Can vibration training be good for you?
This is a question that a magazine called GearTrends® a very well respected trade magazine in America has been looking in to.
To begin with the first American Conference on Human Vibration has just taken place with a focus on disorders of the vascular, neural and musculoskeletal system caused by chronic vibration exposure. So this shows that continues vibration on the human body can be detrimental.
Yet, in the fitness world, the advertising, marketing and promotion for vibration training is gushing with claims, such as “twice the results in half the time” and “a quintessential tool in anti-aging and for living a longer healthier life. Consumers are told that a few minutes per day of whole body vibration (WBV) does it all: tones muscles, firms tissue, improves circulation, drains the lymphatic system, treats overuse injuries, reduces cellulite, removes toxins, cures varicose veins, reduces pain, strengthens bones, increases flexibility, burns fat, improves balance, relieves tension and increases stamina.
Now we know that there is a potential benefit for special populations, such as fibromyalgia sufferers, bedridden patients and post-menopausal women, but what about the normal, reasonably healthy, individual.
According to GearTrends® there is very little, if any, recent scientific evidence to support the benefits claimed by the web sites who sell these products.
GearTrends® writes, the websites for companies selling WBV machines tout a large number of studies that back up their claims and, at first glance, the claims make you want to get on board. Indeed, there are about 40 studies cited, on various websites. But take a closer look: Many of the cited studies were published before 2003. (WBV products were introduced to the North American fitness world in 2004.) Missing are a number of follow-up studies published in the past three years that aren’t as glowing as some studies used by the companies selling WBV equipment. That’s particularly true when the subjects are young and healthy.
None of the newest personal vibration machines for the home has been tested in independent peer-reviewed studies. In fact only two makes of machines claim tests but they aren’t compared with each other.
To some degree, there’s the rub. All these machines use different frequencies, amplitude or duration and there is a rare amount of data showing the physiological responses between the units. Therefore it isn’t possible yet to categorically state that one machine is superior to another were healthy individuals are concerned. So do you pay £1500 for a home unit or £5000 for a commercial one not knowing if there are any real benefits over one to the other.
Cedric X. Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise, told GearTrends ®. “At present, whole body vibration exercise has limited scientific evidence to support or refute its relative effectiveness. The plentiful and extraordinary marketing claims regarding the benefits of WBV exercise tend to rely heavily on anecdotal reports and are, therefore, somewhat suspect,”
Power Plate—the first company in North American selling vibration equipment obviously disagree with that assessment. They claim that the recent studies don’t apply to their company’s products. They point out that only two brands of WBV machines have any research at all and the differences between them are significant; hence, they say, a null result from the other brand doesn’t mean their’s doesn’t work. And they say that some of the studies are flawed because the scientists had a poor understanding of the concepts. Yes, for such a small segment, there is intense competition already. Chrystele B. Zawislack, marketing manager for VibraFlex, also pointed out, “The results from a peer-reviewed study using a particular vibration pattern does not necessarily mean it will apply to a completely different kind of vibration pattern.”
The pattern of how the machines rattle you is one of the many differences the companies tout. Given all this uncertainty over science and conflicting claims about which machine does what, WBV is ripe for exploitation of the desperate, gullible, lazy or uninformed. It particularly appeals to people who simply don’t want to exercise or sweat, and there are a lot of them and to athletes who will do anything to get a competitive edge.
Indeed, it is true that different WBV machines shake things up differently. The two biggest variables are frequency (number of vibrations per second, expressed as hertz) and amplitude (the depth of vibration, measured in millimetres). The combination of the two results in an acceleration force on the body, that is, a multiple of the force of gravity (G force).
Most of the research has been conducted on one of two early machines: either the Galileo/VibraFlex or the Power Plate/VibroGym. If the study references 27 hertz, it probably used the Galileo, which can reach nearly 25 Gs. If it mentions 40 hertz, the machine was likely a Power Plate, which has a maximum of just over 6 Gs. There is also a difference in the way the platforms shake: the Galileo acts like a seesaw (one leg goes up as the other goes down), while the Power Plate vibrates the entire platform equally.
There are a lot of tales spread about vibration therapy being invented for Soviet cosmonauts to prevent bone loss. While it may have been used in that space programme and for training Eastern Bloc athletes in the 1970s, the concept is really much older. About 1857 the Swedish doctor Gustav Zander began building 70 different steam-powered machines for training, several of which used vibration. After the World Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia and 1878 in Paris, these became so popular that Zander Institutes (essentially these were fitness clubs) were opened in major cities around the world, including Moscow.
One of the earliest WBV machines was made by John Harvey Kellogg, (yes, of cornflake cereal fame and a bit of a crackpot), at the Battle Creek Sanatorium around 1895. Patients would sit in a chair that shook violently and supposedly cured constipation, headaches and back pain, while increasing ”oxygenation” of the body. . Kellogg also had them stand on a vibrating platform to stimulate the inner organs. In 1912, Arnold Snow published a book titled, “Mechanical Vibration.” While primarily about massage, much of what he wrote back then could be cut and pasted into current WBV company advertising.
While it is far from certain whether WBV is a valuable training aid for healthy individuals it’s quite clear that these machines can be dangerous for some people. The list of no-no’s includes: pregnancy, cardiovascular disease, recent surgery, spinal problems (acute hernia, discopathy, spondylolysis), gallstones, kidney stones, diabetes, epilepsy, blood clots (acute thrombosis), recent infections, migraine or tumours. In addition, WBV should be avoided by anyone with fresh hip or knee implants, a pacemaker, recently installed metal pins or plates, or women with a new IUD. Now who is going to be brave enough to ask a woman if she has a new IUD. Even use by highly conditioned athletes can be a bad thing. Most companies warn that the machines should not be used more than 20 minutes a day, with a rest day between sessions—a tough requirement for athletes, where the mentality can sometimes sway toward “more is better.” According to Power Plate, the company meets ISO standards for industrial vibration if exposure is limited to a maximum of two hours per day. However, the company also states, “it is useless to train longer than 20 minutes or more often than three or four times a week.”
With all the uncertainty, it’s clear that any one considering this form of training must think carefully what it is they want to achieve and is this is the right route to achieving it.
Our advice is to try it by all means but listen carefully to your body and if things do not feel right stop using the machine. Do not be swayed by all the advertising claims, do your own research. At the end of the day this could be no more than another fitness fad, only time will tell but lets hope no one suffers in the meantime.
Fitness Options would like to thank Gear Trends for the information featured in this article.