How does this appeal? You want to lose weight, get fit, improve your strength, ease aches and pains and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and all you have to do is stand on a vibrating platform. Well, they're the claims from the manufacturers of vibrating machines, and it's generating lots of buzz and celebrity use. Even NASA has tested the concept.
However, scientists and researchers are worried about the long-term effects of vibrations on the body and say that the science is thin and too little is known.
What the vibration plate actually does is increase the gravitational effect on the body. NASA researched the idea to prevent muscle atrophy and bone loss during astronauts’ long, weightless trips in space in near-zero gravity, very different to doing the same thing on Earth.
You cannot ignore the anecdotal evidence however. Users of the equipment say that it makes them tingle all over and they get a sweat on in no time at all just by standing there. Afterwards they feel like they have done a 40-minute workout in 10 minutes. This kind of workout appeals to the people who shun exercise or who have busy lives.
The big professional vibration units like PowerPlate can cost up to £6000 but there are lots of other companies now entering the market offering machines at less than £200.
So, is this trend the future of fitness or could it all end in tears?
A study at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre showed that the use of a vibration platform during exercise squats made muscles work more, but it didn’t look at whether vibration makes athletes run faster or jump higher.
“Vibration works but we’re still trying to figure out how to use it best, and I think we’re a number of years away before we do that,” said Bill Amonette, one of the study authors and a fitness expert at the University of Houston Clear Lake. “I think we have to be cautious of some of the claims. … With aggressive marketing, sometimes they claim things that aren’t necessarily true.”
Andrew Abercromby, another researcher at the Johnson Space Centre is concerned that high-amplitude vibration can be dangerous over time since it can send jarring waves throughout the body, “I believe, and I think quite a few other people believe, the jury is still out on it,” Abercromby said.
Clinton Rubin, a biomedical engineering professor at State University of New York at Stony Brook, said he has asked Power Plate to stop citing his research in its promotional materials. His work has led to a vibration device put before the Food and Drug Administration for approval for prevention and reversal of bone loss from osteoporosis, but that device uses much gentler vibrations than Power Plate, Rubin said.
He believes the Power Plate’s vibration levels could cause low back pain, cartilage damage, blurred vision, hearing loss and even brain damage.
“I think they are cavalier in dismissing the dangers of chronic exposure,” he said. “I’m a scientist. I worry that people are going to use this device based on a misrepresentation of science.”
Power Plate warns pregnant women and people with retinal detachment, blood clots, bone tumours and other medical conditions not to use the machines.