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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tsarina of Torture Gives New Russians a Shock

Would you survive if you stuck your finger into an electric socket?

Konstantin Mikhailov is convinced that he would. "My body is used to electricity," he said. "If I were to be executed in an electric chair, I'd need at least two shocks."

Mikhailov's confidence is well-founded. He has undergone a course of electrostimulation, a new fitness regime gradually becoming popular among affluent Russians eager for shortcuts to a trim body.

"There is a category of men and women who need to get fit quickly," said Tamara Kiselyova, who runs the Melissena Center, an electrostimulation parlor in Moscow's western suburbs. "They typically have such heavy workloads that during their spare time they prefer to relax with a beer rather than work out at the gym.''

Nicknamed by Mikhailov "the tsarina of electricity and queen of torture," Kiselyova wraps her client's solarium-tanned body with rubber strips and slides electrodes under them.

Mikhailov lies on his back with his hands under his head and electrodes attached to his biceps, shoulders and stomach. When the current is turned on, Mikhailov's torso instantly curls upward and remains rigid for 10 seconds. His face turns red, he sweats and breathes heavily. Then, suddenly, his body relaxes and he drops back on the couch.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Mikhailov said that after a few painful sessions, he began finding the shocks pleasant and now he sometimes turns them up when no one is looking. "I'm just not satisfied with these mosquito bites anymore," he said.

A person undergoing electrostimulation experiences sensations similar to cramps and involuntary muscle spasms. Hit by the shock, the muscles contract as though some invisible force is playing with the body, twisting it and making the arms and legs jerk convulsively. Intense contractions of up to 30 groups of muscles off and on over two hours is meant to simulate exercise.

Here at the Melissena Center, clients can be heard moaning and groaning behind curtains.

After 20 sessions over six weeks, in combination with massage, the body's shape is altered, muscle endurance increases by up to 30 percent, and fat is burned, according to Kiselyova. Costs vary from $15 to $45 per session.

Mikhailov, 28, formerly a popular Radio Maximum disc jockey, said he opted for electrostimulation treatment when he was invited to work for the STS television channel, where he hosts the "Chas Sovy" talk show. On radio, his growing belly and pudgy cheeks were fine, but television needed him to be trim and fit.

He said 20 electrostimulation sessions did the trick, and now he is an enthusiast. "You become more mobile, you think and react faster. And you get such a nice spring in your step," he said.

Electrostimulation has been used for decades in Russia, originally to help cosmonauts recover from space travel and for training the Soviet Olympic team. Electrostimulation is also practiced in the West, primarily for massage and medical purposes.

The technique often motivates clients to begin working out because without excercise, the results wear off after two months, Kiselyova said.

Alexander Polonitkin, a fitness instructor at the Beach Club in Moscow, is skeptical. "No stimulation from an external source [of energy] can substitute for real exercise," he said, "because muscles work completely independently from the head."

For this reason, even though blood circulation may improve and repeated contractions can build up muscles, the hormonal processes that burn fat are not initiated, Polonitkin says. Electrostimulation could treat atrophied muscles, but generally he wouldn't recommend it to clients.

But Kiselyova's salon is appealing to some, including the popular Blestyashchiye female pop group and the scandalous host of the Partiynaya Zona television program, Otar Kushanashvili. Most clients are young housewives, but lately men have become interested, she said.

Vladimir Polissky, director of the state Institute of Medical Problems of Building Good Health, said electrostimulation is used in some of the 300 disease prevention centers his agency oversees. It may not be the best possible exercise, but it makes the heart's work easier by pumping blood through the blood vessels, Polissky said.

Melissena Center, 12 Ulitsa Akademika Anokhina, Korpus 3. Tel. 437-3603 or 299-1772.