Hooked up: The Bodytec EMS workout is done in a parachute jacket with electrodes attached. Picture: SUPPLIED
Hooked up: The Bodytec EMS workout is done in a parachute jacket with electrodes attached. Picture: SUPPLIED

Gym dropouts with lapsed memberships who are concerned about the state of their bodies might want to explore an innovation called Bodytec Electro Muscular Stimulation (EMS).

This scientific approach to fitness operates by exercising different muscle groups simultaneously and at high intensity. It offers a complete body workout in 20 minutes once a week and promises visible results in just six weeks.

The technology is not new, but its use in exercise has become a revolutionary way in which to improve physical endurance, strength, stamina and body shape.

Everyone has 650 muscles hugging their skeletons, with 29 pairs supporting the torso, or core. But when people do not exercise regularly they become dormant from lack of use.

Clench it: The EMS device zaps muscle clusters, waking them up through contracting and releasing. Workouts take 20 minutes and are done once a week. Picture: SUPPLIED
Clench it: The EMS device zaps muscle clusters, waking them up through contracting and releasing. Workouts take 20 minutes and are done once a week. Picture: SUPPLIED

EMS wakes them up and zaps them into performing by sending an electrical current into the receptor nerves of the different muscle groups. The muscles contract and release, recouping lost strength, while the activated receptor nerves start picking up alerts from the brain and amplifying the force.

Modern-day lifestyles are geared towards the sedentary. As people slouch over computers and drive automatic cars, their muscles relax. Big tummies, sloped shoulders and dowagers humps are all consequences of weak muscles. Backaches, hip displacements, joint pains and other aches are also consequences of a lack of regular exercise.

Muscle contractions

"During EMS training, up to 90% of your muscles can be activated simultaneously. The contractions are much more intense than the voluntary exertions in weight lifting," says Barry Willis, who owns two Bodytec studios in Johannesburg.

"Strong core muscles around your lower back, stomach, biceps and glutes are essential for balance and everyday activities. Sports like golf, tennis, cycling and soccer depend on these."

Bodytec offers a one-year contract at R975 a month. It seems outrageous, but a gym membership with a personal trainer costs much more.

EMS technology is a scientifically verified concept and was first used in the Soviet Union in the 1950s to improve muscle strength in athletes.

In 2010 German sports economist Boris Leyck and his branding-savvy wife Sandra packaged EMS technology as a product for the South African market. Leyck was working with the Fifa team during the soccer World Cup in SA when he saw a gap in the industry and developed it.

The aim was to devise a branded fitness concept that delivered on its promise. Today there are 32 franchised Bodytec studios built to perfectionist specifications and seven more in development.

"Bodytec is designed for hard-working professionals who don’t have time to go to a gym, but will buy into the idea of 20 minutes once a week," says Sandra Leyck.

"We insist on high standards. Franchise owners and personal trainers first qualify at our in-house Bodytec academy, then return for annual refresher courses where we discuss the latest EMS research and fitness developments," she says.

Former Oracle MD Kholiwe Makhohliso is a Bodytec convert who has bought into the brand. She purchased a franchise for her nephew, Siyasanga, a sports management graduate and a personal trainer at the Kyalami branch.

"What I value is that unlike the traditional franchise model, they see you as an extension of their family, carrying their brand," she says. "They involve franchisees in decision making and utilise their expertise."

Adherents wear synthetic tights and a top under a parachute jacket with electrodes attached. Straps are connected to electrodes on the muscles of the upper arms, thighs and lower back.

The Bodytec trainers then lead their clients through balance-challenging lunges and squats, with very little time to relax in between movements.

"Clench those abs, clench those glutes," trainer Obakeng Modibane urges while the EMS device zaps lazy muscle clusters, getting them to contract and release.

While I’m still trying to figure out how to balance on one leg, with the other outstretched and my arms in the air, my shoulders pull back, I’m standing up straight, my posture has changed and I’m feeling stronger.

I can now carry that 20kg dog food bag from my car to the house without any help from the boy next door.