By Matt Cooper
In the grand scheme of things, most technology gets in the way of both the athlete and the coach. If you had to break it down, most technology winds up being a distraction, is difficult to integrate, or simply doesn’t deliver on its promise for one reason or another. In fact, this website exists in part to sort through this technological white noise and provide a distillation of what really works where it counts—in the trenches.
Preamble aside, occasionally you come across a tool so profound, it changes you as a coach. Not many things have ever done this for me. After having researched, experimented, refined, and refined some more, I can say that the NeuFit Neubie electrical stimulation device has been a game-changer for helping me deliver best practices to my clients. I remember, years ago, my curiosity watching transformations with certain trainers using the device and their training system to seemingly train athleticism into clients.The NeuFit Neubie electrical stimulation device has been a game-changer for helping me deliver best practices to my clients, says @coopwiretap. Click To Tweet
I wound up delving further down this rabbit hole, and so here we are. I’m thankful to say I’ve integrated the technology into my workflow. The benefits address such areas as dramatically accelerated performance rehabilitation, enhanced dialogue between nervous and musculoskeletal systems, shortened corrective exercise time to effect (enhanced neuromuscular activation), enhanced contract and relax cycles, pain relief at the “source,” and beyond.
The bottom line is that most training systems are output-based, but the Neubie electrical stimulation device enables you to get in at the input level.
The Technological Difference
In previous articles, SimpliFaster has done a great job articulating how EMS has been used in human performance throughout history, while also providing concrete examples for going from theory to practice.
The Neubie (“Neuro-bio-electric Stimulator”) is my chosen device type in this space, but it’s not the only player. There are two main differences compared to existing technology. These differences allow us to use the Neubie within training systems to improve outcomes for athletes in a wide range of situations.
The first difference is that it uses DC (DCEMS) as opposed to AC. The therapeutic benefits of DC, particularly on tissue healing, have been known for many years. But there had always been a limitation because DC would also burn the skin. The device offers a solution to this problem, using a combination of waveforms that includes a carrier frequency that enables the DC signal to penetrate the skin and fatty layers of tissue and penetrate to where it’s needed to have a meaningful effect.
The second difference has to do with its effect on the neuromuscular system. The Neubie has a unique combination of frequencies and waveforms that reduce the protective contractions normally seen with traditional e-stim units. At a therapeutic level of current, where an AC device would cause the body to lock up and be unable to move, this technology still permits users to actively move and allows us as practitioners to combine it with our own library of movement protocols. This effect allows us to emphasize eccentric contractions, amplify the sensory/afferent inputs to the nervous system, and create an opportunity for accelerated neuromuscular reeducation. Because of the unique artifacts of the waveform, we can use the device to create outcomes that are vastly superior to what can be accomplished with traditional devices.
The neurophysiology of the vast majority of tech on the market (e.g., TENS, Russian stim, interferential, etc.) is, again, that of alternating current (AC). When turned up to a high enough level to net change in the neuromuscular system, these devices cause the body to engage in protective co-contractions. There are plenty of benefits to be had with this type of technology, which have been covered on this site previously. Though there can absolutely be some positive in-the-moment neuromuscular activations, as well as in the mechanical pumping of blood, lymph, and other fluids, this approach ultimately creates more problems in the neurological control of movement.
The current from traditional devices actually reinforces many compensatory and dysfunctional movement patterns that impede the body’s healing processes and ideal movement strategies. This can contribute to the cycle of pain, reduced mobility, and movement deficiency.The Neubie’s technology allows me to almost ‘feed’ information into the nervous system of the athlete, says @coopwiretap. Click To Tweet
The net effect is that you, the coach, are almost able to tap into the athlete at the software level when everyone else is trying to do so at the hardware level. You’re weak? Try harder in this way! You’re imbalanced? Shift more to this side. You get the idea.
The technology in the Neubie has been a game-changer in that it allows me to almost “feed” information into the nervous system of the athlete. From there, your creativity is the only limiting factor.
Corrective Exercise and Reconditioning
There are many concepts within the rehabilitation, reconditioning, and movement prep worlds that need reconstitution. Whether you subscribe to PRI, FRC, DNS, neurokinetic therapy, or classical PT exercise, the same complaints about inconsistency of regular benefit acquisition and time to profit are repeated at least some of the time. In each case, this iteration of EMS provides a solution for enhanced quality of work and accelerated rate of desired results taking effect.
When you’re dealing with an athlete post-rehab, it is often the case that they are presented to you with requisite mobility and range of motion access, but are not yet ready to be loaded and/or engaged in a ballistic fashion. A quality return-to-play program can substantially accelerate results. A quality return-to-play program in conjunction with DCEMS can push these boundaries even further.
Rather than give a singular example of a reconditioned athlete, I’ll just put it out there that I regularly get feedback from physical therapists that the athlete is anywhere from 30-50% ahead of schedule and is pushing new boundaries in their athletic function. Furthermore, the same PTs are often confused as to what “new” exercise prescription to assign clients when they go in for their mandated checkups after hearing what we’ve been doing in our sessions. I’ll be fully transparent in that this can alienate you from those in the rehabilitation setting with a scarcity mindset, but it also has the potential to make you best friends with those who truly work in the interest of best practices.I regularly get feedback from PTs that an athlete is anywhere from 30-50% ahead of schedule and pushing new boundaries in their athletic function, thanks to DCEMS, says @coopwiretap. Click To Tweet
Athletes on the injured list can have the dialogue between their nervous and musculoskeletal systems stimulated, which cuts down on time out. A big reason that this type of current works well is this simulation of the body’s own internal “current” signals. Though forward-thinking trainers and coaches can absolutely affect the nervous system, ultimately this is done through “hardware” manipulations of the body’s soft tissues. The ability to mimic the athlete’s own internal neurological signaling artifacts makes corrective exercises, movement prep work, and specialty reconditioning exercises take effect more dramatically and at a more accelerated rate.
This is huge because I see so many trainers and coaches ultimately turning their athletes into patients. You spend HOW much time on movement prep and corrective exercise?
Experientially speaking, I have dramatically cut down on the amount of time it takes me to get an athlete to kinesthetically “feel” and inhibit or activate a certain muscle. Almost every movement-therapy-oriented practice has been criticized for issues with repeatability, difficulty of implementation, and getting said corrective exercises to become staples in clients’ movement strategies (“downloaded” into the nervous system, in other words). Let me repeat that. I’m not saying that there aren’t systems that are easier or better or more efficient than others—I’m saying that there are gaps in everything, and these are the trees to bark up that constitute a quality movement therapy system. If you could improve the best movement therapy program and save time doing it, that’s a no-brainer to me.
Look, you’re never just doing rehab/injury prevention or performance—you’re doing both. Health drives performance and solving these baseline mechanical/structural pathologies is often a missing piece in unlocking performance ROI. For me, if I can hack my workflow by outperforming my previous standards while concurrently accelerating them without cutting corners, that becomes a win for my athletes, which in turn is a win for me.
It’s not that you become reliant on a certain tool, but like anything, you dose it where you need to. Prometheus and fire. In this case, this tool allows you to deliver best practice here and also gives you more time to focus on performance, which is what we, as trainers, should be doing at the end of the day.
Scan and Treat
The emphasis on the sensory/afferent side of the nervous system also allows us to do a scanning, “diagnostic” process known as mapping. In this process, we scan an electrode around on the athlete’s body to identify areas of neurological dysfunction, which manifest as “hot spots.” The concept is that the scanning process picks up the dysfunctional patterns associated with protective responses in the body, including patterns like excessive tension and muscle inhibition.
Once identified, these hot spots can be cross-referenced with a table test, strength tests, and movement screens for further validation. In my experience, these hot spots are in line with what we’ve teased out via the above—only with more efficiency and precision. From here, stimulated treatment over the target area in conjunction with the requisite manual muscle neural therapy techniques, corrective exercises, and movement prep work almost always nets improvement in pain relief, increased range of motion, better strength expression, and greater ease or quality of movement (exercise economy)—even in just a few minutes of active treatment.
The ability to hit the scanning process is huge because it results in less time wasted and leads to a more surgical plan for best results. This is not where the benefits of the diagnostic piece end, however—these neurological glitches often help identify governors that the brain has placed on the neuromuscular system.
I’ll give you an example: A basketball player gets injured and has completed his rehab and is reasonably far along into his reconditioning training pipeline. He’s been fully cleared to play, yet his vertical is still not what it was—let’s say 25 inches, to use an easy number. It used to be near 40 inches. When the athlete is structurally ready and has had ample time to recomp his athleticism via training, yet still isn’t maximally expressing his athletic ability, it’s time to look at the brain.
A governor or limiter in this context refers to the brain fearing for the safety of its host athlete organism. The brain works on a protect-perform continuum. If the brain fears that the safety of the athlete is in jeopardy because they cannot “survive” the landing from a 40-inch vertical, then guess what? Their vertical isn’t going to be 40 inches even if they have the innate ability. This is akin to driving with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake, neurologically speaking, and the athlete’s inability to fully express/fire their nervous system will be impaired. This is essentially the key variable in many instances of replicating transfer of training and is referred to in many classical training research studies, including those from Verkoshansky, Bondarchuk, and Marinovich.
Back to the point. The Neubie has allowed me to pinpoint and dissolve many of these neural limiters in my athletes.
Rewired Isometric Holds
Isometric hold variations occupy a valuable piece of real estate in my training system. That being said, I feel most coaches have a “black box” understanding of isometric holds. In other words, you do this input and you get this output. It’s important to remember that the reason we introduce isometric holds is because they ultimately grant the athlete deeper and more controlled access of the nervous system, which in turn enables proper recruitment of the musculoskeletal system.
With that warm-up out of the way, it’s not difficult to see how you can use this type of EMS to further deepen, enhance, and customize isometric holds. I’m not here to argue theory of application, either. Your own creativity is the limiter here. Let’s hold some varying ideas in the same arena. You could take Jon Bruney’s long-duration isometric holds for strength sports and hypertrophy and use the Neubie to dial up the muscular contraction level to forcibly overload the involved muscle groups. You could also take a Yuri Verkoshansky approach and overload the requisite muscles for a much shorter period of time. I believe it was Verkoshansky who warned that excessively long isometric contractions could cause excess muscle tone or tension.It’s not difficult to see how you can use this type of #EMS to further deepen, enhance, and customize isometric holds, says @coopwiretap. Click To Tweet
In fact, I like to think the machine actually can unite varying schools of thought. When you are holding near the end range of motion, the body typically tightens to protect itself from injury. This is why such isometric holds can lead to increased tension. With the Neubie, you can send a signal to balance muscle tone and ensure the appropriate activity. This dynamic helps reduce the body’s need to “protect,” allowing it to move more efficiently through greater ranges of motion and optimize the muscle tension-length relationships in training.
In the example provided, I’m rewiring a simple wall sit. Instead of a quad-dominant endeavor, I’m using the technology to force the athlete (myself) to pull themselves into position with their posterior chain like a bow and arrow. My goal is to create more repetitive tension (and relaxation technically) in the posterior chain while keeping the quads relaxed. The resultant effect is optimal posterior chain neuromuscular function, bringing with it speed, injury prevention, and explosiveness (reactive strength).
If you’re a sadist, there’s an added benefit to dialing up the current while using breathing as the remote control to your remote control (your nervous system), to maintain a parasympathetic state and respond to the exercise and electrical current combo instead of reacting to it and seeing the brain “bail” on a neuromuscular level. I’ve seen a benefit with this in conditioning work and performance anxiety, believe it or not.
High Stim Trap Bar Deadlift
The use case for this technology with strength work is huge. You can use it to pattern in appropriate muscle activation grouping and, to some extent, muscular firing sequences. The use case with this trap bar deadlift example is a bit easier to unpack.
Instead of working with the typical muscular activations here, I add stimulation to the hips and glutes and thus augment the athlete’s movement strategy. By emphasizing certain muscle groups, we can train proper form into the athlete more efficiently, make exercises safer, and increase strength types via total and accelerated contraction velocities. We can reprogram previously learned improper form and movement strategies as well.
Stimulated Sporting Movements
A major use case for this type of electrical stimulation is tuned sporting movements. By allowing the athlete to perform movements they see in their sport with the attached current, you can positively affect a number of factors relating to human performance.
Video 1. The use of EMS with shadowboxing training isn’t going to transform anyone into a champion overnight, but it does provide a learning opportunity for everyone. Don’t look to EMS as being sport-specific; treat it like a diagnostic for coaches who need to design better training programs.
In the example here, we have an MMA fighter shadowboxing on proprioceptive pads while concurrently being stimulated by the Neubie. My evaluation process also includes simple film analysis (really the first movement screen you should start with). This athlete had issues with fluid movement in his hips, including striking, takedown, and sprawling needs. Issues with keeping hands up, shoulder fatigue, and maintaining “snap” in strikes as the fight/training wore on were also all previous problems.
In addition to isometric holds, corrective exercise, and movement prep work, the current here enables proper muscular activation and overloaded contraction and relaxation cycles. Furthermore, the current on his shoulders, again, contracts at rates of hundreds of times per second. Both of these are beyond what will be seen in the fight, especially if this exercise is done in an appropriate intra-fatigue setting. Please note that muscle oxygen monitoring should be done here as well to help identify physiological performance limiters.
The net effect was better performance on takedowns, clinch work, sprawls, striking posture, and distance management, with the athlete specifically expanding movement range and quality in the hips. The shoulders also became more or less a non-factor limitation in training. Yes, these things improved with a proper training regimen, but I believe the Neubie enabled this to happen better and faster.
Manual Overload Technique
One of the simplest use cases with the Neubie technology is muscular overload technique. The concept (as with many other examples provided here) can be extrapolated and inserted into many exercise modalities. The idea here is to place the electrodes on the key muscles involved to promote a greater muscular contraction than can traditionally occur at the given weight.
A simple use case with the Neubie is muscular overload technique, where electrodes placed on key muscles promote a greater muscular contraction than typically occurs at the given weight. Click To Tweet
If an athlete is dealing with some type of injury, nagging pain, strength deficit, or anything in between, you can use this technique to manually stimulate the muscle fibers to contract at a higher degree than the given weight used. In addition to providing a greater stimulus to the muscle for more strength and/or power, this also has a seat at the table in programming deloads. If you’re able to maximally stimulate muscles without unwanted CNS costs or functional systems stress when you’re, say, chasing supercompensation or unfavorable Omegawave scores, this can be a great, creative workaround.
To further riff on the deload concept, Charlie Francis and others have notably used EMS during both deloads and rest days while sleeping to stimulate muscle fiber without weight-bearing load. If an athlete comes in to the facility on a rest day or conditioning day, we can have the extra benefit of muscle stimulation without adding excess stress and potentially disrupting the adaptive processes of the body. This is also a great peaking tool if you want to stimulate the dialogue between nervous and musculoskeletal systems without DOMS close to competition and/or in season.
Once again, the limiting factor is your own creativity.
Speed Strength Eccentric Overload
Why is it that when eccentric overload gets discussed, it’s always done at slow, maximal strength? In non-iron sports, the eccentric is almost always done in the speed-strength continuum. Failure to feature these in program design is failure to introduce the athlete to both high-velocity neuromuscular contractions—a key applied stretch shortening cycle need—and sport-specific tendon adaptations, which are the load-bearing features and storage-release of kinetic energy.
Video 2. Eccentric strength of the legs is valuable in sport and jumping off a box onto two legs is great for many types of athletes. Make sure you progress carefully, as it’s a demanding exercise.
In this example of speed strength eccentric overload with altitude drops, we don’t address all of those, but we do use gravity to transmit a high-velocity force into the body for high-speed deceleration training, bulletproofing tendons, training timing, coordination, kinesthetic awareness (propriospinal process), and high-speed force absorption.
I use the EMS to uncork some added overloaded muscular tension. This is key for athletes who have a less favorable tension-length relationship and fall more on the latter side.
Plyometric Bench Throws
I learned this one from Nick Curson of Speed of Sport and the Marinovich Training Systems from their work with combat sports athletes and MMA athletes. This is a plyometric exercise for bench pressing that’s both safe and highly effective. It allows you to train a pressing movement for the upper body at plyometric speed.
Video 3. At first glance, bench throws and stability ball exercises can look a little gimmicky, but trust that they’re great for athletes who need upper body power. Use the right equipment and trust the ball is for challenging the body and not for excessive balance.
Though funky-looking and simple, pay attention to both the movement itself and the posture of my feet and hips. Though the bench press is great in its own right, it often results in poor neural adaptations and fragments the athlete’s body and movement into isolated sections. Bondarchuk, Verkoshansky, and Colgan all discuss the need to introduce a specific link of muscle firing sequences in training, but it’s my opinion that most coaches and mainstream schools misinterpret this literature into non-holistic exercise modalities in program design.
The posture adds a component of full body involvement as seen in the muscular recruitment on the football field. The ball adds a proprioceptive component for controlling the trunk, limbs, and load in space. The speed of the load allows us to empower the athlete with the speed of sport in the gym for upper body plyometrics—something that’s hard to come by.
There’s also a “power endurance” neural and physiological component at play here, which matters even more in combat sports. In fact, many combat sports athletes report that this is a novel supplement to their training programs that not only provides neural adaptations for punching power, but also is helpful because it doesn’t freeze their scapula in place. Football players love it as a supplement to their bench pressing. Many have gone so far down that maximal strength combine protocol that they have poorly developed changeover speed and slow contraction-relaxation rates. It only makes sense that if you’ve plateaued on combine-style maximal bench pressing, you dose in some varying neural looks.
The Neubie charges this exercise by providing maximal muscular contraction overload for additional power. The unique current also provides a great stimulus for the relaxation component of the stretch shortening cycle by driving the relaxation abilities and rates of athletes.
Video 4. Quad strength is about smart closed chain movements that focus on specific overload. You don’t have to do leg extensions to get development— just know how to recycle equipment the right way.
Remember, this technology isn’t the answer for everything, but it can absolutely serve as a catalyst for your own training concepts to take shape, as well as an empowering tool for healing. In my experience working with the Neubie, I feel like I have a significant advantage when it comes to keeping my athletes healthy and performing at a high clip. Using this iteration of EMS is almost akin to having a direct line of communication straight to your athletes’ nervous systems.Using this iteration of #EMS is almost akin to having a direct line of communication to your athletes’ nervous systems, says @coopwiretap. Click To Tweet
If you have the opportunity, I recommend trying this technology from a client perspective first. I encourage anyone equipped with this Promethean tool to follow the advice of the Soviets: Use your creativity with the Neubie to raise the ceilings of health and performance in your athletes.