The treatment I tried
Emsculpt Neo, on my abdomen
Dr. Bruce Katz, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City
What is Emsculpt Neo?
Emsculpt Neo launched in 2020 and is a nonsurgical, FDA-cleared device that combines high-intensity focused electromagnetic (HIFEM) technology with radiofrequency (RF) energy, to build and strengthen muscles while simultaneously burning fat. It can treat the abdomen, buttocks, biceps and triceps, and calves. Four treatments, spaced one week apart, are recommended for best results.
Emsculpt vs. Emsculpt Neo: What’s the difference?
Emsculpt uses only electromagnetic energy to produce approximately 20,000 involuntary muscle contractions in a 30-minute period. It activates all the muscles at once, at a much more vigorous pace than you could achieve during a workout, strengthening the muscle fibers and causing the release of lactic acid and other chemicals that break down fat.
Emsculpt Neo produces up to 24,000 contractions while also using RF energy to boost blood supply to the muscles for increased volume and to break down fat cells by heating the fat layer to just above 42°C/107.6°F. “By combining the two technologies, Emsculpt Neo can reduce up to 30% of fat in the treatment area and increase muscle growth by about 25%, whereas with Emsculpt there is closer to 19% fat reduction and 16% muscle increase,” says Dr. Katz. “Emsculpt is typically for people with a BMI less than 30 who want to remove a little bulge and tone the muscles. But since Neo melts more fat, we can treat people with a BMI up to 35.”
Why I tried it
I’m not a big workout person—I hike whenever I can and get on my Spin bike a few times a week, but that’s been the extent of my fitness journey since high school. And up until my late 20s, that was all I really needed to do, to maintain the body I wanted. I had always had a flat stomach, with fairly defined abs and toned legs (the remnants of a decade of daily horseback riding). But in my late 20s, all my bad habits—too much alcohol, late-night McDonald’s, years of sitting at a desk for eight hours a day and then going home to sit on the couch—seemed to finally catch up to me. Ever since, I’ve felt constantly bloated, with love handles and a lower stomach “pooch” that are hard to get rid of.
Out of sheer boredom, at the beginning of the pandemic, I got into a consistent workout routine— which I likely would have seen impressive improvements from, had I not also significantly upped my daily wine intake. By fall, my motivation to look good was at an all-time low, and Emsculpt Neo seemed like the ideal quick fix.
Related: CoolSculpting vs. Emsculpt: What’s The Difference?
What my Emsculpt Neo treatments were like
I’ve seen a lot of influencers and providers post about Emsculpt Neo, calling the treatment “comfortable” and “painless,” which I knew would not be the case even before I had my first session. I’ve worn a Slendertone ab-toning belt on and off for years when I cycle, walk around the park, and even just do household chores. It also uses electrical muscle stimulation to involuntarily contract the abdominal muscles, at a lower strength than Emsculpt—and it’s not pleasant, by any stretch of the imagination. Emsculpt, I correctly predicted, would be a much more intense version of that.
At my appointment, Dr. Katz took before photos, then had me lie down on the table. I kept my sports bra and leggings on, and he placed the device on my abdomen and then tightly wrapped a thick strap around me, to secure it in place. He explained that the device has two alternating phases after the initial buildup period—the muscle-contracting phase and the recovery phase. During the 30-minute session, the radiofrequency energy is heating the muscles to the point of apoptosis, or cell death. You can dial the intensity from 0 to 100 (I hovered around 75 for most of my first session but got to 90 for the last five minutes; during the subsequent three sessions, I spent the first 15 minutes at 90, then went up to 100. The nurse in the room told me that women tolerate Emsculpt much better than men do—no surprise there).
But let’s get to how it really felt. For me, the heat isn’t memorable. If anything, it dulled the discomfort of the muscle-contracting phase, which is… awful. That part felt like a giant magnet was trying to pull my stomach muscles up out of my body, and it sucked the air out of me, momentarily, each time. It was such a strange sensation that my eyes started watering and I had a moment of claustrophobic panic when the doctor left the room and I was trapped under this machine. I’m so glad I never went to my appointments with a full stomach, because I would have wanted to throw up. But every time I thought I couldn’t handle another muscle contraction, the recovery phase kicked in.
Recovery sounds gentle, and it actually is, in comparison to what came before; but in order to break up the lactic acid that has built up from the strenuous contractions and can lead to cramps and muscle fatigue, the machine starts hitting the muscles. Think of your abdomen as a door being aggressively knocked on repeatedly—and that’s the “break” period.
When you see Emsculpt Neo results and how long results last
I felt the core-strengthening results when I worked out a few days after my second session—I could balance better on the Spin bike and was less fatigued doing sit-ups. After the third session, I saw more upper abs definition.
I took my after photos six weeks out from my fourth Emsculpt Neo session, and I was surprised by just how toned my stomach looked, especially the obliques, with no changes to my eating, drinking, or fitness habits. I hadn’t noticed any fat reduction while looking in the mirror, but in the photos from the side, it’s clear that there was fat loss around my lower belly, which Dr. Katz says will continue to improve for up to six months after treatment. Results last at least a year, at which point maintenance treatments are recommended.
How much Emsculpt Neo costs
The price varies, depending on your location, your provider, and the package discounts being offered, but a session typically costs between $750 and $1,000. If the price is significantly lower, the provider may not be using an authentic Emsculpt device.
Final verdict: Worth It
I have a very high pain tolerance, and I thought Emsculpt Neo hurt the first time (so much so that I texted friends: “I hate this so much, I want to stop, this feels horrible”). However, it got much easier to handle with each session as my muscles grew stronger, and if it had felt like nothing, I wouldn’t have believed it was working. It’s the only noninvasive treatment I’ve seen obvious results from—and in such a short time frame too. It’s motivated me to get into a more regular workout routine, and I plan on going back for maintenance treatments in the fall.