What is Emsculpt?
Emsculpt is a nonsurgical procedure that creates muscle definition and burns fat in your butt and around your abs and obliques. It also recently gained approval for treating biceps, triceps, thighs, and calves.
The procedure works best for people who are already relatively fit and want to firm up. “The ideal candidate is really anyone who’s looking to get stronger muscles and a stronger core, who wants to be tighter and burn fat.
Using high-intensity focused electromagnetic energy (HIFEM), the Emsculpt device delivers electromagnetic pulses to the muscles and creates supramaximal muscle contractions, activating more muscle fibers than do the contractions you’d achieve through normal exercise.
One 30-minute session produces nearly 20,000 muscle contractions. Contracting repeatedly without rest stresses the muscles, triggering rapid changes at the cellular level that make them grow bigger and stronger.
To supply energy for so many muscle contractions, neighboring fat cells break down, via a process called lipolysis, and release fatty acids. Fat cells are damaged to the point where they die, and the body naturally eliminates them.
The result of the combined action of muscle tightening and fat-cell destruction is stronger, more defined muscles.
Emsculpt can also reduce muscle separation in the abs, a symptom of diastasis recti, a condition where your abdominal muscles separate (usually during pregnancy) and create a belly pooch.
Note: Doctors say that you shouldn’t have this treatment if you’re pregnant; have a pacemaker or other implanted electronic device near the treatment site; or have heart issues, a history of seizures, or any other medical conditions that could make the device’s electromagnetic field dangerous for you.
What happens during Emsculpt treatment
When it’s time for your treatment, you’ll lie on the table, and the paddle-like applicator attached to the Emsculpt machine will be strapped onto the target area. Expect the treatment to last about 30 minutes.
If it’s your first time using Emsculpt, your provider will start the device on its lowest setting. As it begins sending high-intensity electromagnetic energy to the target muscles, you’ll feel them contract powerfully. The feeling can be strange—like you’re in the middle of an intense workout, though your body isn’t actually doing anything—but it shouldn’t hurt. In fact, some people find the feeling so unusual that they laugh.
Your provider will gradually increase the intensity as much as you can tolerate, asking you if you’re comfortable as it ramps up. Most people studied were able to endure close to the maximum level of intensity by the end of their first session, which doctors encourage for best results. Over time, you may be able to start your treatments at higher settings.
The contractions will cycle through different phases. Some will be rapid and light, and some will be slower and more powerful. The Emsculpt machine will contract your muscles hundreds or thousands of times, in just a few seconds. During the last phase of treatment, the muscle contractions will be slow but powerful, to flush out any toxins or lactic acid released during the procedure and help reduce soreness.
When you’ll see results and how long they’ll last
People who are relatively fit may see improvements after just one Emsculpt session. After the recommended four sessions over a two-week period, good candidates for the procedure should see an increase in muscle tone and reduction in fat in the treated areas.
Final results may take longer to appear, especially in areas with more fat. “Building muscle takes time. We can’t go to the gym once and say we’re toned and strong,” Dr. Nowak says. “The muscle builds over the next couple of months. Apoptosis—the breakdown of fat cells—takes a couple of months to happen.”
How much of a difference will you see? Studies conducted by Emsculpt’s manufacturer, BTL, show reductions in waist size and fat and increases in muscle mass. In one study, muscle mass increased by about 15%, while fat decreased by nearly 19% after four sessions. Patients who originally weren’t happy with the shape of their buttocks reported an 85% improvement after four Emsculpt treatments, noting that their butt felt more lifted and firm.
“I think overall, patients are very pleased with it,” says Dr. Sanjay Grover, a plastic surgeon in Newport Beach, California. “I’ve also done treatments on myself, and I feel like it’s definitely increased my tone and improved my definition.”
Another benefit of Emsculpt is that it keeps working after you finish your last treatment: your muscles should continue to grow and your fat to shrink in the six months after you have the procedure. In a 2018 study, the treatment reduced people’s waist size by an average of 1.5 inches (3.29 centimeters) after four treatments. Three months later, their waist size had shrunk even more—by 1.7 inches (4.37 cm) in total.
However, Dr. Grover cautions that Emsculpt isn’t a miracle treatment. “You need to have realistic expectations. You’re improving the tone and muscle mass, but you aren’t going to have amazing abs all of a sudden.” Emsculpt is also not a substitute for diet and exercise. “It’s part of your whole fitness regimen,” he says. “It speeds up and enhances your results.”
The muscle you gain will be retained only with exercise and maintenance treatments. “Just like with working out, if you stop going to the gym, your results won’t last,” says New York City dermatologic surgeon Dr. Lisa Airan, in a RealSelf Q&A about the longevity of Emsculpt results. She points out that you’ll need annual maintenance treatments as well as regular exercise to maintain muscle strength.
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