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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 7 2013: Hi Kyung!

    With the continuous advancement of technology, we are faced to ponder the question of to what extent do we let our inventions apply to us. I do somewhat feel a little bit uncomfortable with the usage of external devices controlling our bodies. There are always uncertainties with the success of our creations and the consequences of a possible failure.

    However, if there are no health risks involved I do think it is overall beneficial to allow for such application, as they can potentially increase our performances. Part of our responsibility is advancing our bodies and if EMS allows us to do that in the context of competitive sports then I think it is of value.

    Great question!
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      Mar 7 2013: Hi Hadar,

      I do agree that EMS is of value in that it has the potential to enhance the body whether or not it has application in sports. My concern was, if the EMS technology advances to the point where there are robots and devices that constantly monitor and control an athlete's muscles, can we say it is still the person who is competing or is it the device?
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        Mar 11 2013: Hi Kyung,
        I think you bring up a very interesting point. EMS could be useful for many reasons and have an overall positive impact on the body. But in terms of competitive sports, is it fair to allow athletes using EMS to compete with others who may not have access to such technologies or may choose not to use it? In a global event such as the Olympics, would this give some countries an unfair advantage over the rest? I've always felt the Olympics should allow athletes from around the world to compete on an equal level regardless of where they are from. I even feel in a sport like swimming where a better suit can easily help shave off an extra millisecond, athletes should be required to all wear the same thing. So, in my opinion, EMS should not be allowed for competitions. Although, in other situations, it may be interesting to look into and experiment with. There is nothing wrong with enhancing the body with EMS and I see the value it possesses, but in terms of athletic competitions, it should be one person against another, not one device against another.

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