TENS is a form of electrostimulation that involves sending a small electric current through the body. It’s not powerful enough to harm you, but it is enough to cause your body to release pain-killing endorphins and cause your muscles to flex.
This method of treatment is an excellent short-term therapy for pain reduction and muscle recovery. As TENS units have grown in popularity, though, many companies have started advertising their TENS devices can help you build muscle, increase endurance, and help you “hack” your way to a better body.
Many people ask: Can you build muscle with a TENS unit?
The answer is: sort of, but, it’s certainly not the full story.
In this article, we’ll address some of the more ridiculous claims made by some manufacturers. We’ll also discuss the various ways that TENS can help you get more out of your workouts!
Can You Build Muscle With A TENS Unit?
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators (TENS) work by sending electrical pulses through targeted areas in your body in order to reduce pain and improve circulation in the affected area.
Electrostimulation has been studied and performed for hundreds of years. In fact, one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, was a strong advocate for using small electrical shocks to facilitate healing.
As the pulses are administered to the muscles, the current causes them to flex by momentarily tensing and releasing them. After performing a typical half-hour TENS session, many patients report that their muscles feel fatigued and tired as if they had just performed intense exercise.
That being said, it’s easy to see where the rumors have their origin. “Bro Science” is remarkably well known for taking scientific facts and evidence and then pointing them in a whole new direction.
It wasn’t long before every trendy TENS marketing campaign said something about how TENS units (and their cousin EMS units) would help you “build muscle and shred fat.” They advertised that you could just sit there in your chair at work and magically get a six-pack through electrostimulation.
Advertising like this:
Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. If it were, we would ALL be doing it!
How TENS Can Help You Exercise Smarter
While they can’t do it all by themselves, they can certainly help you spend more time in the gym, get a better pump out of certain exercises, and speed up the recovery process so you can hit the gym even harder!
By helping you accomplish all of these things, TENS is a great addition to your toolbelt and is something that every serious bodybuilder or high-performing athlete should look into.
While we’re at it, let’s do a bit of TENS mythbusting to help clear the air. These devices are incredibly helpful tools, but modern advertising gimmicks often leave customers disappointed and have them throwing their TENS units in the trash before they’ve even gotten the chance to benefit from them.
Myth #1: TENS Can Give You A Six-Pack
The FDA recently approved an electrostimulation device that administers small shocks to large muscle groups such as your abdominal region, arms, chest, and upper back. These are officially marketed as “toning devices” and do a good job of it.
The electrical pulses cause your muscles to flex and even give them a light exercise. However, if you really want to see better definition and get a six-pack, then you need to lose fat. Fat is lost by creating a calorie deficit or performing high-intensity exercise that burns a significant amount of calories.
You’ll be lucky if your TENS unit helps you burn 100 calories in 30 minutes. It’s better than nothing, but you’re honestly better off taking a walk. In some ways, this is similar to how Saunas are advertised as weight-loss devices. TENS units can help you lose fat, but aren’t an answer in and of themselves.
Myth #2: TENS Can Make Muscles Bigger
Just because TENS causes your muscles to flex doesn’t mean that it’s going to make them bigger. Sure, it may cause them to look a bit more pumped-up due to increased circulation to the area.
But it isn’t going to magically turn you into Superman.
Myth #3: TENS Can Give You A Heart Attack
If you have a pre-existing heart condition, use a pacemaker, or have any other metal or pumps in your body, then you should not use a TENS device. You also shouldn’t use electrodes on both sides of your torso as this can cause electricity to arc through your heart.
However, as long as you’re following these rules, TENS units are 100% safe and will not cause a heart attack. If you’re in this circumstance, talk to your physician before you try out a TENS unit.
How TENS Can Help With Your Training
So, now that we’ve dispelled some of the common rumors and myths surrounding TENS units and muscle development, let’s talk about some of the ways that these devices can help with your training!
TENS Reduces Pain While Exercising
As we get older, certain movements just hurt. Some muscle groups become inflamed, swollen, tight, and often put pressure on the surrounding nerves. The more pressure on the nerve, the more pain you’ll feel.
TENS is able to reduce pain by blocking some of these pain signals that are sent out by your body. This, in turn, allows you to power through movements and exercises that would otherwise cause pain and irritation.
TENS Relaxes Muscles And Improves Circulation
One of the most common problems that people who workout face are repetitive motion injuries. These occur when the same muscle group is overused and begins to sustain microtears. Most exercise involves repetitive motion and can subsequently cause the muscles to tighten up, causing pain and tension.
TENS units are able to improve circulation and blood flow to these muscles which relaxes them and will give you a better range of motion. The better your range of motion is, the more you’ll be able to pump out high-quality reps that help your muscles grow bigger and stronger.
TENS Speeds Up Healing
True muscle growth is the result of breaking down your muscle fibers and building them back up thicker and stronger than they were before. This means that your recovery routine is just as important as your exercise routine! There’s a reason why professional athletes often spend hours every day taking ice baths, getting massages, performing acupuncture, and using TENS devices.
TENS speeds up the healing process by improving circulation. This allows you to get back in the gym faster so that you can repeat the process and grow stronger. The more times you can go to the gym each month, the more results you’ll see!
TENS units can’t build muscle on their own, but they can assist in muscle building and recovery. Check out our article on the Best TENS units to find the right model for your needs.