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Kyung Lee

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Is the use of EMS(electrical muscle stimulation) a form of doping?

This week in my bioelectricity class, we discussed electrical stimulation of the body. There are EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) devices that allow the user to stimulate and contract specific muscles by sending electrical impulses via electrode pads. EMS is sometimes used in competitive sports to increase exercise tolerance and manipulate the behavior of muscles favorably.

In 2011, a study revealed that EMS may enhance pitching performance and recovery in baseball. Without EMS, pitchers need to find a balance between resting and active exercise. With EMS, blood can continuously flow into the muscles, reducing the risk of exhaustion. There are other studies that show positive effects of EMS on athletic performance such as helping athletes stay warmed up without fatiguing the muscles, while the validity of these claims have not been confirmed. There are coaches that use EMS training on elite athletes who compete in the Olympics.

I’d like to pose a question, is the use of EMS in competitive sports a form of doping? While eating healthy or regular exercise can shape and improve an athlete’s performance, the use of EMS seems to be a more direct and invasive way of making the athlete’s body more fit for the sport. If the EMS technology advances enough to the extent where it can significantly improve athletic performance, do you think it is legitimate or fair to use EMS in competitive sports?

Topics: ems
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    Mar 6 2013: The whole concept of "doping" really came out of the Russian and East German programs of the 70s and 80s. Initially it was about stopping athletes doing things that are dangerous to their health. eg Taking so many steroids your kidneys stop working. Really I think the pursuit of dopers because they aren't playing fair is a fools errand. Remember there was a time when olympians had to be amateurs, as professionals cheated by doing all that training when they should be at work. To me it would make much more sense to ban things on the basis of health risk as it is much easier to quantify than whether something is "fair".
    On the specific question I don't see EMS as any different to altitude training or rehydration by drip.
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      Mar 7 2013: Hi,
      Thanks for enlightening me with the origin of doping! Given the definition of doping, I agree that EMS should be allowed as long as it is safe.
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      Mar 12 2013: I tend to agree here.

      The term "doping" is thrown around so much these days that the qualifications for "doping" are almost lost. "Doping" should really be saved for bans on things that hurt the human body. EMS certainly does not do that as far as we know right now. But is it fair for certain athletes to have such a competitive edge while others do not? Its hard to say. I think its important to keep in mind that both natural athletes and doping athletes both put in tremendous effort to be the best they can at what they do. An example of this would be bodybuilding. There exist "natural/drug-free" tested bodybuilding federations as well as non-tested ones. Here, the athletes understand what they are partaking in and there exists a fair playing ground for the natural and the doping athletes.

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