I Tried An Electric Muscle Stimulation Workout In An Attempt To Shock Myself Into Better Shape

by Maia McCann
Maia is the Editor-in-Chief & EVP of Programming of LittleThings. In her free time, she brings her pug to Bloomingdale's and eats froyo.

When I was offered a training session where a coach would send electrical currents through my body while I worked out to increase the overall effectiveness, I agreed immediately.

This method of electric muscle stimulation using a suit with strategically placed electrodes — and the promise to give you a workout that’s as effective as an hour-long session in just 30 minutes — is the reason there’s so much buzz behind Nova Fitness, a boutique fitness studio in New York City. To say I value efficiency is an understatement. I arrived at Nova Fitness’ Upper West Side location at 9 a.m. sharp on a chilly Friday morning ready to get my butt promptly and swiftly kicked.

I’ve been a triathlete for just over two years, which means I work out more than most, averaging about six or seven hours of cardiovascular exercise in the form of swimming, biking, or running per week. However, I am about as patient as your average 3-year-old, and so something that promises to have the same impact as a traditional training session in half the time really gets my heart rate going — wink, wink.

From the studio’s website: “NOVA is a network of boutique fitness studios that push the bar forward in fitness technology. The company combines cutting-edge fitness technologies, including Electrical Muscle Stimulation (‘EMS’), with customized one-on-one personal training. Founded by professional trainer Jackie Wilson, NOVA’s EMS technology allows clients to reach up to 98% muscle activation by targeting the entire body simultaneously.”

The website doesn’t really tell you what this “stimulation” feels like, so I decided to find out for myself.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional athlete, or anything close. In fact, up until a few years ago, my training regimen consisted almost entirely of puffing my way through cigarette marathons, dancing on chaise lounges in countless nightclubs, and doing occasional “heavy” lifting of red wine glasses to my lips. As I entered my 30s, I (thankfully) outgrew my party-girl lifestyle and found myself with a lot of time on my hands. A friend who participated in triathlons introduced me to the sport, and the rest is history.

Today, my fitness level is well above average thanks to my arguably healthier triathlon habit, and so is my tolerance for overall discomfort and wearing awkward unitards, as evidenced in the above photo. However, the Nova team told me they’d ask a ton of questions about my level of fitness and tailor the workout to my abilities.


The Nova Fitness team greeted me with my very own sign. I think this was special for me because I’m “the press,” but I do know that all of their sessions are either one-to-one or two-to-one, so you should expect a lot of focused attention. This is not a class where you can slack off. Slackers be warned.

I was introduced to my personal trainer, Kestrel Ambrose, a fit and radiant woman who seemed fully capable of delivering a swift and efficient booty-whipping. Kestrel presented me with what I would be wearing for my 30-minute sesh — a sort of wet suit/bike gear hybrid. For decades, electrical muscle stimulation technology (commonly known as EMS) was used in medical fields primarily for rehabilitation. Nova made the technology wearable and therefore accessible for regular workouts by creating a stretchy compression suit equipped with 10 electrode pairs, strategically placed on the body’s major muscle groups.

Here I am in my little suit. I am 5’6″ and around 130 to 133 pounds, and they put me in a size S. The suit was surprisingly comfy, but thicker than I thought it would be. The electric muscle stimulators were above my boobs (on my pecs, I guess), across my abs, down my legs and arms, and all over my bum.

The workout began with about five minutes on the rowing machine to warm up, followed by these very simple… ball exercises. I’m not trying to be funny, but I have no idea what to call what I’m doing right here. Isolations? Either way, the movements were very, very simple. While I was doing this, Kestrel started to put my magic suit to work.

As I was repeating very simple leg/arm raises while on the balance ball, Kestrel used an iPad to target electrical currents to my muscles. Full disclosure: For about the first five minutes I felt nothing. Disappointed, I told Kestrel, who told me she would turn it up. And did she ever. Then I felt it.

The feeling of electrical muscle stimulation is not at all unpleasant. It’s tough to describe the sensation without referencing personal… ahem… massagers, but when I ran my hand over the suit, I realized it wasn’t vibrating at all. While the sensation was somewhat distracting at first, the movements Kestrel coached me through were very simple. My friend who had tried the workout previously experienced profuse sweating, but I didn’t have that experience.

The workout was 30 minutes, including warm-up and cooldown. Some training sessions and Tabata classes leave you feeling like you need to lie down on the floor eating large slices of coffee cake for hours afterward. This workout didn’t have that effect on me.

The next day I woke up expecting to be sore all over, but I was surprised and delighted to feel only slightly sore, which meant I could continue with my regular workout schedule and not feel completely wrecked!

In my mind, the ideal workout is something you can definitely feel but won’t keep you from kicking butt in the gym the following day, and that’s exactly what I experienced with electric muscle stimulation at Nova Fitness. So I guess the only downside is that I can’t use soreness the day after this workout as an excuse to sit on the couch all day with my pug Smokey. C’est la vie! 🤷