It's a shake, rattle and roll -- with an extra dose of shake. But just how good are the vibration-based exercise machines that have zoomed into popularity in recent years? The machines, proliferating at gyms and exercise studios, require users to position themselves atop a vibrating plate while performing various strength-building exercises. Machine manufacturers and fitness trainers alike tout their benefits, but it’s important to sift the true exercise science from the marketing hype.
Imagine a world where shorter workouts produced better results. It sounds too good to be true, but vibration machines do claim to magnify the effect of exercise, helping to reduce workout times and increase performance. Studies such as one published in 2012 in the "International Journal of Sports Medicine" support this performance boost -- at least in the short term. Participants in the study who received vibration training were able to perform better on jump tests than those who did not. Studies on long-term performance are less conclusive, according to a 2011 “New York Times” report.
Because vibration builds muscular strength and power, some researchers are considering the possibility that this shaky brand of exercise could become an alternative to weight training. But don't let your excitement go off the Richter scale just yet. For a well-rounded fitness program, the conditioning benefits of vibration must still be paired with aerobic activity, especially among those looking to shed pounds, noted physiotherapist Dirk Vissers of the University of Antwerp. Research published in the "International Journal of Sports Medicine" in 2010 also reported a positive outcome on balance and strength among a group of women using vibration training. William J. Kraemer, editor of "The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research," told “The New York Times” that vibration exercise has validity to it, but it should be considered and studied as a singular tool among a host of exercise and conditioning methods -- not a magic bullet.
A queasy feeling is never welcome, especially during an exercise session. You may expect to feel ill while sailing the high seas, but some users have also reported experiencing motion sickness while attempting vibration-based exercise, according to a study published in 2005 in the "British Journal of Sports Medicine."
Prolonged or High Frequency Exposure
In an interview with “USA Today,” biomedical engineer Clinton Rubin reported concerns that chronic, high levels of vibration could result in muscular injuries or damage to cartilage. Depending on the level and frequency of exposure, the possibility also exists for negative neurological impact or vision and hearing changes, Rubin noted. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates workplace exposure to vibrations for these very reasons. Excessive use could also be harmful to other internal organs such as the digestive system, according to another “New York Times” report in 2012.
More to Discover
The cases for or against vibration exercise are not yet solid enough for a slam-dunk verdict. Exercise scientists are still discovering how to best prescribe vibration machines for maximum fitness benefits. More scientific research is being released that seems to support a positive correlation between muscle performance and applied vibration. Meantime, physiological experts debate the specifics, such as how intense the vibration should be and for exactly how long. Their goal is to maximize effectiveness while reducing the possibility of harmful side effects. While recent studies have positive findings, many of their authors continue to call for more research.
- International Journal of Sports Medicine: Chronic Effects of Different Frequencies of Local Vibrations
- The New York Times: Would You Like a Shake With That Workout?
- Science Daily: Vibration Plate Machines May Aid Weight Loss And Trim Abdominal Fat
- International Journal of Sports Medicine: Vibration Effects on Static Balance and Strength
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: Whole Body Vibration Exercise: Are Vibrations Good for You? (PDF)
- USA Today: Fitness Vibration Plates May be Shaky Science
- The New York Times: A Renaissance for a Space Age Relic
Based in Los Angeles, Monica Stevens has been a professional writer since 2005. She covers topics such as health, education, arts and culture, for a variety of local magazines and newspapers. Stevens holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, with a concentration in film studies, from Pepperdine University.