Are you a professional athlete or fitness enthusiast looking to squeeze out the maximum performance from your body? If so, your muscles need more than just proper nutrition and exercise plans. Most elite athletes and fitness experts bank on procedures like electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) to enhance their overall fitness regimens.
This is a process that aims to engage all your core and peripheral muscle groups using electric currents or impulses. The best electronic muscle stimulator is a handy electrical device that can enhance your fitness, strength and endurance levels. EMS is a procedure often used in physiotherapy for pain management and treating muscle atrophy as well.
But here, we will focus exclusively on EMS machines designed for fitness enthusiasts and athletes looking to augment or enhance their existing workouts at home. To this end, we have shortlisted 5 top rated products available on Amazon for an in-depth review process. If you are new to the world of EMS machines, you may head to our short but detailed buyer’s guide for some insights.
And if you are really short on time, we have an info-packed comparison table here to help you figure out the features, pros, and cons of each of the top 5 best electronic muscle stimulator available online.
Best Electronic Muscle Stimulator of 2018
|Compex Sports Elite||1||4||9|
|Tone-A-Matic TAMTEC Sport 4 Plus (Editor's Choice)||4||8||8||+|
|Massage Therapy Concepts EMS Combination Stimulator||2||4||12||+|
|1byOne Bluetooth TENS Therapy Muscle Stimulator||1||4||8||+|
|Easy@Home Pro Grade TENS Unit EHE012Pro||2||4||8||+|
1. Compex Sports Elite Matte Black Muscle Stimulator Bundle Kit – The Best Electronic Muscle Stimulator for Warmup & Recovery
Compex is one of the best brands in the business when it comes to EMS devices. They have a handful of different models on offer, of which the Sport Elite is their flagship device. And just like any other flagship, the Sport Elite also gets the full treatment, with settings and presets for every conceivable fitness situation. You have a total of nine different presets, ranging from warmup and potentiation to strength, resistance, endurance, and recovery. And the company also has FDA approval for EMS devices.
The recovery and warm up settings are especially useful, with two different preset each that provide you with much-needed boosts in these crucial stages before and after your workout. Those two stages alone make this EMS device worth the asking price in our opinion.
The display is also pretty large and dishes out detailed information that is easy on the eyes. And the controls are also pretty detailed and easy to grasp. Since this is a bundle, you get four electrode lead wires and twelve electrodes (eight small and four medium sized).
The electrodes have a medical adhesive on their surface, which will degrade with use. Expect each electrode to last anywhere from ten to fifteen sessions. Also, be careful when you try the higher electronic pulse settings. They can be exceedingly painful for your muscles. So it is recommended that you start off gently with the lower settings before cranking things up.
While the device has nine different settings, besides the warmup and recovery presets, the others are rather underwhelming. And with less than stellar build quality and components, the asking price is rather steep. And there is also a chance that some of the electrodes arrive broke. Another sore point is the lack of advanced controls for setting custom impulse levels. The device also lacks adequate documentation and operating instructions.
So, is the Compex muscle stimulator worth it? We are caught in two minds about it. The main bone of contention we have with Compex is the asking price. It is simply too high, and you don’t really get the features or performance results to justify it. If you have money to burn and are satisfied with the warmup and recovery improvements, then this device might be all you need.
2. Tone-A-Matic TAMTEC Sport 4 Plus – Best EMS TENS Combo Stimulator
Tone-A-Matic is a great electronic muscle stimulator that combines EMS action with painkilling settings that target nerves (TENS). You also get eight different presets to choose from. Along with the usual suspects like strength, endurance, and recovery, this stimulator also has a unique setting, called Russian Stimulation. Electronic Muscle stimulation was pioneered in the Soviet Bloc, and the Russian Stim setting is reputed for its muscle building effects.
Thanks to its considerable pain management properties, the TAMTEC device is used by physiotherapists and chiropractors. It had a dedicated TAMEXX setting which is optimized for pain relief and accelerated healing of injured tissue. The inclusion of adjustable intensity settings adds to the overall versatility of this stimulator. This is a device you would benefit more from during painful injuries and in the aftermath of grueling workout sessions. The combination of muscle stimulator and nerve stimulator settings is the main reason for this.
Since this is is a complete set, you also get a lot of accessories and extra electrode wires and adhesive pads. They provide a total of 16 pads, eight large and eight small. The pads have non-allergic latex materials incorporated into the design. This machine can only be used with a fully charged battery, as it does not run plugged into a wall socket.
The TAMTEC does have some noticeable flaws. It is quite large in comparison to other similar devices. The brand also suffers from a lack of proper QA system, attested by the fact that a lot of the devices arrive DOA. While the settings may be effective at what they do, this machine is much more uncomfortable on average than other Electronic Muscle Stimulators we tested. Some of the accessories provided, like the adapter, are of inferior quality as well.
The TAMTEC is an expensive device, but it does offer something extra regarding pain relief, in comparison to some of its peers. If the budget is not an issue for you, we don’t think this is a bad device at all. But it is not perfect, and there are some noticeable flaws. If you think you can tolerate those, then go for it.
3. Massage Therapy Concepts EMS Combination Stimulator – Best FDA Approved Stimulator For Pain Management
This is one of the few products that prominently displays the FDA approval on the product description itself. Beyond that, the large screen which takes up almost the entire real estate on the surface of the device is what catches the eye. It is one of the highlights of this EMS device. This is a very portable device with professional grade stimulation settings, with both EMS and TENS included for workouts and pain relief.
On the preset settings front, this device doesn’t disappoint, with 12 programs, and 20 different intensity settings to choose from. The pain relief and relaxation settings deserve a special mention. You also get other advanced features like adjustable timer, and auto shut down.
This is a two-channel device. This means that you can set the intensity levels in each channel separately. They have provided four electrode pads in the package.
While the unit does support two separate inputs, in practice it cannot handle both properly. So when you use two different sized pads with different intensity levels, either one of those will not work. The buttons on the device are not very durable.
Despite some minor flaws, the Massage Therapy Concepts stimulator has a lot of things going in its favor. The build quality is respectable, and the display is one of best we have seen around. The combo of EMS and TENS works quite well and barring the issue with dual inputs; this is a very handy and compact stimulator for pain and workout recovery. We would recommend it, warts and all.
4. 1byOne Bluetooth TENS Therapy Muscle Stimulator – Best Electronic Muscle Stimulator with Wireless App (EMS Machine)
The inclusion of Bluetooth connectivity and wireless app support is what sets 1byOne apart from the rest. It is a sure sign that this is probably the most modern design among the lot available online. It also has FDA approval for its combination of EMS and TENS impulse settings. So it is a very versatile device for both pain management as well as muscle stimulation.
The device has true wireless controls, with a dedicated app that can be used remotely from your smartphone to control the stimulator. Along with eight preset programs, you also get a whopping 100 different intensity levels, which is one of the highest we have reviewed. And in case you are unable to use the app, the system also comes with wired control pads.
Advanced app functions include timers and unique stimulation settings like kneading, circulation, beating, scraping, and cupping. You can also set your own frequency and pulse intensity settings.
This is a battery powered device, with a rechargeable lithium battery inside. You get four wired and three wireless electrode pads, in different sizes. When you want to use multiple pads, it is best to stick with either wireless or wired pads, without mixing them.
While the design and app technology are all welcome; they seem to have ignored the basics of getting a good usable design for the pads. They are not very sticky and do not work very well. And setting up the wireless system is not very easy. And the wired controls were also a tad messy in actual use.
In our final estimation, the 1byOne muscle stimulator is a decent device for pain management. Despite the not so perfect implementation of wireless controls, it offers more ease of use than other wired systems. It is also very affordable and has FDA certification. This is one of the better TENS systems we have come across.
5. Easy@Home Pro Grade TENS Unit EHE012Pro – Best FDA Approved EMS Device With Pro Grade Features
This is more of a TENS unit rather than one that focuses on muscle stimulation. But with FDA approval, it is a very capable device for stimulating your nerves. With twenty different intensity levels, it is one of the most potent pro-grade tools we have come across. With a compact yet quality display, and a multitude of well-labeled buttons, this device has a very premium build quality.
That small display is backlit for improved visibility. Though it is a TENS unit, the multitude of intensity levels and eight preset massage options means that it can also work as a muscle stimulant for amateur athletes and people with an active lifestyle. You get left and right channels for the electrodes, with independent intensity levels.
The overall design looks premium and is very user-friendly. You also get a very luxurious leather storage and carry bag with this stimulator. And the electrode pads provided along with this stimulator does not contain any allergenic latex.
This device runs on rechargeable lithium batteries. It should give 120 minutes of operation on a single charge. You get four electrode pads along with the device. After several sessions, they will need to be replaced.
Like many other devices with dual inputs, this stimulator also has a hard time getting both sides to work simultaneously. On top of that, the display is prone to frequent malfunctions. We also wish it had backlight functionality, as it can get a bit hard to read in some light conditions.
So, is the Easy@Home TENS unit worth your money? For starters, it doesn’t cost as much as some of the so-called “athlete-grade” muscle stimulators. And on top of that, it does offer FDA certification and some really useful nerve stimulator settings. Rather than outright workout enhancement, this unit is more oriented towards home-based pain relief and recovery assistance. And for that, it is well worth its asking price, in our opinion.
EMS Buyer’s Guide
What are Electronic Muscle Stimulators?
An EMS is often a box like electronic device that creates electrical impulses. These impulses are delivered to your muscles using electrodes attached to the device. The electrodes are often in the form of pads which can be stuck to any part of the body (except for some vital areas). The impulses from these devices are designed to mimic nerve signals that instruct your muscles to contract.
When it comes to OTC units intended for home use, EMS devices are usually battery powered, with rechargeable lithium batteries inside. They usually sport LCD screens, and input controls for the electrodes. The pads have limited use due to the medical adhesives used to stick them to the skin, and need to be replaced on a regular basis.
Is there any difference between EMS, NMES and TENS?
These are all terms commonly associated with devices that use electrical impulses to for various effects on the human body. Of these Electronic Muscle Stimulators, (EMS) and Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) is pretty much the same thing. So, an EMS device can be called an NMES device, as both terms are largely interchangeable.
But TENS is a slightly different ball game. The difference is quite clear in the name itself: TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. So it focuses on the nerves in your body, not the muscles themselves. And its primary objective is to reduce various kinds of pain. But since both treatments are based on electrical impulses, it is not uncommon to find a single device having both EMS and TENS settings programmed inside.
Difference Between OTC and Prescription Devices
All EMS devices, regardless of whether they are for home use or therapeutic use, are strictly monitored by the FDA. In the past, there have been numerous instances of false claims and marketing being associated with electronic muscle stimulation by many brands and manufacturers.
You may have come across devices that claim to reduce fat, and help reduce weight on their own, without your having to resort to exercises or dieting. As a result, FDA has cracked down on these over the counter devices. Therapeutic EMS devices are more advanced and require a doctor’s prescription. They are used for treating conditions related to paralysis, stroke and other situations where artificial muscle stimulation is essential.
OTC devices, though less complicated and designed for home use, have to comply with strict FDA regulations related to safety and marketing. They cannot make any false claims regarding the effects of muscle building and weight loss. Always look for FDA approved products only when buying EMS devices.
What are the Benefits of EMS?
While electronic muscle stimulation has many therapeutic benefits, we will not be focusing on those in our buyer’s guide. Those devices require medical supervision and a prescription for purchase and use. Consult a doctor if you feel that you could benefit from using this therapy for any chronic pain or condition you may have.
But for fit and healthy individuals with an active lifestyle, over-the-counter EMS devices offer a slew of useful benefits. They can be categorized into two main halves:
- Performance enhancement/boosting
- Quicker Recovery and Pain Reduction
When used in conjunction with proper workout sessions and diet, EMS/NMES can help improve muscle density, core strength, and a slight increase in muscle size. Do note that used on their own; these devices will not provide any significant benefits regarding muscle size.
These devices work on muscle groups that are not usually called upon during regular workouts. Studies indicate that these muscles constitute almost 70% of all the muscles in your body. That is a pretty significant number. Even getting them minor stimulation can have a very positive effect on your overall strength and endurance levels in the long run.
With improved blood circulation, low-intensity muscle contractions can help faster recovery after high intensity work out sessions. This helps reduce downtime between your workout sessions, helping you reach peak fitness faster.
What are the Hallmarks of the Best Electronic Muscle Stimulator?
When shopping for an EMS device for home use, look for the following features:
1. FDA Approval: This is the most critical feature. Since electronic stimulators carry wires and electric current, they need adequate safety features to avoid the chance of burns and shocks. FDA has strict guidelines in this regard, so look for products that advertise this certification.
2. Multiple Presets and Intensity Settings: EMS devices need to be versatile to offer maximum benefits. The best stimulators can have up to a dozen different preset intensity settings, designed for several tasks like Endurance, Resistance, Recovery, Warm Up, and Massage. Some even have TENS settings for dealing with pain.
3. Quality Electrodes/Pads: Look for electrode pads that are designed to work on different sets of muscle groups. Many devices come with four or more pads in different sizes, that can be used on various parts of the body. Since they come with medical grade adhesives and often need to be replaced after multiple sessions, look for models that can be used the maximum number of times.
4. Large Displays and Intuitive Controls: this feature is pretty self-explanatory. When you have a lot of presets and settings to tweak and choose from, you need a generous LCD that shows all the relevant information. And controls that are easy to grasp will make operating the device a much pleasanter experience.
5. EMS vs. TENS: The choice here is between devices that prioritize muscle stimulation and those that give primacy to pain management through nerve stimulation. Depending on your needs, you can go for either type. And if you want both features, there are also some capable all-rounders in the market.
There is a clear bifurcation in the market of electronic muscle stimulators. While some models, like Compex Sport Elite, are geared entirely towards athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Such devices give primacy to the EMS aspect and try to enhance your workout routines. But other devices, like the 1byOne and Easy@Home stimulators, focus more on the nerves than the muscles. They are more useful if you want an OTC device for pain relief and recovery at your home. Straddling the middle ground between these two are devices like TAMTEC sport, which has both EMS and TENS settings in equal measure.
Whichever type you choose in the end depends entirely on your lifestyle needs and the presence or absence of painful conditions like arthritis or sciatica. Just keep in mind that buying these devices are a bit like buying a glucometer. You will have to buy replacement pads for the electrodes frequently. So factor in that long-term expense whenever you are in the market for the best electronic muscle stimulator.