Can You Shake Your Way Fit?

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.



Badwater Ultramarathon


Crew team members helping out a runner

This past weekend, I had the privilege (cough, cough, ahem, ahem) of crewing Pam Reed to the finish line of the Badwater Ultramarathon.

What is the Badwater Ultramarathon? Badwater is billed as the toughest foot race in the world–a 135-mile foot race through Death Valley in July, then up 8,500 feet of Mt. Whitney–the tallest mountain the lower 48 states. I was unaware of that geographical fact when I said yes to this extreme task.


Pam Reed at the finish line

Not only did the crew team deal with horrific conditions–122 degree F temperatures, 30 mile per hour winds of hot air, blowing sand–but we were supporting one of the fastest ultra marathoners on the planet: Pam Reed. Having one this race previously, Pam deals well with heat, climbs and extreme conditions. Her minuscule body is actually quite powerful and tough.

In 2013, she placed second among the females and was the first American female to cross the finish line.

For each mile of all 135 miles, we prepared her food, jumping out of the car to fix small turkey sandwiches, mix drinks of juice and club soda cocktails, rub her legs, provide cold water for her to dump in her hat, prepare socks full of ice so she could tie them around her neck, and then traded off crew team members to run behind her and spray her down with garden hoses from a hardware store.

I tried to battle the heat and epically failed. After my first .5 miles, I stopped. I then joined again after an additional .5 miles and felt so sick in every organ of my body. I covered up my mouth, neck and eyes, but the brutal heat left me nauseous. And given we were running with one of the fastest women out on the course, I just plain couldn’t keep up.

Luckily, that night and early the next morning, temperatures dropped and I could put in a total of six miles with her, spaced out over several hours.

I felt embarrassed by my lack of ability to keep up when she’d been running for hours and hours with no break. I ran .5 miles and couldn’t even keep up.

Pam finished in a little more than 30.5 hours with no break. I’d need sleep.

New Study Confirms Legal Performance Enhancer

The search for an athletic edge is nothing new. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, over half of Americans have at least tried supplements, ballooning the industry into a $27 billion beast. Unfortunately, many of the supplements out there are either under-researched, ineffective or potentially harmful. So, when a high-quality study is published attesting to the usefulness of one of these supplements, it is, needless to say, big news.

One such study has recently emerged in the pages of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition regarding a common, but under-appreciated, substance called betaine.


The Study

Over the course of the study, 16 cyclists were put through sprint trials, first to establish a baseline, then following a week of taking just a sports drink, and a third time after a week of a sports drink containing about 2.5g of betaine.

At the end, the results from each trial was compared. The researchers found that the addition of betaine increased the subjects’ anaerobic power by about 6 percent, which is a significant amount added weight. In real world terms, this means that if you generally max out at 100lbs on a specific lift, you can add another 6lbs which could generally take weeks to accomplish.


What Is Betaine and What Does It Do?

It’s great news to hear that betaine could potentially improve your anaerobic, and sprinting, power but what is it and where do these benefits comes from?

Betaine, sometimes called betaine anhydrous or trimethylglycine, is a naturally occuring substance that your body both makes on it’s own and gets from your diet. Specifically, betaine is found in beets, broccoli, grains, shellfish, and spinach.

Practically speaking, betaine plays a number of roles in your body ranging from supporting liver function, aiding in cellular reproduction and in the production of amino acids. But, most importantly in this discussion, is the issue of how betaine increases your strength. While the researchers are not entirely sure about the mechanism involved, the prevailing theory is that betaine contributes to creatine synthesis, thereby providing more fuel to the muscles.


Side Effects and Things to Know

One of the most important things to know about betaine is that it is not a stimulant. This should quell some fears regarding it’s use, however, it’s not completely with warnings.

Betaine could potentially raise cholesterol levels, so if you have issues with cholesterol or heart conditions you should talk to your doctor before you start taking it. This same goes for those who suffer from kidney problems.

Have you taken betaine? Share your experience with us in the comments!




It All Adds Up

We’ve all heard the American Heart Association’s recommendations: Workout at moderate intensity for 30 minutes, 5 days per week. This is the minimum amount of physical activity required to maintain a healthy weight and to keep your heart working properly. But setting aside even just 30 minutes every day, while trying to juggle everything else in your life may be a daunting task for some people. New research, though, gives us a clearer understanding of how much exercise we really need and, more practically, how we can better fit it in to our schedule.


The Study

Published in the July edition of the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, the study set out to answer the question of frequency’s role in maintaining a healthy body composition. To understand the issue better, 2324 active adults were asked to wear accelorometers to measure their movements for one week. Out of that initial group, those who were active for more than a total of 150 minutes during the week were split into two more groups: People who spread their activity over five to seven days, as per the AHA recommendations, and people who concentrated their activity into one to four days.

Once the numbers were crunched, the researchers found something interesting: the health benefits were the same regardless of how people chose to distribute those 150 minutes of activity.

What This Means For You

Think about the personal application of these findings. This study suggests that you could skip your workouts all week long, as long as on the weekend you fit in at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-to-vigorous activity.

Knowing this, you have much more flexibility in scheduling your workouts. Consider writing down your weekly schedule, starting with family and other obligations, and then find a total of 150 minutes scattered throughout the week.

Keep in mind, though, that this amount of exercise is the minimum recommended to ward off metabolic syndrome. This condition is really just a cluster of symptoms, like increased blood pressure, high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels, that work together to contribute to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The 150 minutes per minutes will be just enough to keep those systems and, by extension, your heart, working properly.

To reach more extensive fitness goals, however, more specialized workouts will be necessary. If, for example, you’re training for a marathon, 150 minutes of moderate exercise will not be enough to help you reach that goal.

For many people, though, who are simply looking to maintain their health, this study brings some much needed freedom to their schedule.






How I Dealt with Plantar Fasciitis

One common injury for me is plantar fasciitis. For two years, if I don’t have properly fitting footwear, my feet feel tremendous pain to the point I can’t even walk–let alone run. It’s frustrating, painful, irritating and above all, scary–each time it returns I hope that I can alleviate it and worry that I won’t.

What is plantar fasciitis? It’s an inflammation of the plantar fascia, the connective tissue on the sole of the foot. It stems from overuse of the foot (such as running often) and the arch tendon. Unfortunately, my genetics predisposed me to severly high arches and thus, I am more prone to plantar fasciitis issues.

Here are a few ways I try to resolve the pain each time it occurs:

I sleep in a boot. You can purchase these boots at any running store, as plantar fasciitis is very common with runners. I bought mine through an online foot specialty store. It has plastic on the outside and cushion on the inside, and you rest the heel of your foot in an elevated position. This stretches it out overnight.

I rolled my foot with a frozen water bottle. Because of the natural arch of the foot, the curvature of the water bottle perfectly fits. I would take a frozen bottle to work and roll my foot underneath my desk. I couldn’t handle the cold for too long, but even 20 minutes made a vast difference.

I invested in orthotics. I always thought visiting a foot doctor was for older people–or maybe I’m just getting older. But I purchased custom-made orthotics to hold my feet properly in place.

I invested in expensive shoes. As a runner, this should be a no-brainer. You need to spend the majority of your sport’s cost in quality shoes. However, I took it a step further and found very firm shoes to lock my feet in place. If my feet shifted even just a small bit in my shoes, they plantar fasciitis returned. I now always purchase the exact same type of shoes. It’s especially helpful if they go on sale–I purchase two pairs because I know I’ll wear them again and again.

Although plantar fasciitis is incredibly painful, taking precautions can help it from returning.