Johnny Beer

Bio Electricity, FrankenStein and the History of EMS.

Now I’m going to give you a bit of a history lesson, I’m not a historian by the way, I just happened to come across this super cool information on Bio-Electricity which was the foundation of FES Cycling as seen in the Cybathlon in part one.

Bio Electricity, Bio Magnetic Electricity or Animal Electricity is the idea that power can come from biological means. The idea originated in Ancient times, they were using animals such as Electric Eels or Electric Rays for therapeutic purposes. In another episode I will explore the capabilities of Electric Eels, its not what I expected.

Static Electricity Discovery

The very first example of electricity production was from the Ancient Greeks. By rubbing pieces of Amber together, they could produce static electricity.

In 1745 they did have some different methods of producing electricity, mainly through Leyden Jars and electro static generators [Usually hand powered] that were invented by Benjamin Frankin. This was handy for upcoming indoor experiments from Scientists or Philosophers.

Leyden Jar for Electro Static Generation

Bio Electricity Discovery

So 35 Years later in 1780, Luigi Galvani discovered that the muscles of dead frogs’ legs twitched when struck by an electrical spark. Using some wire attached to some frogs legs, he verified his results by placing them on a fence in an electrical storm. Lightning struck the legs and the muscles contracted as in his science lab.

Luigi Galvani

He thought that electricity was generated from within to power the muscle. Contrary to other scientists beliefs such as Alessandro Volta who sets out to aggressively disprove the theory.

Chemical Electricity

19 Years later, Alessandro Volta successfully discredits Galvani’s work by inventing a Chemical battery called the ‘Voltaic Pile’. The theory of a biological battery, electricity from within is dropped from public interest. Even though technically, they were both on to something, the ‘new’ invention of chemical electricity takes precedent and Galvani is made to look a fool. Volta was not a very nice man, it was a dangerous area of science where death threats were a constant.

Alessandro Volta

Did Volta come up with the idea first? Probably not..

It is theorized that the Bagdad battery already existed from Egyptian times and was able to produce below 1 Volt. So don’t get too stuck on credits, our ancient past had already invented things but they were literally buried in time.

Sometimes work that has already been done, has to be re-discovered!

Luigi Galvani’s Legacy

Galvani becomes Anti Establishment under a new French Order. He was not recognised academically for this reason and was stripped of his status. He continued his research until death. His brother Giovanni took over and performed live science shows by applying a current to make decapitated criminals sit bolt upright. That’s when the general public started to raise eyebrows.

Bodies used for live show

Later on, this led to the book Frankenstein and we also hear Galvani in many verbs such as Galvanise. That was his legacy which was lived on by Michael Faraday who developed the Electric Motor in 1822 and credited Galvani in his research papers.

Michael Faraday, Inventor of Electric Motor

Electricity for health benefits began to be advocated by medicial practitioners. It was the wild west in the Victorian ‘Electric Era’, the Electropathic Belt, the Electric Oxygenator and other wacky inventions. Not all were necessarily beneficial, with some advertised methods of miracle cures which had little evidence to suggest they had positive results. But today the techniques used back then have been perfected, turns out it wasn’t all a fad.

I am sure if it was not for Galvani, neuro muscular stimulation may have not been recognised for a long while.

Neuro Muscular Electrical Stimulation

Eventually, fast forwarding to the 1950s, a device called the Relax-A-Cizor is launched. It had wires from 6 channels each connected to 2 electrodes. Placing the electrodes on the skin provided a contraction. First demonstrated by Luigi Galvani all those years ago.

Banned Vintage Relax-A-Cizor

It was named Neuro Muscular Stimulation [NMES] but we also got many different Pseudonyms which makes it more confusing. I’ll try and break it down.

NMES stands for Neuro Muscular Electrical Stimulation. The term EMS is also used for Electrical Muscle Stimulation. The first intended use was for developing muscles more effectively without the need to physically exercise. It was known as ‘Passive Exercise’.

Watch TV and build muscle, AMAZING!

Things then started to take an unexpected turn and the scope widened to alternative uses. In Victorian times it was dubbed as ‘mechanical masturbation’. Back then they had already discovered that certain types of frequency gave a pleasant feeling.

This was rediscovered after people were using the Relax-a-Cizor to apply electricity to the genitals, unaware of the potential dangers. Nonetheless people went to the extreme to reach their sexual desires.

Related or not, the Relax-A-Cizor was deemed unsafe by the FDA in the US and became illegal in the 1970s.

“Destroy the devices or render them inoperable”

Eventually the limitations were found and safety guidelines allowed the re-introduction of a more ‘controlled’ medical device market.

The Rise of Electronic Muscle Stimulation

TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) was used wide spread for pain relief at certain frequencies.

The Martial Artist Bruce Lee begins incorporating EMS (Electronic Muscle Stimulation) into his daily workout. Other athletes follow on such as the boxer Muhammad Ali. They were making secret gains in their training by pulsing their muscles with electricity.

Muhammed Ali using Relax-A-Cizor

EMS began to become more prevalent after the 1976 Montreal Olympics when Russian Athletes got 40% gains from essentially electrocuting their muscles. They used a more high 2500hz frequency which was researched by the Russian Dr. Yakov.

After that, the whole NMES industry explodes into life with Commerical products for Muscle Building, Pain Relief and other Therapeutic uses. The sex industry started to grow with the return of erotic electro-stimulation and devices like the Titillator or the Pleasure Box.

Advancements of Muscle Stim

We now have FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) for cycling with paralysis and also research into integrating it in exoskeletons. Recently when looking around I’ve also seen a lot of FES Suits for full body electrical stimulation.

If you like what I’m doing, and wish to support me, you can do so on!

Leave a Comment