Muscle Activation: The Importance of It and How EMS Can Help

Muscle Activation: The Importance of It and How EMS Can Help


Get up from your bed. It’s time to take on the day. But don’t use your core muscles. Don’t use any of your muscles. 

Can’t do it? Well of course not! But now you may comment, “That’s a pretty easy task though, what’s your point?” 


First of all, it’s not an easy task for a lot of people. Some have conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS), some are injured, and some have extreme mental/emotional torment. You may fall into one or more of those categories at one point or another in your life. But in this case, I am making the point that we all need our skeletal muscles to function properly so we can perform the functions which life requires, and sometimes we are not prepared for those tasks. Let’s assume that getting out of bed is not too difficult for you. But carrying your children, walking on a narrow platform, sitting/standing up straight, playing sports, and carrying heavy objects may be too difficult for you. Whatever the case may be, there exists a level of concern for your inability to perform these tasks. 


But here is the good news. You can become more capable of performing tasks by using inactive/weak muscles more. There are three ways to do so. 


The first is what I would call active activation. A more conventional term would be “flexing”. You can do this simply by contracting or “squeezing” a muscle. Depending on how proficient a certain muscle is at being activated, you may have an easier time “feeling” the muscle as you contract it. One way to do this is by acting as a specific muscle. For example, if you wanted to contract your bicep, you would flex (in this case, “flex” means to decrease the angle of a joint) your elbow joint. You would likely feel your biceps contracting. How much you feel the sensation is dependent on how proficient your level of muscle activation is within certain muscles. Some people may have trouble feeling their biceps while flexing their elbows. Some people may be able to contract and feel their bicep without even flexing their elbow. One way to increase your proficiency in muscle activation is to contract a muscle more frequently. As you do this, the muscle(s) will become stronger, though only by a little bit. However, in our next method.


The next method is loaded active activation. A more conventional term would be “resistance training”. When you do this, you are putting muscle(s) under loads which work against them so they can activate at a higher degree and become bigger and stronger. Going back to the example of the biceps muscle, how this could look is you flexing your elbow to lift a dumbbell up from beside your body to become closer to your shoulder. This is known as a dumbbell bicep curl. This may also look like you turning your hands toward your face, raising them up as you jump to grab a bar hanging above you, and pulling your chin above the bar. This is known as a chin-up. As you use your muscles to perform tasks which activate them at a high degree, they become significantly stronger. As you become stronger, you will also be able to feel the sensations of the contraction to a greater extent when using them in both active activation (or “flexing”) and loaded active activation (or “resistance training”). 


The third and last method is passive activation. This is where the equipment in our studio comes into play. Electromagnetic muscle stimulation (EMS) machines sending impulses to your muscles can passively contract your muscles and improve their activation capacity over time. This means that they are strengthened by doing this alone too! One experimental study from 2023 proved this to be true in people who received EMS stimulation in their biceps and triceps and found these muscles to be significantly stronger after the treatment period (Ugonabo et al., 2023). This can be especially useful for people recovering from injuries since an EMS machine can passively contract an injured muscle to strengthen it with a pulse level intense enough to deliver a strong contraction but not cause pain. This can also be especially useful for people who have stubborn muscles which do not activate well. I have trained people in that category and I know that if we had access to an EMS machine, it would have sped up the process for their muscle activation capacity.


A Practical Summarized Breakdown


Now that we have broken down the three ways of contracting muscles, I want to give you a practical breakdown of how to best use all three methods to serve you well. First, you must have an understanding of how each muscle functions. As I shared, the bicep functions by flexing (or decreasing the angle of) the elbow joint. Actively contracting this more will help it become more active and strong. I flex my left bicep frequently throughout the day, not to show off the monstrous size, but to develop greater activation capability in that muscle because I have not been too capable historically, especially when compared to my right bicep. I do the same for my left lower lats and traps. Whatever your case may be, this can be a habit which serves you well. 

With loaded active activation or resistance training, you can increase muscle activation capabilities and strength by a lot more compared to just active activation, and this is something essential to build into your exercise routine. If you do not know what you are doing, I am especially glad that you are reading this article. It could very well be worth it to have a trainer. I did when I was an athlete in high school and they helped me know what I was doing. Which muscles perform which actions? How intense should I train at each period? How do I structure a workout or a prolonged plan? Before training in the gym with my coaches, I could hardly answer these questions and was doing all sorts of tomfoolery in the gym. I say that with no shame. And again, if you notice that you have some more stubborn muscles, you can flex them in your free time to help them activate better. 


The final supplemental item in your muscle activation arsenal is passive activation via EMS. At times, you can use it on its own, but if you can do so often, I assume you are quite loaded with cash. The best bang for your buck is if you use an EMS machine while you engage in loaded active activation. To put this in simpler terms, you are doing EMS training, which is what our studio primarily services. This helps you maximize your muscle activation capacity, which should speed up the process of improving muscle activation capabilities, increasing muscle strength, and increasing muscle size. 


Let an EMS machine send pulses to your back during rows so you can improve your posture and find it easier to sit up straight during the day! I could go on and on about the countless ways this concept can be applied to your benefit. But at the very least, I hope you are engaging in safe and effective resistance training. We also offer standard personal training (without EMS) at a cheaper rate to help you find more guidance if you need it. I hope these blog posts also provide you with good guidance. 


Reach out to us if you would like to go further on your fitness journey, wherever you are. We are always delighted to help.

Gavin Fan, BHK, NSCA-CPT




Ugonabo, N., Rambhia, P. H., You, J., Ibrahimi, O. A., & Chapas, A. (2023). Prospective study to assess the efficacy and safety of a noninvasive electro‐muscular stimulation for improvement of muscle strength and muscle toning of the extremities. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, 56(1), 23–31.

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