I Tried the Body-Contouring Device Emsculpt, and Now I Have Actual Abs

Because the gym can only do so much.

woman

Design by Dion Mills

Everyone has a certain body part that they tend to fixate on, and for me, that area has always been my stomach. As someone whose exercise routine can best be described as lackadaisical and infrequent, I had more or less given up on having a stomach that’s anywhere close to EmRata level. And that’s why, when I got an email about a brand-new, FDA-cleared body-contouring treatment called BTL Emsculpt that promised to not only burn fat but also to build muscle in the abdominal area, I set up an appointment with Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank immediately.

Read on to learn all about my experience and to get insight from experts about the Emsculpt procedure, how it works, and whether it’s a smart move for anyone yearning for visible abs.

Meet the Expert

  • Paul Jarrod Frank, MD is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and owner of PFRANKMD. Dr. Frank has published books on aging, consults for Madonna's skincare line, and sits on multiple dermatology advisory boards.
  • Howard Sobel, MD is the founder of Sobel Skin and the Attending Dermatologist and Dermatologic Surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Dr. Sobel’s unique practice provides the latest advances in dermatology, dermatologic cosmetic surgery, and progressive face and body treatments.
  • Shari Sperling, DO is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical, cosmetic, laser, and surgical dermatology for adults and children. She practices in Florham Park, NJ, and is affiliated with St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ.

What Is Emsculpt?

When I arrived at the office of NYC cosmetic dermatologist Paul Jarrod Frank, one of the first five dermatologists to receive the Emsculpt device in the entire country, Frank explained exactly how Emsculpt works: “Emsculpt is a new category of device,” he told me. “For the first time ever, we’re therapeutically using magnetic fields. It’s basically like a mini MRI machine.”

The non-invasive HIFEM (high-intensity focused electromagnetic) technology induces 20,000 supramaximal muscle contractions in 30 minutes. What exactly does that mean? “This [technology] is able to affect the muscle in a way that you couldn’t do voluntarily,” said Frank. “When you do a crunch or a squat, you’re activating about 50 percent of that muscle group every three to five seconds. This is activating 100 percent of the muscle 20,000 times in a 30-minute period.”

Sobel says that when he describes Emsculpt to a reluctant patient, he always lets them know that the “benefits of Emsculpt may sound too good to be true, but the truth is [that] it really does work and I’ve seen amazing results.”

“If someone is [feeling] hesitant, I would remind them that not only will they see a great improvement in their muscle tone, but they may find working out easier—better, stronger, longer—which may help them reach their fitness goals even faster than they could without the help of Emsculpt.”

Treatment Room for Emsculpt
Faith Xue

Benefits of Emsculpt

  • Muscle is developed while fat is also burned
  • Procedure takes only 30 minutes of in-office time
  • Appropriately spaced treatments give the procedures time to build on each other and produce longer-lasting results

The idea of lying still for 30 minutes and getting the definition and fat-burning effect of 20,000 crunches did indeed sound too good to be true, but you can’t argue with facts. According to the company protocol, Emsculpt is able to create about 16 percent muscle development on the area it was used on after four treatments spaced two weeks apart.

Frank says that it works because you’re dramatically increasing the metabolic rate of what’s going on around the muscle and with the “hyper-contraction of the muscle, the fatty acids in the muscle cells leak out.” Hence, you’ll see a 16 percent fat burn on top of the muscle building. Unlike CoolSculpting or SculpSure treatments, in which you’re targeting the fat directly, the fat-burning caused by Emsculpt is more of a residual effect from what the device is doing to your muscles.

Sperling points out that Emsculpt can certainly emphasize definition all on its own, but that the best results will come from a combination of Emsculpt treatments, a healthy diet, and a consistent exercise regimen. “Basically, if the [patient] is already in great shape, then Emsculpt alone could theoretically be all they need to achieve an even [more toned] physique. But if they have more of an average body type, like most people within a normal BMI range, then Emsculpt will be great to enhance the definition in their abdominal area, [but] we would also recommend that they adopt a lifestyle of eating healthy and exercising regularly in order to get a more noticeable and longer-lasting outcome,” says Sperling.

How to Prepare for Emsculpt

Wondering whether you’re an “ideal” candidate for Emsculpt? Frank recommends it for anyone who is health-conscious and who exercises but is looking for that extra definition that their SoulCycle classes just aren’t delivering—the icing on the cake, so to speak. If you’re deciding between Emsculpt and something like CoolSculpting or SculpSure, Frank says that the right choice depends on your goal.

If you’re more concerned with getting rid of fat, then CoolSculpting or SculpSure might be the way to go, and then you could follow up with Emsculpt for toning and muscle definition. Frank cautions that, while Emsculpt can help reduce fat, its main function involves building muscle. Therefore, the less fat you have in the treatment location, the more visible results you'll yield. The device is FDA approved for use on the abs and butt, with smaller attachments used to sculpt the arms (biceps and triceps), calves, and thighs. When smaller regions are targeted, that usually happens for therapeutic or rehabilitation purposes. 

Because Emsculpt is a non-invasive procedure, patients won’t need to fast or undergo rest time prior to their appointments. Just show up to your appointment, and that’s it!

What to Expect During an Emsculpt Procedure

The actual Emsculpt process is relatively painless. The device straps on over your stomach area (or butt area), and then a practitioner turns up the power. Frank says that they’ll usually start at a lower power level and then work their way up because going directly to 80 percent or 100 percent can hyper-stress the muscle and even cause a hernia. According to Frank, this risk is why you probably won’t find an Emsculpt device at your local Equinox anytime soon; you’ll need a trained practitioner who knows how to safely handle the device.

The contractions occur a few seconds apart and feel strange—like super-intense vibrations that reach your very core. This experience felt slightly uncomfortable during my first treatment but got better and easier with each additional appointment. Your feet will lift up with every contraction, which helped me feel like the treatment was definitely working. After a few contractions, the machine will switch over to a tapping motion to help break up the lactic acid that’s being released by your muscles. I couldn’t believe how quickly the treatment breezed by.

The contractions occur a few seconds apart and feel strange—like super-intense vibrations that reach your very core.

Faith using Emsculpt
Faith Xue

Possible Side Effects

Emsculpt brands itself as a low-stress experience, and for the average patient, there won’t be any significant side effects during or after the procedure. “Emsculpt is a non-invasive, FDA-approved treatment with little risk, and there have been no serious adverse events recorded by using Emsculpt. Also, the safety of the device has been supported by numerous studies,” says Sobel. “However, as with many treatments, there are patients who should avoid [Emsculpt] or [don’t make the ideal] candidates for this type of procedure.”

Sobel specifies that “Emsculpt should not be used by anyone who has metal or electronics (like pacemakers, [copper] IUDs, etc.) in their bodies, as these could interfere with the magnetic waves.” Emsculpt is also not safe during pregnancy, but it can be used after pregnancy to improve diastasis recti—the partial or complete separation experienced by about two-thirds of pregnant women, according to Sobel.

The Cost

An Emsculpt session will usually cost between $750 and $1000 for each of your initial four sessions. From there, you can purchase packages to keep up with your Emsculpt results. Truth be told, at that price point, the treatment is not all that attainable for most people. But Frank explains that the actual machine itself is a $250,000 MRI machine, which explains the cost. If you’re already spending hundreds on a gym membership or workout classes, Emsculpt could be the one thing that helps you overcome your workout plateau and, therefore, a worthy investment.

After The Procedure

The day after my first procedure, my stomach area felt slightly sore, like it would after a particularly intense Pilates class. I went back for three more treatments spaced a few weeks apart and waited for my sculpted abs to make their appearance. Two weeks went by, and I still had nothing in terms of visible results. What did happen, however, is that I was finally able to achieve Crow Pose during a Y7 yoga class.

Yoga is pretty much the only form of exercise that I enjoy, but my practice is sporadic. So imagine my surprise when I attempted Crow Pose—a move where you lean forward on your hands, lift your legs up and rest your knees on your back elbows—and was actually able to balance on my hands for a good 10 seconds. I was shocked. I have never even come close to doing a move like this, and I knew it was because of Emsculpt.

“My biggest referral sources are my SoulCycle instructors, nutritionists, [and] professional trainer-type patients,” Frank says. “There’s nothing more frustrating than hitting a workout plateau. A lot of my patients feel that their whole core is stronger after doing Emsculpt, and they’re able to reach the next level of their fitness journey.”

Did It Work?

After a few more weeks passed, I more or less gave up on seeing any sort of visible result from Emsculpt. I chalked this up to the fact that I wasn’t the ”ideal patient” Frank described. Because I did have more fat around my stomach area and didn’t exercise all the time, perhaps I shouldn’t have expected the visible results that were promised?

But then, one day, I looked in the mirror and literally did a double-take. Could it be? Could those be faint outlines of muscle definition I was seeing in my stomach area? Could they be… abs? My body shape has always been more straight-up-and-down than anything curvy, but suddenly, my waist appeared smaller and I had more of an hourglass figure.

The white Reformation jeans that I usually only wear once a year because they’re so constricting in the waist area now felt more comfortable; there was a noticeable difference in the difficulty level in buttoning the top button. I felt more confident in my swimsuit, wearing a cropped top, and being naked. It’s not like I suddenly woke up with a rock-hard six-pack, but the change was undeniable. Emsculpt had worked, and my stomach area was tighter and more toned than it had ever been in my life.

My body shape has always been more straight-up-and-down than anything curvy, but suddenly, my waist appeared smaller and I had more of an hourglass figure.

The Final Takeaway

I should emphasize that, while effective, Emsculpt isn't a miracle cure. You'll ideally be eating healthy and working out along with the treatment, and if you do that, the combination of a nutritious lifestyle and Emsculpt will give you the best results. With all that said, I was impressed that even with my limited workouts and my deep love for pasta dinners, I was still able to see results. Was all of the fat in my stomach area replaced by abs that could cut steel? Not even close. But did my stomach area feel (and look) leaner, tighter, and just all-around more toned? Definitely. 

If you’re like me and don’t work out often, but still try to live a healthy lifestyle and just want something to help with sculpting in the stomach or butt area, I can attest to the fact that the treatment is worth the money, because you will likely see results. At the end of the day, this is a revolutionary treatment that will only become more commonplace as more people try it and hear about it. “This is going to do for the body what Botox did for the face in the ’90s,” Frank predicts. “It’s really going to change the game for medical and cosmetic applications. The body is the new face.” 

You can learn more about Emsculpt and book an appointment with Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank on his website.

The author received complimentary Emsculpt treatments in exchange for an honest review.

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  1. BTL Industries. Emsculpt.

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