Vibrational exercise, or whole body vibration, is by no means a new idea. At the dawn of the 20th century, Doctor John Harvey Kellogg of cereal fame had an entire wing at his Battle Creek Sanitarium devoted to a treatment that he called "vibrotherapy." Through various approaches, the patient was subjected to a series of rapid vibrations with the hope of curing a wide range of ailments. These crude machines often caused more harm than good, but it turns out that he may have been on to something after all. The modern incarnation of this approach, commonly called whole body vibration (WBV), has been used by institutions ranging from NASA and the NFL to physical therapy centers.
How It Works
Several companies have jumped on the WBV bandwagon and started producing their own takes on the machine, but the most common design involves a platform with a control panel and handles rising above it. Sometimes resistance bands are included or can be attached. The platform vibrates with adjustable settings for both frequency and amplitude. Frequency, measured in hertz (Hz), is the amount of vibrations per second, which results in about the same number of muscle contractions. Amplitude is measured in millimeters and refers to the vertical distance the platform covers with each vibration. The higher the frequency and the greater the amplitude, the harder your workout will be.
What They Claim
Proponents of whole body vibration say that simply standing on the machine for as little as 15 minutes a day, three times per week will help you lose weight, burn fat, improve flexibility, build strength, increase blood flow and decrease levels of the troublesome stress hormone called cortisol. Whole body vibration is sometimes used to reduce back pain, improve balance and reduce bone loss.
A growing body of research is developing that supports many of the claims about vibrational exercise, most interestingly, those regarding fat loss and strength gains. One study, published in 2007 in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, found that six weeks of whole body vibration improved sprint performance and explosive power in a group of 24 volunteers. A related 2010 study looked specifically at the effects of WBV on body composition and showed that vibration helped to reduce body fat more than aerobic exercise when combined with a restricted diet.
Considerations, Warnings and Cautions
Although whole body vibration shows promise as an exercise modality, it's not a complete substitute for traditional strength and cardio training. For maximum results, many experts recommend using the platform while performing strength routines. For example, you could do pushups with your hands on the vibrating platform to increase the intensity of the exercise.
If you have a medical condition or are pregnant you should check with your doctor before using a whole body vibration machine.
- Museum of Quackery: The Battle Creek Vibratory Chair
- ACE Fitness: Whole Body Vibration Training
- MayoClinic.com: Whole body vibration - An effective workout?
- Journal of Sports Science and Medicine: Effects of Whole-body Vibration Training on Sprint Running Kinematics and Explosive Strength Performance
- Obesity Facts: Effect of Long-term Whole Body Vibration Training on Visceral Adipose Tissue - A Preliminary Report.
Jonathan Thompson is a personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise and has extensive experience working with clients as well as teaching. Thompson holds specializations in longevity nutrition and muscle management for runners. He began writing in 2004.