Whole body vibration (WBV) training has become a popular method of training over the last few years, thanks in part at least to the endorsement of numerous high profile celebrities (Madonna and Elle MacPherson to name just two!) and extensive media coverage. But what exactly is WBV training, how does it work and does it really work?
What is vibration training?
Vibration training was first developed over 40 years ago by Russian scientists for use in their space programme. Due to the absence of gravity in space, astronauts can't stay in space for long periods as their muscles atrophy (waste) and bone mineral density decreases. Vibration training was developed as a way of limiting this decrease and so allowing astronauts to stay in space for longer. It is only over the last 10 years that the potential benefits have been used for sports and fitness training as well as in the beauty industry.
A whole body vibration machine is usually a platform based machine which the athlete stands on to work the lower body, or places the arms/hands on to work the upper body. Some companies also advocate laying on the plate to perform some exercises. The platform vibrates at frequencies between 20 and 50 Hz, with most machines having variable settings for frequency and time.
How does WBV training work?
Whilst performing standard resistance training exercises (for example with free weights, a resistance machine, or body weight exercises such as push-ups) between 40 and 60% of a muscles fibres are recruited to perform the exercise. Whilst performing a similar exercise on the vibration plate, almost 100% of the target muscles fibres are recruited. This is achieved by creating an almost constant stretch/reflex in the muscles, known as a tonic stretch/reflex. This basically means that the muscles are contracting at a very high frequency and so force, producing faster increases in muscular strength.
Similarly, when weight training, fast twitch fibres contract up to 70 times a second. Adding to this frequency with the vibration plate allows these fibres to be worked even harder, without feeling it!
The vibration also causes a substantial increase in the blood flow to the working muscles and surrounding tissues. This promotes a faster recovery and healing response following training and injury. Increasing blood flow to an area helps to flush out any waste products and also provide all of the nutrients and oxygen required for fast repair.
What are the benefits of vibration training?
- Increased muscular strength and lean muscle mass
- Increased muscle flexibility
- Increased bone mineral density (especially useful in conditions such as osteoporosis)
- Reduced appearance of cellulite
- Decreased muscular and joint pain
- Faster recovery from musculoskeletal injuries
- Faster post-workout recovery
Does it really work?
So far, the research does appear to back up the claims. Recent studies have found that following a three times a week, 8 week programme, a significant increase in strength, jump performance and flexibility was recorded in female athletes (Am J Phys Med Rehabil 2006; 85(12):956-62).
Research has also shown WBV training to increase hip bone mineral density in post-menopausal women, which along with the demonstrated improvements in strength and balance, could contribute towards a decreased risk of falls leading to fractures.