How to Use a Tens Unit to Tone Muscles

By Ken Chisholm

The acronym TENS stands for "Trans-Cutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation." The devices that transmit these electrical impulses are called TENS units. While they are a staple product in the physical therapy industry, more people are utilizing this technology to enhance performance and results of workout and muscle building programs. Read on to learn how to utilize this technology to enhance muscle tone.

How to use a TENS unit for muscle toning

Step 1

Determine why you want to use a TENS unit. As discussed earlier, the primary intent of the TENS technology was to "scramble" pain nerve endings during recovery from surgery and injury to allow for optimal physical therapy results. Not only do these units scramble pain and other sensory nerve endings, they can also stimulate muscle fibers to contract in greater force than a person can initiate intentionally. Establish a plan for what muscle groups are to be worked and what end results are desired. Are you looking for additional strength? Increasing stamina? Changing size?

Step 2

Apply the electrode pads to the area(s) of the body where the target muscle(s) are located. For example, if the intent is to increase the strength of the biceps muscles in the upper arms, the electrodes must be properly placed over the muscle to stimulate muscle contraction properly.

Step 3

Begin muscle stimulation with the least possible electrical stimulation to get a feel for how your muscles will respond. Do not overstimulate the muscle because two major things will happen. First, the muscle will fatigue too quickly. Second, there is a risk of actual muscle fiber damage from too much contraction, causing injury and scar formation. Start with minimal stimulation because that method is safest.

Step 4

Keep an accurate log of the muscles' ability to perform before the use of the TENS unit, such as maximum weight that could be lifted and maximum number of repetitions. As the stimulator causes contractions, it can enhance the person's ability to use heavier weight and/or increased number of repetitions. Keeping an accurate log of strength of electrical impulses and results of each individual workout session can give objective data as to performance enhancement of the muscles.

Step 5

As with any exercise program, with or without electrical stimulation, it is important to allow the muscles adequate rest intervals. In many instances, the use of electrical stimulation can work a muscle group solely on its own with no human input. This can be a plus when there is an injury that prevents a physical workout. Different muscles can still be worked even when the person is not actively exercising.

About the Author

Ken Chisholm is a freelance writer who began writing in 2007 for LIVESTRONG.COM. He has experience in health care, surgery, nursing and orthopedics as an orthopedic physician assistant and a registered nurse. He holds a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Findlay, Ohio.

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