Funnily enough, in 2017 I taught English as a second language at the Berlin School of English, which is just one street away from Checkpoint Charlie. My classroom was across the street from Body Street EMS, which attracted my attention a lot during class (I really wasn’t a very good teacher). I saw people through the window dressed in all black with straps and cables attached to a bulletproof vest. The strangest part was that they were doing incredibly slow squats, their faces contorted with pain as if they were carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. “Wow, they must be really unfit,” I thought to myself. And then I suddenly remembered where I am and continued teaching.
It’s so funny that I’m standing right here today, behind the same window on Body Street, wearing the bulletproof vest, doing slow squats and gasping for breath. Because now I know that EMS stands for electrical muscle stimulation and that it feels like training and receiving electric shocks at the same time
When you enter the Body Street Studio, you feel as if you are traveling into the future. Everything is shiny and new. Even the plants look 3D printed. The trainers are strong and sturdy, good examples of how effective this workout is. Since this is my first EMS session at Body Street, I have a short talk with Jasar, my trainer. He asks me about my health and fitness background. But I turn the conversation around quickly and ask him questions. I am curious whether EMS is really as effective as everyone says it is. How fit can you get by doing slow squats for 20 minutes?
“It depends what your goals are,” says Jasar. “With EMS training you strengthen your muscles and burn up to 500 calories. So that’s a lot compared to other sports. ” Jasar says that if you do EMS training once a week, that equates to two hours in the gym. “It wasn’t meant to replace the gym,” he says. “But it is a good addition.” He says EMS is great for people who are not super fit. This will allow you to build enough muscle to start a regular fitness routine. “With EMS you can build muscle, burn fat and get your body fit for regular fitness training,” says Jasar.
Jasar started working at Body Street while studying. “I needed a place to put my theory into practice. So I looked at EMS and immediately thought it was great – it’s about strength and endurance and it went very well with my studies. ” Jasar now works as a teacher and personal trainer and accompanies people in their training routine while their muscles are connected to electrodes.
The time has come: Jasar gives me a black, long-sleeved top and cycling shorts. I’m changing in a locker room and I’m pretty excited. What can I expect in the next 20 minutes? I’m done and Jasar starts to spray a black vest with warm water. He attaches various straps, belts, and buckles to me, all of which are slightly damp. This way the electricity is conducted better.
As soon as I am fully dressed and wired, Jasar leads me to one of the EMS stands and attaches further straps, cables and magnets to me. “This is the starting position,” says Jasar, showing me how to stand in a deep squat with arms raised above your head. “We’re starting here with five squats.” I follow his instructions, prepared for a violent electric shock. But nothing happens. “I don’t feel anything,” I say. “Oh, you will,” replies Jasar. There is a gleeful twinkle in his eyes.
“We’ll start with your legs,” he says and presses a button on the EMS station. Suddenly I feel a faint hum around my thighs, as if dozens of bees are buzzing under my skin. It gets stronger and stronger until both legs vibrate violently. This impulse lasts four seconds with a pause of four seconds. The screen in front of me shows a green line during the breaks and a red line during the pulses. “Is it strong enough?” Asks Jasar. I try to answer but I can’t. I’m totally amazed at how uncomfortable this is and I can barely control the expression on my face.
Next, Jasar makes my butt vibrate. It feels like thousands of needles are pricking me. Between the electrical impulses, I ask Jasar why everyone else looks relatively relaxed during the EMS training, in contrast to me? Whenever I looked through the window during my English class, people seemed a little strained – but didn’t look like they were going to be struck by lightning. “I don’t know,” says Jasar. “Maybe you are just particularly sensitive.”
Jasar activates the electrodes on my stomach, then on the lower back, on the side and upper back and on the arms. Then he shows me some new exercises. I slowly lift one leg up and down on each side five times. As I do this, I feel Jasar slowly increasing the impulse so that I vibrate more strongly with each exercise. I do arm lifts and lunges and for some reason it feels like my fingers are falling off while doing crunches. “Tighten your muscles as you move,” says Jasar. But I have absolutely no control over my muscles. So I nod, grimace, and try to stay conscious.
Words cannot describe how happy I was to see the countdown of the final seconds of my EMS session. When Jasar turns off the machine, I have the feeling that I am floating in the air. But my brain still expects electric shocks to come. So I flinch a few more times every four seconds.
I’m pulling myself back, sliding out of the studio, so to speak, outside. My body feels like jelly. As I go home, I look up one more time at my old classroom and see that they are all listening intently, not one looking over at Body Street.