In recent years, practically every standard fitness component has received a tech-y glow-up. Vibrating foam rollers prepare your body to move, smart kettlebells count your reps, watches tell you when you’re falling behind your goal running pace, and massage guns pound out post-workout muscle stiffness. And now, thanks to new consumer-forward electronic muscle stimulators, recovery regimens are getting yet another high-tech treatment.
The Therabody PowerDot 2.0 is one device making headway in the electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) space. It promises to enhance recovery, relieve pain, and improve performance. But is it too good to be true? To find out, I put the device to use before and after several workouts. Here, my biggest takeaways.
Therabody PowerDot 2.0
- FDA cleared
- Offers NMES and TENS
- 100 intensity settings
- 1-year warranty
- Compact, travel-friendly, and aesthetically pleasing
- Highly customizable programs
- Minimal wiring
- Visual guides for electrode placement aren’t very helpful
- Comes with just one pair of replacement pads
What Is the Therabody PowerDot?
Promoted as “the smartest muscle stimulator in recovery,” the Therabody PowerDot uses the power of neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to boost recovery and performance. ICYDK, NMES mimics the electrical impulses created naturally by your central nervous system in order to contract a muscle, while TENS stimulates the sensory nerves to ease pain. The PowerDot is marketed to athletes and fitness enthusiasts, but people also use it for plantar fasciitis, shoulder impingements, and other injuries. You shouldn’t use the PowerDot (or any EMS device) if you’re pregnant or have a pacemaker. (If you’re not sure, check with your medical provider.)
Yes, sending electronic impulses to your muscles sounds like an act straight out of a horror film. But the PowerDot is anything but intimidating. The rechargeable stimulator is FDA-cleared as a Class II medical device (the same category that includes items like pregnancy tests and red light facial devices) and comes in bright ruby-red and neon-blue colors. It’s smaller than the palm of your hand, so it doesn’t have the same fear factor as other medical devices. Plus, there isn’t any guesswork. The device uses Bluetooth to pair with the PowerDot app, which offers dozens of personalized stimulation programs designed for different workout styles, goals, and muscle groups.
I tried the PowerDot Uno, which comes with a single device that has two sticky electrode pads. The Duo comes with two stimulators, giving the user a total of four muscle-stimulating pads to work with. Pads should last up to 25 uses, and replacement pads are $18 a pop.
How To Use the PowerDot
Unlike other pieces of tech, setting up the PowerDot is painless. On your first use, you’ll download the PowerDot app, pair the device with your phone via Bluetooth, and create an account. Then, you’re ready to treat your muscles to some major TLC. From the homepage, choose from six stimulation programs, including performance, wellness, smart pain relief, smart recovery, period pain relief, and “focus on,” depending on your goals. If you want to warm up your biceps before a workout, for instance, you’ll select the “focus on” program and check the desired muscle group.
Some programs will ask you a handful of questions to create a personalized stimulation session for your needs. For example, when you opt for a smart recovery session, the app will have you input your activity (say, mountain biking or strength training), your workout’s intensity and duration, the muscle group you want to target, and its fatigue level. After a bit of wizardry, the app presents a custom program ready to go.
When you’re ready to start, stick the electrode pads on your body. You can reference the demonstration image on the app for proper placement. Then, attach the PowerDot and cables to the indicated electrode pads using the magnetic button snaps. Finally, press the “start workout” button on the app and increase the intensity until you can “visualize muscle twitches,” so long as you’re comfortable. Sit back, relax, and let the app do all the hard work for you.
On first use, the recovery and warm-up programs feel uncomfortable, but not painful, like someone is rapidly flicking you with their finger. Unless you switch up the intensity throughout your session, the discomfort generally fades. And you may even notice your muscles acclimating to the sensation with each use, so it comes to feel like a strong heartbeat over time.
Does the PowerDot Work?
The practice of EMS has some research to back it up. It’s often Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine “Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation for Skeletal Muscle Function ” View Source improve muscle strength, increase range of motion, reduce swelling, minimize muscle atrophy, heal tissue, and ease pain. In a small study that looked at rugby and football players, researchers found that using an NMES device after a sprint workout Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport “The impact of neuromuscular electrical stimulation on recovery after intensive, muscle damaging, maximal speed training in professional team sports players ” View Source .
When I used the PowerDot at home, I saw noticeable, albeit small, improvements in my workout performance and recovery. I tried the five-minute warm-up program, which is meant to “increase contraction speed and prepare muscles for max power output” on my left arm’s biceps and left leg’s calf muscles ahead of two separate strength-building workouts. Five minutes into my training sessions, I performed bicep curls with 15-pound dumbbells and single-leg bodyweight calf raises and noticed my tested muscles had an easier time overcoming the resistance. I was also able to bang out a couple more reps before my muscles were ready to tap out. That said, similar improvements may have come from a warmup, not the PowerDot.
Similarly, I put the smart recovery program to use on my left hamstrings, deltoids, calves, and lats following strength workouts and Pilates sessions. There weren’t any clear changes within an hour of use, and in some cases, my tested muscles almost felt more fatigued than the ones I left alone.
But by the next day, I noticed a bit of a boost. My tested hamstrings, for example, didn’t feel as tight while performing leg circles on the reformer, and on a separate occasion, they felt more comfortable during forward folds. After my calf raises, my left side’s muscles felt a bit less sore than those on my right. And my tested deltoids were more mobile the morning after a workout full of shoulder presses and lateral raises. It’s not the same as a rest day, though—none of my tested muscles felt like they were ready to take on an intense workout the next day.
While my recovery improvements weren’t major, I wasn’t putting my body through the wringer, either. If I were an elite athlete training at high intensities and needed to perform at 100% every single day, I expect PowerDot’s recovery programs would be more beneficial.
What I Love About the PowerDot
Based on personalization options alone, the PowerDot gets a five-star rating. Whether you’re into running, swimming, cycling, HIIT, or strength, the device has a smart recovery program for your needs. Since the app takes muscle fatigue level and workout intensity into consideration for smart recovery programs, I felt confident that my body was getting exactly what it needed to recuperate after a tough training session. Although I didn’t test the smart pain relief program (I don’t currently suffer from any chronic or acute pain), I’d feel comfortable using it if needed. The program is personalized based on your problem area, the nature of your pain (think: chronic, acute, fracture, or joint) and its cause, and the maximum level of pain on a scale of one to 10.
I also appreciate the PowerDot’s minimalist design. The device itself has just one button that powers it on and off, and the cables that connect the PowerDot to the electrode pads (which you place on top of the targeted muscles) are tiny, so you don’t feel like you’re being strangled with wires. The cherry on top: The PowerDot connects directly to one of the electrode pads you wear during a session, keeping your hands free and ready to scroll through TikTok.
What I Don’t Love About the PowerDot
Although the PowerDot itself is simple to set up—and you don’t have to put any effort into determining the best stimulation settings for your needs—I found it challenging to place the electrodes on my body. Before your “workout,” the app shows a photograph of the suggested electrode placement on real models. But the images’ angles make it tough to make out their exact location. With my shoulder sessions, for instance, I wasn’t sure how far forward (think: close to my armpit) I should place one pad. I don’t know how precise pad placement needs to be for the greatest efficacy, but it did make me a tad nervous that I wasn’t going to get the most out of my session.
There’s also a maintenance cost to consider. You’ll have to replace the electrode pads every 25 uses—if you turn on the PowerDot frequently, that’ll set you back an additional $18 or so every month. This isn’t the end of the world, but some reviewers don’t like that the set only comes with one pair of replacement pods.
PowerDot vs. Compex—Which Is Better?
When we tested EMS devices, the PowerDot beat out the Compex Sport Elite 3.0 Muscle Stimulator with TENS Kit in nearly every category. The Compex is bulky, looks like it was designed in the early 2000s, and has long, unwieldy cables that always seem to get in the way during use. The device has multiple program options—including pain management, muscle building, and warm-up and recovery—but they aren’t personalized for your workout or your muscle fatigue. In turn, every training recovery session is exactly the same, even if you did an endurance-building cycling workout one day and a strength-boosting workout the next. (For the record, you do have control over the intensity of the stimulation with both devices.)
One perk of the Compex, however, is that it has four independent stimulation channels, so you’re able to target multiple muscle groups at once. The PowerDot Uno, on the other hand, has just one channel, so your recovery routine will take much longer if you just wrapped up a full-body workout.
Is the PowerDot Worth It?
The PowerDot didn’t make a huge difference in terms of my recovery, and I personally enjoy using traditional recovery methods like stretching and foam rolling. I would likely save the device for after particularly strenuous workouts. However, it did keep my muscles and joints from becoming super stiff after training, and I appreciated the wide array of program options so I could use the device for pain relief down the line. Given its high-tech nature and customizable programs for any goal and need, the PowerDot may be a worthwhile tool for high-performing athletes—marathon runners, powerlifters, and endurance cyclists—looking to try new tools.