Sweat runs down her brow. She breathes in deeply and prepares herself. During the week she is the section leader for group training at Vattenfall’s athletics club (VIF) in Stockholm, alongside her job as Business Demand Manager. Today, Maria Paris Lönngren is testing training in a suit fitted with electrodes.
When the next electric shock is transmitted to the muscles they will have to be contracted fully. The clock on the display counts down to zero.
“Now we’ll make it a bit harder,” shouts the instructor, turning a dial. Maria puts her left elbow on her right knee, and when her muscles contract you can see the pain on her face. After twenty reps there is a 10-second pause before the power is re-connected.
“Don’t underestimate this,” Paris Lönngren says as she catches her breath. “This was much, much harder than I expected. It’s a totally different type of training to what I’m used to. It puts far more stress on the whole body.”
Power to perform
When Paris Lönngren does strength training using electrical impulses, she’s using a method that has a long history behind it: the first time electricity was used to strengthen muscles was at Middlesex Hospital in London in 1745. Nowadays, electricity is used to contract muscles for two reasons: to relieve pain and to build muscles (in other words, strength training).
Strength training using electricity has primarily been used for the rehabilitation of elite athletes, but it has also been used on patients in a coma to prevent muscle wastage. The method involves placing two electrodes on the skin, one at each end of a muscle, and then transmitting an electrical impulse between them, signalling the muscle to contract – a signal which normally comes from the brain. It has a similar effect to when a muscle contracts during normal training.
In recent years the method has been available to the public and is used to supplement or replace stan-dard strength training.
“It can be really good for people who need to regain the use of muscles that for some reason are no longer working properly, after a pregnancy or illness or a long period of immobility, for example. But you have to work on your general fitness too, otherwise your muscles will be stronger than the rest of your body. That’s why walking, jogging and working out at the gym are so important,” Tommy Eriksson, a physiotherapist at Vattenfall’s office in Arenastaden who also works for the Swedish Athletic Association, explains.
Maria Paris Lönngren is using electricity for training