Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators (TENS) are battery-powered handheld devices that administer small bursts of electricity to your body through tiny adhesive electrodes.
TENS is an FDA-approved method for the short-term reduction of pain, and the devices can also be used to relax muscles by improving circulation and giving the user a better range of motion.
As TENS units become more popular, many manufacturers have started to market these and similar devices for other uses like muscle relaxation and weight loss.
“Will a TENS unit break up fat?” is one of the most common questions that we come across. We figured that it was only fair for us to address the topic and give you all the facts you need to know!
Although electrostimulation has been studied for hundreds of years, scientists have just started to perform in-depth studies now that they have access to the proper testing equipment!
These “fat-burning” TENS devices often advertise that they are able to burn up to 500 calories in just 30 minutes and give the users the “targeted fat loss” they’ve been looking for.
While some of these claims are trumped-up, there is some legitimate science behind the claims. Let’s dig into it.
Will A TENS Unit Break Up Fat? What The Science Says
By now, you’ve probably seen the commercials…
The girl (or boy) puts on the magical electric waist belt, turns it on, smiles, gets hours of computer work done, and then removes the belt at the end of the day to reveal perfectly-sculpted abs.
Wouldn’t it be nice?
These devices cater to humanity’s primary weak-point- our incredible laziness. Who doesn’t want to “burn 500 calories while sitting in a chair?”
While TENS units can break up fat and aid in weight loss (which we’ll prove below), some of these bold claims don’t exactly add up at the end of the day.
Target Fat Loss Is A Myth
One of the most common myths in the fitness world is that you can pick where you want to lose fat. This idea started in the 80s before most people really knew what they were talking about.
It’s why everybody started doing sit-ups and crunches, thinking that it was the quickest way to a carved six-pack. Many women thought that they could retain their voluptuous curves and still have a perfectly flat stomach.
Ultimately, you can’t pick where you want to lose fat. The reason why it may seem like you’re losing fat in a certain area is usually just because your muscles are growing behind the fat, giving the area a more toned appearance.
However, it doesn’t change how much fat there is.
Assuming that TENS can help to break up fat, you’ll notice the effect around your entire body, not just the waist area.
That being said, TENS units can tone your muscles. Since they cause muscle groups to contract and release, this is a light form of isometric exercise. It’s not intense to cause significant muscle growth, but it will improve circulation to the area and give your muscles a more “pumped” look.
If you already have some abs showing and want them to temporarily look better for a photo shoot, then using a TENS unit for 20 or 30-minutes before the pictures will give you some extra definition.
Electrostimulation Doesn’t Burn That Many Calories
Another fact worth mentioning is that electrostimulation doesn’t burn anywhere near as many calories as some manufacturers claim. If you really could burn 500 calories in 30 minutes, then that would mean that your TENS “ab-belt” would strain your body as much as sprinting at top speed for 30 minutes.
In no reality does electrostimulation burn that many calories. If it did, you definitely wouldn’t be able to sit calmly in a chair and “do nothing.”
If you need further proof, use a heart-rate monitor to track your calorie burn while you use the device. You’ll burn some calories, but it won’t be 500.
Now, it may seem like we’re talking a lot of smack about TENS devices. However, we’re just trying to give you a more realistic impression of what they can and can’t do.
All of that being said, there is a considerable amount of science that backs up the claim that TENS units can break up fat!
It’s not going to burn 500 calories in a half-hour, but TENS can help break up fat and speed up weight loss, especially when combined with a healthy diet and exercise routine, a trip to the sauna, etc.
Let’s take a look at one of the most influential studies performed to prove this.
In 2014, a lab tested 30 randomly-selected subjects who were significantly overweight and could be described as obese. Over a 30-day period, the subjects received two forms of electrostimulation therapy– TENS (targeting their waist) and interfering current therapy (similar to TENS, but applied to the extremities such as ankles and wrists). This is slightly different from EMS, yet another type of electrotherapy.
The test subjects underwent electrical therapy 3 times per week, with each session lasting 45 minutes. At the end of the month, each test subject had been through 12 sessions. During this time, they did not change their exercise or diet habits.
The Control Group
As a control group, people of similar body mass were selected and did not undergo the procedure. These were chosen to give better context to the results obtained from the primary study group.
At the end of the month, the results were considerable. The median waist size of the subjects dropped from 86 centimeters down to 73 centimeters!
The control group lost weight as well, but not anywhere near as much as the test subjects.
Can I Burn Fat With TENS?
This study proves that TENS can indeed burn fat and reduce waist circumference. As we mentioned, it doesn’t cause “spot reduction” or burn an insane number of calories, but it does burn some calories and stimulates the body to start breaking down fat cells!
If you’re just getting started on your fitness journey, a TENS unit can be a great way to assist in shedding a few pounds as long as you use it consistently. This is especially true if your obesity affects your mobility and doesn’t allow you to perform cardio.
When combined with a healthy diet and exercise routine, then TENS can be an even greater asset. Not only can you use it to help you burn fat outside of the gym, but you can also use it to help your muscles recover faster and prevent yourself from getting hurt.
Just don’t overuse your TENS unit, be sensible!