Increasing muscle size with neuromuscular electrostimulation more likely to succeed with high frequency
In addition to their regular training, some athletes try to make their muscles stronger and bigger by stimulating them with electric pulses. Whether this approach - it's called neuromuscular electrostimulation or NMES - works or not? The recent research of scientists at Texas State University can not answer that question. But the study suggests that the chance of success is greater if the electrical stimuli have a relatively high frequency.
Neuromuscular electrostimulation has actually been developed for therapeutic purposes, such as the rehabilitation of people who can no longer use muscle groups due to damage to neural pathways. But sometimes athletes also use it as a supplement to their strength training.
Therapists usually use electrical stimuli with a frequency ranging from 20 to 60 Hz. It is not entirely clear at what frequency the effect on the muscles is optimal, so the Texans decided to test that out.
In 11 healthy subjects, they treated the quadriceps of one leg with stimuli of 20 Hz, and the quadriceps of the other leg with stimuli of 60 Hz. Half an hour after the treatment, they took samples from the treated muscles, and determined the activity of important anabolic signaling molecules.
Neuromuscular electrostimulation increased the activity of the anabolic signaling molecules mTOR and S6K1. This effect was stronger when the researchers used a frequency of 60 Hz than when they administered pulses with a frequency of 20 Hz.
The researchers also looked at 4E-BP1, but that molecule did not respond to neuromuscular electrostimulation.
"In conclusion, data from this study show that anabolic signaling of the mTORC1 pathway is upregulated after both low frequency- and high frequency-neuromuscular electrical stimulation, and that greater upregulation occurred after high frequency-neuromuscular electrical stimulation", write the researchers.
"High frequency stimulation or the greater number of electrical pulses delivered as a result of the high frequency may provide a stronger stimulus for processes that initiate muscle hypertrophy."
"These data provide further rationale for consideration of the frequency parameter for design of optimal therapeutic neuromuscular electrical stimulation treatment protocols to target muscle growth and suggest that high frequency stimulation may be more effective."
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2018 Aug;50(8):1540-8.
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