Mohamed Elzomor has a lot of secrets – 25 of them, and counting. The New York-based personal trainer, who works in upmarket gyms in the city, trains more than 25 Victoria’s Secret models, including Elsa Hosk and Lais Ribeiro, as well as celebrities, company chief executives, and even British politician Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie. But Elzomor’s biggest secret is his Miha Bodytec electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) machine, which he believes may be the only one of its kind in the United States. The German-made machine, which can improve the effectiveness of a workout by around 70 percentage points, applies electricity to muscle fibres through pads worn on the body during a specially structured set of physical exercises. The electrical impulses cause the muscles to contract. Kung fu taught a boy to walk. That was 60 years ago. Look at him now “The goal of the machine is to activate close to 90 per cent of your muscle fibres,” says Elzomor in an interview at the PE Club gym in Manhattan. “You are getting every bit of your body to work. In a normal workout, you activate 20 to 25 per cent of your body, but using the EMS machine, you activate all your major muscle fibres, including some that have never been turned on before.” The workout itself is only 20 minutes long, and consists mainly of basic squats, lunges and planks. But with the help of the EMS machine, Elzomor says it’s the equivalent of a two-hour standard workout. “When you do a normal dumbbell curl, for instance, you bring up the weight bending the elbow. So that gives you just one muscular contraction. But with the EMS machine, you get 85 muscular contractions per second all over your body. So in a sense, it’s 85 times more powerful than doing a normal workout,” he says. The original EMS machines were designed for physiotherapy, and they are still commonly used for recovery and healing procedures. But the Miha Bodytec machine, made in Germany where the technique is popular, has been specially designed for working out, although it does have a therapeutic recovery mode that can be used after exercise. The technique works by emulating the brain’s connection with the muscle, which occurs via an electrical impulse. “When you use a muscle, you are sending an electrical impulse from your brain to that muscle. The EMS sends out the exact same charge, but from a different source. It’s the same electrical pulse that your brain would use to send signals out to your fingertips, for example,” Elzomor says. When he first started using the machine, potential customers balked at the idea of having electricity applied to their body. “I had to explain that, although there is electricity passing through you, it’s not the same as sticking your fingers in an electrical socket – it’s not nearly as strong as that,” he says, noting a similarity to the electro-acupuncture which is used in Asia. “It’s gentle, although that is a relative term, of course. It does not shock you, it’s more of a buzzing, vibrating sensation.” The EMS machine is still powerful, he adds, and should be used only by those who have been trained by the manufacturer to operate it properly. (The Miha machine, he says, along with other EMS machines, is awaiting US federal drug administration approval, so it can’t yet be sold in the United States, although it is legal to use an imported one. ) The equipment consists of a computerised control unit and some wires and pads – it looks like an electronic frogman’s outfit. Elzomor soaks the pads in water before the session to increase their conductivity – this procedure is safe, he says. Do high-intensity interval training over moderate exercise: studies “You have straps for your legs and hamstrings, and a belt that covers your butt. I’m hitting everything. When I start with a new client, I go one body part at a time. When they tell me they are ready, then I go at everything at once. I wait until you are lit up like a Christmas tree and then the workout begins,” he says. “It’s like I am DJ’ing the body,” he continues. “ You put on the vest, which controls your upper and middle back, lower back, abs, chest, triceps and biceps. I can control your legs, your butt, and your lower back, and vary it depending on how much you can take, and how much you want to get out of it. “The first couple of times, I don’t go crazy. You really want to get the person accustomed to it, as there’s always an element of fear. I wait for them to say that they want more.” By the third session, Elzomor says he will really “crank it up”. So being old means putting your feet up? Think again, and live longer Elzomor’s sister Yasmin has volunteered to demonstrate the EMS machine at the PE Club gym. She’s heard a lot about it, she says, and is excited to give it a go – she has never tried it before. Elzomor fits her into the suit and slowly begins the workout by activating the muscles in her upper back first – it’s four seconds on, then four seconds off – and Yasmin says it’s like a “weird tickle”. (“They always say it feels weird the first time,” her brother whispers.) Then Yasmin does a set of squats while wired to the machine, and the workout proper begins. “It’s 100 times more powerful than any workout I’ve done before,” Yasmin says after finishing her workout. “Everything was working hard. I felt like my whole body was in overdrive mode.” Grannies doing HIIT, no mirrors, no loud music: a new China gym Elzomor says there are no after-effects, although the EMS workout should be done only twice a week, because it’s so powerful. “ The first couple of times, if you haven’t done it before, you’ll feel some muscles vibrating a bit afterwards, almost like a twitch. That is a good thing – it’s a sign the muscle has not been turned on before. “You want that to happen in your lower back – that is a part of your body that should be firing on a regular basis, but is not, because you are sitting each day.” Elzomor says the Victoria’s Secret models use the EMS machine alongside more regular training. “Half of my training is regular. Models don’t want bulk on their legs, they want to make sure they are nice and lean; they want to focus on abs all day,” he says. “It’s all light stuff, mainly using body weight and high reps … If I use the EMS machine, I don’t get fancy, as that’s not how it works. “You do your squats, you do your lunges, and you do your planks. I’ll make the planks exciting as I switch it up, but generally it’s as basic for the models as it is for everyone else.” In Hong Kong, EMS-based fitness sessions are available at BodyExpress, bodyexpress.hk, Tel: 2805 6395; and Feelness Hong Kong, feelnesshk.com, Tel: 2456 1300.