The idea that vibration is a useful training method is really nothing new. In the early 1900s, John Kellogg, recognized mostly by the cereal company that bears his name, had an entire wing at the Battle Creek Sanitarium dedication to so-called “vibrotherapy.” And who could forget the circa-1950s pictures of rows of women smiling as giant belts vibrated around their midsections? Generally, we see these machines as laughable and somewhat ridiculous but, could they have been on to something?
Modern machines using whole body vibration (WBV) have recently started gaining popularity and are even in use by NASA and the NFL. With this resurgence of vibrating exercise machines, it’s worth considering the science and potential benefits behind them.
How It Works
Several companies are currently marketing WBV equipment with subtle difference between the models. Typically, though, the machines consist of a moving platform with handles and a control panel rising up to about chest height. The user stands on this platform as it vibrates up and down.
The vibrations are measured in both frequency and amplitude, which are adjustable to adapt the workout to your needs. Frequency is measured in hertz (Hz) and relates to the amount of vibrations performed each second. Amplitude is usually displayed in millimeters (mm) and reflects the vertical distance the platform travels during each vibration. Since it is so different from other exercise machines, this all may seem foreign but, basically, the higher each of these numbers is, the more difficult your workout will be.
Each time the platform vibrates, your muscles contract with the hardest contractions occurring the area closest to the platform. For example, if you simply stand on the machine, your legs will be the target. If you place your hands on it in a pushup position, however, your upper-body would receive the brunt of the vibrations.
The exact mechanism at work here, translating shaking to contractions, isn’t completely understood but, according to the American Council on Exercise, the prevailing theory is that a stretch reflex is the root of the work.
Does it Really Work?
As with many things in the health and fitness world, supporters and manufacturers tend to make claims that lead to understandable speculation. Specifically, WBV is touted to deliver amazing results in just standing on the platform for 15 minutes a day, three days each week. While standing on the platform does have some benefits, it is no substitute for other training methods. Studies have shown, though, that more creative uses of the vibrating platform can actually have some incredible results.
One study, published in 2007 in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, found that a 6-week strength training program performed on a WBV machine significantly improved sprinting ability and explosive power in the subjects. More recently, the journal Obesity Facts published findings that support claims that WBV and diet reduced body fat more effectively than aerobic exercise and diet.
Have you used whole body vibration equipment? Please share your thoughts in the comments.