Electrostimulation Training Effects on the
Physical Performance of Ice Hockey Players
, NICOLAS BABAULT
, GILLES COMETTI
, NICOLA MAFFIULETTI
Performance Expertise Center, UFR STAPS, University of Burgundy, Dijon, FRANCE;
Sport Sciences, UFR STAPS,
Marc Bloch University, Strasbourg, FRANCE;
Motricity-Plasticity, UFR STAPS, University of Burgundy, Dijon,
Laboratory of Physiology, PPEH, St-Etienne, FRANCE
BROCHERIE, F., N. BABAULT, G. COMETTI, N. MAFFIULETTI, and J.-C. CHATARD. Electrostimulation Training Effects on
the Physical Performance of Ice Hockey Players. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 37, No. 3, pp. 455– 460, 2005. Purpose: The aim of
this study was to examine the influence of a short-term electromyostimulation (EMS) training program on the strength of knee
extensors, skating, and vertical jump performance of a group of ice hockey players. Methods: Seventeen ice hockey players participated
in this study, with nine in the electrostimulated group (ES) and the remaining height as controls (C). EMS sessions consisted of 30
contractions (4-s duration, 85 Hz) and were carried out 3⫻wk
for 3 wk. Isokinetic strength of the knee extensor muscles was
determined with a Biodex dynamometer at different eccentric and concentric angular velocities (angular velocities ranging from ⫺120
). Jumping ability was evaluated during squat jump (SJ), countermovement jump (CMJ), drop jump (DJ), and 15 consecutive
CMJ (15J). Sprint times for 10- and 30-m skates in specific conditions were measured using an infrared photoelectric system. Results:
After 3 wk of EMS training, isokinetic torque increased significantly (P⬍0.05) for ES group in eccentric (⫺120 and ⫺60°·s
concentric conditions (60 and 300°·s
), whereas vertical jump height decreased significantly (P⬍0.05) for SJ (⫺2.9 ⫾2.4 cm), CMJ
(⫺2.1 ⫾2.0 cm), and DJ (⫺1.3 ⫾1.1 cm). The 10-m skating performance was significantly improved (from 2.18 ⫾0.20 to 2.07 ⫾
0.09 s, before and after the 3-wk EMS period, respectively; P⬍0.05). Conclusion: It was demonstrated that an EMS program of the
knee extensors significantly enhanced isokinetic strength (eccentric and for two concentric velocities) and short skating performance
of a group of ice hockey players. Key Words: KNEE EXTENSORS, STRENGTH TRAINING, SPRINT, VERTICAL JUMP
Research on the use of electromyostimulation (EMS)
as a method of training of healthy skeletal muscle
has increased over the past decade (10,13,15,23).
Several studies have indicated that this training modality
enables the development of maximal force, albeit with a
great diversity in reported strength gains, ranging from 0 to
44% (11,12,23). Differing stimulation modes (frequency,
pulse duration), testing procedures, training protocols (num-
ber and duration of the sessions), pretraining status, and
interindividual differences may account, at least partly, for
the observed discrepancies (5,10).
Recently, some studies have attempted to investigate the
effect of EMS training on the specific performance of ath-
letes from various team sports. For instance, Maffiuletti et
al. (13) and Malatesta et al. (15) demonstrated the positive
effects of short-term EMS training on the vertical jump
performance of basketball and volleyball players. These
changes were also associated with isokinetic and isometric
strength gains (13). However, to the best of our knowledge,
no study has been published regarding EMS training effects
on the specific performance of ice hockey players.
Analysis of physiological profile of elite ice hockey
teams reveals the importance of aerobic endurance, an-
aerobic power and endurance, muscular strength, and
skating speed (9,18). It was also pointed out that the
strength decrement observed during the hockey season
can be attributed to the lack of specific strength programs
(18). Our study used EMS training as a complement to
standard training practices with the goal of improving
both the muscular strength and physical performance of
ice hockey athletes. Therefore, the purpose of the present
study was to determine the influence of a 3-wk EMS
training program on the quadriceps femoris muscle
strength and on specific physical abilities of ice hockey
players, such as vertical jump and speed skating perfor-
mance. The quadriceps muscle group was firstly chosen
because it develops the largest contractile strength during
the push-off of the skating thrust, whereas the hamstrings
and gastrocnemius muscles primarily act to stabilize the
knee joint (18). This muscle group was secondly chosen
because three of its four component muscles are super-
ficial and can be easily stimulated.
Address for correspondence: Nicolas Babault, EA 1342 Sciences du sport,
UFR STAPS, Universite´ Marc Bloch, 14 rue Rene´ Descartes, 67084
Strasbourg Cedex, France; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submitted for publication July 2004.
Accepted for publication October 2004.
MEDICINE & SCIENCE IN SPORTS & EXERCISE
Copyright © 2005 by the American College of Sports Medicine
MATERIALS AND METHODS
A group of 17 ice hockey players competing in the French
Ice Hockey Federation League, division II (age ⫽22.6 ⫾4.5
yr; height ⫽178.3 ⫾4.8 cm; mass ⫽73.8 ⫾7.6 kg) partic-
ipated in the study. They were randomly divided into two
groups with nine assigned to the electrostimulated (ES) and
eight to the control players (C). None of them had previously
engaged in systematic EMS experience. All the subjects agreed
to participate in the study on a voluntary basis and signed an
informed consent form. The study was conducted according to
the declaration of Helsinki and approval for the project was
obtained from the University of Burgundy committee on hu-
man research. During the experiment, the ice hockey training
was the same for all players and was performed with the same
coach with all athletes practicing three times a week in 1.5-h
sessions and playing one game per week. No subjects had to
stop the experiment due to injuries resulting from EMS training
and/or ice hockey practicing.
EMS training. A total of nine EMS sessions were
spread over a 3-wk period, with 12 min per session and three
sessions per week, as recommended by Sale and MacDou-
gall (22). EMS sessions, separated from the specific ice
hockey training, were always performed at the same time of
day and the same days of a week. During EMS, athletes
were seated in a leg extension machine with the knee flexed
at a 60° angle (0° corresponding to complete leg extension).
EMS was delivered to both quadriceps simultaneously with
a Compex-2 stimulator (MediCompex SA, Ecublens, Swit-
zerland). Two pairs of self-adhesive positive electrodes
(each measuring 25 cm
;5⫻5 cm), which have the prop-
erty of depolarizing the membrane, were placed on the
vastus medialis and vastus lateralis muscle bellies. Two
rectangular negative electrodes, each measuring 50 cm
⫻5 cm) were placed over the femoral triangle of each leg,
1–3 cm below the inguinal ligament. Pulse currents of
85-Hz frequency lasting 250
s were used. The contraction
time was 4 s, and the rest time was 20 s. During each
training session, 30 EMS contractions were completed. To
ensure identical contraction intensity throughout the training
session, electrically evoked (isometric) force was consis-
tently measured with a myostatic type dynamometer (Alle-
gro, Sallanches, France). At the beginning of each training
session, the subject’s maximal voluntary isometric force
was measured at 60° (i.e., the angle of stimulation). Then
stimulation intensity was individually increased to the max-
imal tolerated intensity, and to attain at least 60% of each
individual pretest maximal voluntary contraction score. This
contraction level was reached at the beginning of the stim-
ulation and maintained for 4 s.
Isokinetic test. Maximal voluntary torque of the right
knee extensor muscles (N·m) was measured before and after
the 3-wk period, using a Biodex isokinetic dynamometer
(Biodex Corporation, Shirley, NY) validated by Taylor et al.
(26). A 7-min period of standardized warm-up and famil-
iarization with the measurement apparatus was conducted
with submaximal repetitions at each experimental angular
velocity. Then subjects performed three maximal voluntary
knee extensions at five concentric angular velocities (60,
120, 180, 240, and 300°·s
) and at two eccentric velocities
(⫺60 and ⫺120°·s
) with a 90° range of motion (starting
position ⫽10° knee flexion). In each case, only the best
performance was retained. A 4-min rest period was allowed
between each trial. To minimize hip and thigh motion dur-
ing all contractions, a series of straps were applied across
the chest, pelvis, mid-thigh, and lower leg. The latter strap
secured the leg to the dynamometer lever arm. The align-
ment between the center of rotation of the dynamometer
shaft and the axis of the knee joint (lateral femoral condyle)
was checked at the beginning of each trial. The subject’s
arms were positioned across the chest with each hand clasp-
ing the opposite shoulder. Torques were gravity corrected at
each joint angle, using the torque produced by the weight of
the limb at a joint angle corresponding to the maximal
gravity effect (26). For each angular velocity, the 60° knee
flexion maximal voluntary torque (constant angular torque
technique) was directly computed by the Biodex software
and included in the analyses.
Vertical jump test. Jumping ability was evaluated with
a contact mat (Globus, Codogne, Italy). The squat jump
(SJ), countermovement jump (CMJ), and drop jump (DJ)
from a height of 30 cm were randomly performed according
to Asmussen and Bonde-Petersen’s recommendations (1).
Three tests were carried out for each type of jump, and the
best result was retained. Fifteen consecutive CMJ (15J)
were also performed to evaluate the resistive capacities of
the knee extensors. During this 15J test, jump height and power
were measured for each jump and then averaged together.
Sprint test. Times, determined at the hip level for 10-
and 30-m sprints on ice, were measured with infrared pho-
toelectric cells (TEL.SI s.r.l., Vignola, Italy) positioned 10
and 30 m from the start line and controlled by commercially
available software. The players set off upon a visual signal
and skated as fast as possible the 30-m distance. This sprint
allowed us to directly measure both times with the 10-m
time as intermediate. Only the best performance of three
trials was retained.
Mean values and standard deviations (SD) were calcu-
lated for all variables. A repeated measures analysis of
variances (ANOVA) followed by a Newman–Keuls post
hoc procedure was used to test differences between both
groups and the effects of the EMS program on dependent
variables (strength, jump, and sprint performances) in each
group before and after the 3-wk period. Relationships be-
tween isokinetic strength, vertical jump, and skating perfor-
mance were also examined using Pearson product correla-
Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine http://www.acsm-msse.org
tions. In all statistical procedures, a 0.05 level of
significance was adopted.
Before training, no significant difference was observed
between ES and C groups in physical characteristics, knee
extensor strength, and skating performance. C group had,
however, significantly higher values for 15J height (P⬍
0.01) and power (P⬍0.05) compared with ES group (Table
1). When considering both groups (N⫽17) before the 3-wk
period, a significant negative relationship was observed
between the 10- and 30-m skating performance and the
concentric torque (r ⫽⫺0.61, P⬍0.01 and r ⫽
⫺0.76, P⬍0.01, respectively, for 10 and 30 m; Fig. 1).
Muscular strength. After 3 wk of EMS training, the
isokinetic torque increased significantly (Fig. 2) for ES in
eccentric (37.1 ⫾21.9% at ⫺120°·s
and 24.2 ⫾17.9% at
;P⬍0.01), and concentric conditions (41.3 ⫾
37.6% at 60°·s
and 49.2 ⫾48.9% at 300°·s
Except for the ⫺60°·s
eccentric condition, the C group
did not exhibit any significant torque increase. When com-
paring torque changes after the 3-wk period, it appears that
the ES group had significantly higher torque increases than
the C group. The ⫺60°·s
eccentric torque increase was,
however, not significantly different between the ES and C
Vertical jump performance. Vertical jump results,
obtained before and after the 3-wk period, are shown on
Table 1 for both ES and C groups. After EMS training, the
ES group vertical jump height decreased significantly (P⬍
0.05) for the SJ (⫺8.4 ⫾6.9%), CMJ (⫺6.1 ⫾6.0%), and
DJ (⫺5.2 ⫾4.6%). No significant difference was found
before and after the 3-wk period for members of the C
group. For the ES group, the 15J power increased after
training (14.3 ⫾17.2%; P⬍0.05), whereas gain in 15J
height was not significant. No significant difference was
obtained for the C group.
Skating performances. For the ES group, the 10-m
skating time significantly declined (⫺4.8 ⫾5.8%, P⬍
0.05), whereas no change was observed for 30-m sprints
(Fig. 3). C-group skating performances were comparable
before and after the 3-wk period.
The present study demonstrated that a 3-wk EMS training
program enhanced isokinetic eccentric and concentric
strength of the knee extensor muscles as well as skating
performance of a group of competitive ice hockey players
compared with a control group. This suggests that EMS may
be a useful mean for developing muscular strength and
skating speed in ice hockey players. These findings are
consistent with previous reports confirming that brief peri-
ods of EMS have beneficial effects on muscle strength
(13,16,21) and specific abilities of highly skilled athletes
It is generally accepted that neural adaptations predomi-
nate in short-term voluntary strength training and EMS
training (5,16). For instance, Maffiuletti et al. (14) recently
suggested that EMS training would increase the neural drive
from supraspinal centers, resulting in a greater number of
recruited motor units. Therefore, strength gains observed
after the present EMS training during concentric (60 and
) but more likely during eccentric (⫺120 and
) maximal voluntary isokinetic contractions could
be partly attributed to neural adaptations. Surprisingly, the
eccentric strength was also improved for the C
group, the improvement being similar to the ES group. This
result suggests that strength gains, observed in the present
study, could be partly explained by the fact that after the
3-wk period subjects were more accustomed to perform
isokinetic contractions. Nevertheless, such a conclusion is
only valid for a given angular velocity, and strength gains
obtained for our ES group would be primarily attributed to
FIGURE 1—Relationship between the 240°·s
concentric torque and
the 30-m skating time obtained before the 3-wk period. ES (filled
square) and C groups (open circle) have been grouped together to fit
the linear relation.
TABLE 1. Vertical jump performances on electrostimulated (ES) and control (C) groups before and after a 3-wk period. Values are means (⫾SD).
ES Group C Group
Before After Before After
SJ (cm) 34.9 ⫾6.0 32.0 ⫾3.1†* 35.8 ⫾4.3 35.5 ⫾4.3
CMJ (cm) 38.1 ⫾5.0 36.0 ⫾4.5†* 40.8 ⫾3.5 40.6 ⫾3.6
DJ (cm) 31.6 ⫾1.9 30.3 ⫾2.4* 32.2 ⫾0.3 29.9 ⫾7.1
15J height (cm) 26.3 ⫾2.7† 26.9 ⫾3.1† 29.5 ⫾1.1 29.3 ⫾2.9
15J power (W) 24.1 ⫾4.0† 26.4 ⫾5.4* 27.7 ⫾2.3 26.9 ⫾5.5
SJ, squat jump; CMJ, countermovement jump; DJ, drop jump; 15J, 15 repetitive CMJ.
* Significantly different than before the 3-wk period (P⬍0.05); † Significantly different than the C group for a similar period (P⬍0.05).
ELECTROMYOSTIMULATION IN ICE HOCKEY Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise姞
neural adaptations preferentially affecting fast-twitch fibers.
Indeed, fast-twitch fibers have been suggested to be prefer-
entially recruited during eccentric contractions ((7,19); for a
contrary view, see (25)) and increasingly recruited at high
concentric velocities (2,4,8). Moreover, the effectiveness of
supplementing training with electrical stimulation is based
on the concept that fast-twitch fibers are activated first and
to a greater extent than that predicted by Henneman’s size
principle (3,5,6,24). Whatever the underlying mechanisms
related to strength gains, the present study supports Kots and
Chwilon’s previous hypothesis (11). Indeed, as originally
obtained (11), EMS-induced contraction increases strength
and would correct the maximal voluntary contraction force
deficit by achieving maximal motor unit recruitment,
thereby allowing greater force production. The fact that
EMS corrected the force deficit by possibly resulting in a
greater proportion of fast motor units being recruited be-
yond those of voluntary contraction could be the basis for
greater strength gains.
Research concerning the effect of EMS training on ver-
tical jump performance is very limited. In the present study,
SJ, CMJ, and DJ height significantly decreased after 3 wk of
EMS. Such findings are somewhat surprising but are in
general accordance with previous experiments. Indeed, sev-
eral studies dealing with the effects of EMS on vertical jump
found no significant change in single jump height (27,29).
Other authors observed improvements of the jumping ability
only 10 d (15) or 4 wk (13) after the end of the EMS training
period, whereas no or few gains were registered immedi-
ately after the training program. Compared with these two
last-cited studies (13,15), which use quite similar stimula-
tion procedures to our experiment, our observed impairment
in vertical jump ability could be attributed to the population
tested. Indeed, these two studies (13,15) considered subjects
that were specifically trained for vertical jumps, also in
addition to their EMS program, because they were volley-
ball (15) or basketball (13) players. Contrarily, in our study,
subjects were not specifically trained for vertical jumps but
for speed skating. Therefore, training alone does not appear
efficient enough to improve the neuromuscular performance
during complex and specific abilities such as vertical jumps
but seems sufficient to improve the monoarticular perfor-
mance by a neural drive enhancement. Thus, specific and
longer training sessions are required to observe beneficial
effects in vertical jump performances by allowing a more
complete control of the neuromuscular properties and/or to
develop the elastic behavior of skeletal muscle. In the
present study, such more complete control of the neuromus-
cular properties during complex tasks has been demon-
strated when considering the skating performance (see
FIGURE 2—Torque–angular velocity relationship of the knee exten-
sors using a constant angular torque (60°) for electrostimulated (ES
group; upper graph) and control group (C group; lower graph). Val-
ues are means (ⴞSD); * and ** indicate values significantly higher
than before the 3-wk period at P<0.05 and P<0.01, respectively.
FIGURE 3—Skating times for electrostimulated (ES) and control
groups (C) over 10 m (upper graph) and 30 m (lower graph). Values
are means (ⴞSD); * indicates values significantly lower than before
the 3-wk period at P<0.05.
Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine http://www.acsm-msse.org
Nevertheless, EMS training also has positive effects on
vertical jump ability and, more particularly, on the 15J mean
power. This significant power increase in the 15J procedure,
already registered (15), would reveal better resistive capac-
ities of the knee extensor muscles. Translated in practical
terms, this finding suggests higher performances toward the
end of specific ice hockey sequences. Moreover, it may be
speculated that this 3-wk EMS training program may have
a specific effect during match situations. Indeed, these im-
proved resistive and neuromuscular capacities of the knee
extensors could be beneficial, since skating requires repet-
itive and rapid movement direction changes.
Skating performance was significantly correlated to the
concentric muscular strength (r ⫽⫺0.61 and r ⫽
⫺0.76, respectively, for 10 and 30 m). Thus, the practical
applications of EMS training cannot solely amount to
strength gains and better resistive capacities, but also to an
improvement of the skating performance, with a significant
decrease in 10-m (but not in 30-m) skating time. The 30-m
results are much more representative of the maximum
sprinting speed but are less important in ice hockey situa-
tions. Indeed, during match-winning situations, players are
able to exceed an 8-m·s
velocity just after four strides
(18). The quick dash at the beginning of the sprint, con-
comitant with the increased knee extensor strength, could be
a result of the EMS training and could suggest a possible
translation effect on short-sprinting performance. However,
no correlation was found between gains in muscular
strength and in 10-m skating performances. Therefore, as
suggested by others (15), this specific EMS training-induced
adaptation could result from the concomitant ice-hockey
workouts during the EMS training program that would en-
able the central nervous system to optimize the neuromuscular
properties control. Thus, sport-specific trainings should be per-
formed during EMS to obtain specific adaptations.
The EMS training used in the present study was basically
a form of isometric strength training. Like in the present
study, strength increases are often observed after EMS
(12,17,21,23), but, interestingly, these are not superior to
those obtained during voluntary training performed with
similar intensities and durations (12,17,23). Thus, when
used in conjunction with periodized exercise programs,
EMS appears more effective to increase the knee extensor
strength (11,13,28) through its translation effect on dynamic
performance like the 10-m speed skating. Another advan-
tage with EMS would be that training sessions have more
often than not shorter duration (12 min) compared with
voluntary strength trainings. However, the effects of EMS
training on the physical performance of healthy individuals
is still unclear, and more research is needed to investigate
the use of EMS in conjunction with isometric contraction
(either voluntary or EMS-induced) and in conjunction with
other types of training, thereby increasing the specificity of
training (e.g., plyometrics).
To summarize, the present study demonstrated that an
increase in the eccentric and concentric strength of the knee
extensors and skating performance can be achieved in a
relatively short period (3 wk) by using EMS training. As a
practical recommendation for ice hockey players, it is sug-
gested that EMS training could be used over the season to
enhance strength and skating performance without interfer-
ing with ice hockey training. Nevertheless, further experi-
ments are needed to determine long-term benefits of the
EMS training during ice hockey.
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