When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. That goes even more so for companies trying to sell you a quick and easy way to lose weight and get in shape.
So, when I heard that a new workout featuring electrical muscle stimulation technology promised to provide the equivalent of a two-hour muscle workout in just 20 minutes, I was skeptical. But when I finally slipped into the Katalyst suit, chose my muscle settings and started what looked like an easy 20-minute core workout, I was immediately using muscle groups I didn’t even know existed. By the end, I completely understood why 55,000 people wanted a suit of their own.
Since this workout isn't accessible to most of us, I took one for the team and jumped on the opportunity to try the suit at a special preview in New York City. This was my experience trying the Katalyst EMS workout.
How much does the EMS suit cost?
Purchasing the Katalyst EMS system is an investment. The 4-piece suit, two sets of “innerwear” made of special material worn under the suit, battery pack and spray bottle used to wet the suit cost $2,385 total. In addition, you’ll need an iPad to run the app (the platform doesn’t work on mobile devices and requires iOS 13 or higher). Access to the platform is included with the purchase. Currently, a deposit of $500 is required to order the Katalyst EMS system, and financing for the suit is available through Affirm.
What is an EMS suit?
The four-piece suit is equipped with Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) technology and includes two straps that wrap around your arms, a set of shorts for your glutes, and a body suit that zips tightly in front. The suit’s “impulse pack” holds the battery and syncs with the app platform, allowing the virtual trainer to control the intensity of your suit throughout the workout. The innerwear consists of a top and bottom meant to be worn without undergarments, which keep your body at the right moisture level for the suit to be most impactful for the targeted muscle groups.
If you’re wondering, “How safe is it to be strapping electricity to my body?” the suit has been cleared by the FDA. It’s rechargeable and lasts for an average of 8 workouts before this is required. The entire system weighs only three pounds.
Getting started: How the EMS suit and Katalyst app work
When you first log onto the Katalyst app, you’ll be asked to answer a few personal questions, including date of birth, height, weight and current activity level. From there, the introduction video takes you through the suit setup, including wetting the pads in the suit, which allows the electromagnetic conductors to work efficiently, and securing the shorts and arm straps to ensure the right amount of compression.
It sounds overwhelming, but once the suit is paired with the app, it evaluates the compression and moisture levels and alerts you if something is off. Then, the app helps you set your starting impulse intensities, which range from zero to 480. (The recommended starting intensity is 60-100). During your initial setup, you’ll set the intensity for your quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, lower back, middle back, upper back, chest and arms. These numbers will likely vary as certain muscle groups are stronger than others. The goal is to feel consistent stimulation in every muscle group.
Once you’re ready to select a workout, you’ll have the option to sort through the platform filtering by strength, power, cardio or recovery workouts, as well as by trainer and level of difficulty. The app features introductory workouts along with a “what’s new” section where new workouts are added.
My experience trying Katalyst, an EMS workout
Because this wait list is no joke, I jumped at the chance to try the Katalyst suit during a preview event. Setting up and stepping into the suit was a little overwhelming initially. Luckily, the steps for setup are clearly outlined on the app with visuals to make it easy. I slipped into the two-piece base layer, which is meant to be worn without undergarments — something that took a little getting used to. Next, my trainer for the event showed me how to wet the suit with the provided spray water bottle, showing me what each pad on the suit should feel like for optimal conductivity.
I stepped into the shorts and secured them around my glutes using straps. The body suit was extremely tight to my body, but my trainer informed me a snug fit is necessary for proper electrostimulation.
Once I was suited up, it was time to connect to the app and determine the right intensity for each muscle group. The app walked through each muscle group and when I felt that my muscles were being activated intensely, I saved the setting. Once you save your settings, the impulse intensity of each workout starts low and builds up over time.
The workouts on the Katalyst platform are all 20 minutes long and are grouped into categories for strength, power, cardio and recovery. I decided on a 20-minute core workout. My virtual trainer told me to inhale, then exhale into a squatting position with my arms engaged, timed to a bar at the top of the screen as the suit’s intensity kicked on.
This method is called “strength mode.” The workouts feature four seconds of impulse intensity while performing small, static movements, followed by four seconds of rest. This activates type I muscle fibers that take longer to fatigue, which is how the suit can deliver such an effective workout in such a short amount of time.
Before I tried Katalyst, I had mistakenly imagined this suit doing all the work for me while I kicked back and relaxed.
The exercises themselves wasn't weren't difficult. The entire workout consisted of small, functional core movements like bending to the side with one leg lifted, turning to the left and right in a single leg squat and standing crunches. But these simple movements were incredibly difficult to execute and sustain while fighting back against the push of the electrostimulation. Before I tried Katalyst, I had mistakenly imagined this suit doing all the work for me while I kicked back and relaxed. Instead, I found myself fighting through the workout as the intensity increased, barely able to execute the moves by the end. I quickly realized I’d set my glutes to an extremely challenging intensity, but that my arms weren’t feeling it as much — something that can be adjusted either during the workout or for the next time.
Once the workout ended and the suit came off, I felt as if I’d been working out for hours. The next morning, my entire body felt the impact of this workout. I was sore for days.
What I liked about the Katalyst workout
This is an extremely effective workout. The Katalyst site claims that this system stimulates up to 90% of the muscle fibers in your body, which I absolutely believe after trying it. To get this kind of muscle workout in just 20 minutes is a game-changer for anyone short on time. Because of the muscle recovery required, it’s recommended you wait 48 hours in between training sessions — so you only need to commit to three days per week.
Once you get past the overwhelm of strapping a foreign suit full of electricity to your body, the workout itself is also incredibly accessible. Save for a few health conditions (outlined in the safety guide), the workout is so simple anyone at any fitness level can do it.
Once the workout ended and the suit came off, I felt as if I’d been working out for hours.
What I didn’t liked about the Katalyst workout
The drawbacks are obvious. It’s a considerable investment — especially if you don’t already own a compatible iPad — and not easily accessible to everyone given the price and that the current wait time for a Katalyst suit is around ten weeks.
Using Katalyst is also such a foreign experience that there is definitely a learning curve for your body. It was difficult for me to determine the right intensity settings during my initial run. But after the workout, I could feel in my body where I could increase the intensity and where I might’ve overdone it.
While I did enjoy the workout and feel like it targeted my muscles effectively, I don't think this workout alone would lead to large amounts of weight loss if that's your goal and you wouldn't hit weekly recommendations for cardiovascular exercise. I still feel like I would need to incorporate other cardio activities into my routine. Given the high price tag, this is one of those workouts that will remain a novel experience, but not something that becomes a regular part of my routine. (Although, if anyone is willing to gift it to me, I will certainly suit up three times a week.)
I’d recommend this workout to:
- Anyone who likes a challenging workout and is short on time
- Those who want to try something new and innovative
- Anyone who likes to incorporate cool technology into their fitness routine
- People with extra cash to spend on fitness equipment