EMS machines speed up recovery, build muscle, and help you become more explosive. Here is a breakdown of the best muscle stim machines for athletes and gymgoers.
The idea of zapping your muscles can seem a little bizarre.
Originating in the Eastern block during the 1950s, the original muscle stimulation machines were large, bulky, and designed to help astronauts reduce muscle atrophy.
The applications to sport and health quickly became apparent.
Because the muscle contraction is “deeper” and engages more muscle fibers, there is an opportunity for more gains, faster recovery, and stronger muscles.
🏆 Want to jump to my top recommendation for best EMS machine for athletes? The price and overall function of the Compex Sport Elite 2.0 make it my current pick. Click here for pricing and availability at Amazon.
How do EMS machines help athletes perform better?
There are a plenty of benefits of EMS machines for both high-performance athletes and the average gymgoer.
- Faster recovery. EMS machines have been shown to reduce lactate  and decrease inflammation faster than passive recovery.
- Increase strength. Because of their superior muscle recruitment, EMS machines are a superior way to build isometric strength. 
- A tool for warm-up and warm-down. For athletes who are competing or training multiple times a day, bouts of EMS can help them bounce back between games, races, or matches.
- Engage more fast twitch fibers. For sprint and power athletes, a EMS machine helps speed up the process of triggering fast twitch fibers. One intervention found an improvement of explosiveness of 15% after five weeks of EMS training, another study saw a 14% increase in vertical jump height.
- Ideal for the traveling athlete. EMS machines can be used anywhere, anytime. Hotel room, backseat of the car, at the airport between flights.
- Safe to use. Although you are firing electrical currents into your muscles, the units are generally safe. You can train and recover without adding load to your joints.
What is the difference between EMS and TENS machines?
Although TENS and EMS machines look the same, and provide generally the same function, they have very different functions.
TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machines are built specifically for pain relief of injuries and ailments including arthritis, nerve pain, sports injuries, and so on.
TENS machines release a lighter electrical load that “close the gate” to pain receptors to the brain. TENS machines are also generally much cheaper and research has found no evidence to support or reject their use in pain management.
EMS machines are a group of physical therapy and training tools.
They contract muscles in the same way that you would tighten or contract a muscle during physical activity and have been shown to be an effective alternative to traditional training for elite athletes.
EMS machines fire a stronger electrical impulse compared to TENS machines and are geared uniquely to muscle growth and recovery.
Okay, now that we have covered the benefits of EMS machines, and clarified how they are different from their little brother, the TENS machine, it’s time to get after the best ones out there.
Read on, and let’s get to zapping some muscles.
Compex Sport Elite Muscle Stimulator
⭐ Best pick for price and function
Compex has been in the electrostimulation game for over 30 years and is one of the most popular machines for health care professionals and elite athletes.
The Compex Sport Elite is their top-of-the-line EMS machine for athletes.
Each machine comes with a variety of settings and programs. The machines in the higher range provide a full roster of training and recovery modalities.
Active recovery is a smooth and pulsating mode designed to flush muscles and pump fresh blood and nutrients to tired and sore muscles. Potentiation, a form of activation that primes you for a workout, that comes without the usual fatigue and time required to warm-up.
There are a variety of training modes, from endurance to explosive strength. Each program targets the specific muscle fibers. For example, the explosive strength mode does short bursts of FULL muscle activation that simulates explosive movements.
The endurance program, as you can guess, targets slow-twitch fibers over the span of 45-minutes.
Like most EMS machines, the Compex Sport Elite isn’t cheap, but it’s still on the cheaper side of the range, which is why I had to make it my top pick, despite owning and regularly using two of the other units on this list.
The Compex Sport Elite retails for around $330 (check Amazon for current pricing and availability), but it delivers on performance, durability, and versatility.
Compex Wireless 2.0 Stimulator with Tens
Ten different programs, including three different recovery programs, the Compex Wireless 2.0 is primarily geared towards recovery.
With varying levels of adjustment (aka how much electricity you send through the muscles), you get four wireless pads.
Unfortunately, the replacement pads do cost more than the wired alternatives, as the adhesive does wear out with use.
Experienced users will want to steer clear of this device as the stimulation simply isn’t as strong without a wired connection or heavier battery.
Compex Mini Wireless
For the athlete on the go, the Compex Mini Wireless is fantastic.
Operated from an app on your smartphone, Compex does away with the big bulky control unit. The idea is killer, but again, the amount of current the pods are able to fire into your muscles is limited by a small battery size.
While I love the idea, and hope that future editions are able to take this design and improve the stimulation, for experienced stim users it’s not worth it and won’t give you the kind of power for recovery and advanced training programs.
Globus Premium Sport
Globus is another one of the high-performance stim machines. There are numerous models in their line-up, including Soccer, Runner, Triathlon, and Cycling editions.
The Globus I have, pictured below, is the Premium Sport and is a heavyweight when it comes to stim.
While I generally use my stim machines for recovery, I’ve tried the sprint and power modes on the Globus, and I can assure you that the first time you see every muscle in your leg flexing at the same time is a moment you will remember. (And so will the soreness from all of that fiber recruitment.)
The Globus EMS machines come with a TON of different modalities, including programs for most sports and activities, recovery programs, warm-up, endurance, and much more.
Replacement pads can be purchased at your local drugstore (don’t bother buying the marked-up pads most of these EMS machines sell on their website), and after nearly half a dozen years of consistent use, the Globus Premium Sport keeps on ticking and zapping.
Marc Pro EMS
The Marc Pro is the first EMS machine I purchased. Back in 2013 I went down the rabbit-hole of whether or not icing after hard training was worth it and learned all about EMS.
(You can see my much more detailed review and breakdown of the Marc Pro EMS machine here.)
The idea of being able to go portable with my recovery, and do it without having to rub ice on sore muscles and joints, was highly appealing.
From the first time I used the MarcPro, I was hooked.
Nearly ten years later, the MarcoPro has seen a couple of updates, with numerous improvements on the original, including updated wires and electrodes (a complaint that I had with the original was that one of the wires crapped out early on and they couldn’t ship replacement wires to my address in Canada).
The LCD screen is easy to figure out, the MarcPro comes with six packages of electrodes (the “stickiness” lasts about three weeks with daily use in my experience), an adapter, and a carry case for when you are on the road or want to take it to the office.
MarcPro also ships these bad boys with a full suite of guides and information on how to use it, including positioning tips and programs. They even offer a series of free coaching calls with each purchase to help you make the most of the device.
The price tag on the MarcPro is not small—the “base” version costs $699 while the Marc Pro Plus (which includes a pain management function) rings up a wallet-emptying $1,399.