to develop in our players mentality and it is the "pride" of our sport. I am not sure if EMS does not modify the player’s “perception” about the relation (proportionality) between the effort and expected results.
All this questions and affirmations may look like pleading against the EMS, but don’t. Its best known utility is being a very efficient recovery instrument, especially as "drainage" method (stimulating the venous pump and blood return).
Concerning the performance optimization, (in my opinion), EMS has to be used as a routine breaker and alternative complementary tool/instrument which could allow to extend the range of possibilities at the end of each training cycle or which can help players and coaches to overpass difficult moments.
Example for complementary use – during the speed or strength dominant cycles, electrical muscle stimulation can be used to help relatively maintain the muscular endurance capacities…. This will allow us to preserve body’s enzymatic "equipment" and sparing players from running a few more miles per week; this might be (surely is) better for their recovery, their joints and tendons, etc…Also, it offers the possibility to increase charges or/and the intensity of dominant workout sessions, optimizing the cycle’s effectiveness.
Other situations in which EMS proves its efficiency is when the routine (or the fatigue) is getting installed; and players do not respond “well” to the “classic” weights training (performances are going down, they are not motivated, etc.). Assisting muscles in their workout – and relieving the athlete from the mental/psychological charge and responsibility of the training – could help him to overcome a difficult moment, sometimes above any expectation. Let’s not forget that routine is also a performance limitation factor, so bringing in a new method might be very helpful. In the same time, if the new method becomes itself routine, it would possible share the same “fate” as the classic ones. As EMS is not a natural way to stimulate the muscles, common sense pushes me not to recommend it as a possible routine.
EMS is already known as a helpful alternative training tool and method in case of injury. EMS may actually allow the relative maintaining of the athletes fitness level if subjects can not "move" (work-out or run).
For those who never used EMS, is important to mention that modern devices are computerized and “specialized”. The device’s software functions usually offer a wide range of stimulation programs – endurance, force, recovery, muscular development, etc.
If users are ever tempted to use electrical muscle stimulation as an important part of their strength workout program or any other high intensity programs, stimulation sessions should be integrated with similar (same muscle groups) workout series. There are more ways to integrate electrical muscle stimulation with workout programs:
- Exercises using simultaneously EMS as aid for boosting muscular contraction in weight lifting workout. This can be done strictly (for safety issues only) on isolated segments moves – example: seated leg extensions. In this case it is no more about the “classic” EMS induced isometric contraction. It consists in applying patches on the muscles that are supposed to deliver the energy to lift the weight. As a result the muscle will receive a double stimulation – an external one (from the device) and the most important, the internal one – the athlete’s command. Generally is used to push up the limits of “the maximum force repetition”. It is the kind of help which can bring athletes to amazing breaks of their personal “bests” (even if they are still assisted, it shows that is possible, that his muscles can!). It is great for the mental and motivation. It requires very important experience in EMS using, because are only few safe exercises and postures. It also involves injury risks.
- Mixing series of EMS with weight workout series; it is about integrating EMS in workout program – for example for "the weekly" Maximum Repetition Series session (usually approached in a pyramids exercise series). EMS can be use in the first part as a preparation exercise in order to obtain the best fiber/ muscular recruitment possible. EMS stimulation will be followed by classic workout series. This approach is supposed to allow the athlete to take back the control of his muscles and sensations.
Four Essential Points
The given examples are not an exhaustive list of how electrical muscle stimulation could be used. What it has to be retained from that are 4 essential points:
- EMS can be used in many ways and it can be an effective/useful tool in various purposes, but the eventual recorded progresses due to its use, will be hard to be transferred in performed gestures, skills and acts, if coordination, sensations and technique are not "there". Contrary, I would not recommend the use of EMS as long as the athlete does not certify high levels of all mentioned necessary achievements (skill, abilities, qualities, etc.).
- I do not recommend forcing muscles with EMS (at maximum intensity), especially using dynamic (isotonic) contractions, because of the simple fact that during the classic exercises workouts, body has/possess a whole arsenal of sensations and reactions (reflexes) in order to avoid injuries, while in case of EMS muscles are led by an external impulse and "the body" has no possibility to take control over, in order to protect itself in case of unpredictable incident. This is available even for the new generation of equipment which have safety limits of signal’s intensity. It can always aggravate an unknown minuscule elongation or rupture.
- In case of cycles including an important volume of EMS stimulation, I would never use it on the same muscular group twice (two sessions) in a row. Example: in a cycle dedicated to legs strength, do not use EMS in two consecutive sessions on the same group (leg extensions)… Between the two EMS sessions on the quadriceps, we should have one classic workout session (chair weight lifting exercise)
- A general basic “principle” is to always recommend EMS’s integration with classic workout exercises. Example: after an EMS sequence on the quadriceps, there are recommended few series of leg extensions after. It is even better if next to the EMS sequence, it comes some leg extensions series followed by few squat series.
I don’t know what to say about the recommendations in the previous articles where it has been presented a cycles planning model… after muscular development cycle, EMS strength development cycle, etc. After a muscular development cycle, recruitment and strength improvement should appear as side effects. Do I really need to reach new peaks for the maximum strength and to establish records!? In my opinion, if the speed remain the game, the body has to deal with some new issues – increased muscular surface volume and weight, chemical changes in muscular tissue, segment’s new weight, so definitely it has to make some investments in motor units. Is the strength cycle the best option? And going back to the beginning of this series – for who and when do we recommend that – what player – age, position in the field, what period of the season, etc…
Because this definitely is not an EMS consequence… and that’s what we love and what we call performance in rugby – agility, determination, fast thinking and decision, skills, speed, and “vision” (game reading or game lecture)… Well, I just wanted to end on a higher romantic note with this video!