There’s a big difference nowadays in terms of what’s available to players when it comes to assisting their recovery strategies compared to previous times. A recent item in AS featured Karim Benzema wearing an electrical stimulation jacket to strengthen his core muscles; and this typifies how modern players are embracing new technology. It seems that these stimulatory belts are all the rage in Germany at the moment. Bayern Munich are reported to use these, but are not currently used to the same degree in Spain. The stimulation garments are essentially worn in the same way as that of an abdominal toning belt; only on a much bigger scale. Benzema uploaded a picture of himself wearing this electrical stimulation jacket earlier this month onto his Facebook page and feels that it helps to condition his muscles in a far more thorough way than through conventional exercise. The article went on to explain why Benzema favours this new method of training; and he now features on the manufacturers web pages using the equipment.
Used extensively (and also publicised) by Usain Bolt amongst other athletes, these electro-stimulation jackets similar to the one used by Karim Benzema typically cost between 10,000 and 20,000€ each dependent on the model. The benefits are said to include helping to reduce body fat and increase muscular tone. Another benefit is said to be an improvement in both speed and reaction, since the system is claimed to target the fast-twitch Type 2 muscle fibres, which are the muscle fibres associated with being able to fire rapidly as opposed to endurance-based Type 1 slow twitch muscles. Sprinters have been shown to possess between 75 – 80% of Type 2 fast twitch fibres while marathon runners usually have a predominance of Type 1 slow twitch muscle fibres. As a footballer, Karim Benzema will have a predominance of the fast twitch Type 2 fibres which the system is said to stimulate.
The concept of electrical muscle stimulation is not entirely new. The ancient Greeks used electric eels to stimulate muscle tissue and this is one of the techniques that has successfully carried over into modern times with equipment becoming more and more advanced and aimed at the high level athlete. Karim has certainly looked very strong this season, rarely being knocked off the ball, and it appears that using the electro-stimulation jacket has helped in some way. The usual form of electro-stimulation for muscle strengthening consists either of a few pads which are self-adhesive and can be fixed to the thigh, for example, which is a favourite for footballers, or worn as a belt with the stimulation pads self-contained. The model worn by Benzema is a complete jacket which encompasses the waist and chest, and also has attachments in the upper thigh.
When it comes to core strength, the back, abdominals and groin / hip region are all connected as injury or weakness in the one region will affect the others. Collectively, this region is known as the ‘core’ and the debate continues as to whether the concept of ‘core stability’ actually exists. Theories about core stability centre on the fact that the body has two different kinds of functional muscles; the superficial muscles which produce the actual movements, and the underlying deeper muscles which stabilise the joints in order to allow the superficial muscles to work. In the abdominal region and lumbar spine for example, the superficial muscles are the ‘six-pack’ and erectors of the spine while the deeper muscles – aka the core – are the smaller intervertebral muscles which act as stabilisers and hold the spine in place while the movements take place.
Traditionally, the favourite way to train core stability is to exercise using a Swiss ball. This encourages activation of the core muscles which improves stability and balance in addition to strengthening the deeper muscles. The electro-stimulation suits work on the same principles and encourage development of the deeper muscles and are reported to produce an increase in toning and fat loss which aids performance in addition to contributing towards injury prevention. It is thought that having a strong ‘core’ or middle region helps to prevent lower back pain in general and for that reason ‘core stability’ exercises form an integral component of any lower back rehabilitation programme.
In the old days players would do endless amounts of sit ups in the belief that in order to kick a football you needed to have strong stomach muscles. In today’s game, we now talk about players needing to have a strong ‘core’ in order to be able to hold off opponents and to kick the ball. The principles are exactly the same and the only difference between having a strong core and having strong stomach muscles is in the name. It used to be a hundred sit-ups a day for most professional players, now it’s a daily session on a Swiss ball; or for Karim Benzema a couple of hours a day wearing a stimulatory jacket!