This is not news to me, of course, thanks to the Top it’s not Halloween until the Labrador shows up shirt(1) besides I will buy this relentless #fitspo that has flooded my Instagram Explore page as I’ve refreshed the app again (and again) in the New Year. I try not to dwell on this kind of content, finding some measure of relief in the idea that as long as “normal life” has all but ceased to exist, at least I can let myself go. Not completely: I still do Yoga with Adriene on YouTube every once in a while, and I’ve been surprising myself by jumping on a livestream of Taryn Toomey’s cultish The Class—a fairly intense hour-long combination of cardio, strength training, and breath work—a few times a month. But I’m a writer, not an influencer/model/entrepreneur: Who even cares about my abs? Still. Even I am not immune to the appeal of something like Emsculpt, especially as we try to erase the physical signs of the sad, anxious, dumpy year we just endured, a kind of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless…body. It’s completely understandable that we’re not at our regular fitness levels,” Anne Chapas, M.D., assures me. “It’s been an incredibly stressful time for all of us.” A Manhattan dermatologist and the founder and medical director of Union Derm, Chapas relays that she and her colleagues have seen a rise in the number of patients seeking quick, noninvasive, no-downtime fixes. “I had a patient who joked to me the other day, ‘You know why they call it COVID-19?’ Because of the 19 pounds we’ve all gained.” Similar memes and tweets have been met with a backlash from the body-positivity community: Why are we worrying about a few extra pounds when so many of us have been sequestered at home, awash in worry, trying to keep ourselves and the people around us healthy and solvent? But the numbers don’t lie. “The uptick in the desire for body contouring has increased in my office by almost 400 percent,” confirms Harold Lancer, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist based in Beverly Hills. Traditionally, these treatments have been focused on fat reduction through devices like CoolSculpting, which freezes fat cells to break them down, or truSculpt iD, which employs heat to the same end, explains Lancer. But newer devices—such as Emsculpt’s Neo, Cutera’s rebooted suite of truSculpt machines, and InMode’s new Evolve—add electrical-stimulation technology or high-intensity electromagnetic technology to tighten and tone muscles as well. Delivered through applicators attached to targeted areas, most commonly the abs, the flanks (a.k.a. the “love handles”), and the arms, these contractions work the muscles to provide definition.
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WHILE THIS MAY sound like an episode of Black Mirror, in which a simple beauty treatment somehow ends with machine-animated clones attempting to murder each other, there is nothing especially new (or scary) about electrical muscle stimulation, which has been used in physical therapy and rehabilitation protocols since the Top it’s not Halloween until the Labrador shows up shirt(1) besides I will buy this 1960s to reduce pain and swelling or to keep muscles from atrophying after an injury. “By stimulating the tissue, these machines help increase blood flow into the area and facilitate voluntary muscle contraction,” explains Michael Fredericson, M.D., a sports-medicine physiatrist at Stanford University. Fredericson is less optimistic about electrical muscle stimulation’s cosmetic benefits. “There’s no free lunch,” he deadpans. “Using a device like this might be a good starting point for a more defined silhouette, but ultimately, you will have to exercise to get the results you want.” Dennis Cardone, D.O., a sports-medicine specialist at NYU Langone, agrees. “If someone isn’t able-bodied, I can see the benefits of using one of these machines,” he says. “But otherwise, I’d say, save your money and start with a good home-workout program.” The electric currents kneading and manipulating my midsection made the muscles pop up on my stomach, Alien-style. Strangely, I came to experience the sensation as almost relaxing To my surprise, Chapas doesn’t completely disagree with this logic. “These new treatments are for people who already have a baseline of fitness,” she says during a Zoom consultation. “They’re meant to be an additional tool for people who want some extra help in toning and optimizing, and in getting back into their fitness routine.” Unlike the machines that are employed in the sports-medicine field, she explains, the new, cosmetically oriented devices mimic the course of a real, varied workout as much as possible and can alternate between the upper, lower, and oblique abs. I tell Chapas about my noncommittal commitment to Toomey’s training program to convince her that I am at least making an attempt to get back into shape, and she asks me to pull up my shirt. For a brief moment, I feel like the world’s least erotic cam girl. Since I am carrying some “excess fat” in my midsection, the plan is to start with the truSculpt iD, which, over two separate 15-minute sessions, will use radio-frequency technology to slim my abdominal area, then proceed to my flanks; I’ll follow this with the new truSculpt Flex, which employs a separate round of electrical muscle stimulation to tighten those same areas, over four 45-minute-long sessions. “You need to wait at least two weeks to see even a hint of results,” Chapas says, explaining that the real payoff should reveal itself in about two months and will require maintenance every three months. (The effects of the Flex, which runs between $750 and $1,250 dollars per session, fade over time.)