Whole Body Vibration: Can you Vibrate your Way to Fitness?

Whole body vibration is widely touted as a superefficient method of "passive exercise" that can replace squats, weights, and running. Some gyms already have expensive power platforms... but is there good basis to the claims?

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What are power plates?

You may have seen them on TV or in your gym: a large platform on which you can stand, sit, or lie, and which sends up to 50 vibrations per second through your body. You can stand idly or do your normal exercises at the same time, and apparently one vibration workout is equal to 90 minutes of strength training. Power platforms for home use cost over $2000, but their supposed effects are miraculous:

  • Increased strength and speed
  • Fast weight loss
  • Stronger bones
  • Flexibility
  • Detoxing
  • Better blood flow
  • Rejuvenation
  • Higher energy levels…
    …and much more.

Vibration therapy is anything but new: it’s been used in physiotherapy for over 15 years for patients who for various issues (surgery, joint and heart problems, pulmonary hypertension, etc. – see this study) cannot do traditional resistance or aerobic exercises. In this context, vibration exercise is definitely bettter than no workout at all. The question is, can power plates really match the effect of conventional exercise?

Examining the claims

Manufacturers of plates explain that fast vibrations make muscles contract in reaction to instabiluty, and that burns calories. There is already a significant body of research on vibration therapy, even though a lot of studies are only on mice (like this one, for example) and very few are strictly controlled. Let’s examine the results claim by claim.

  1. Weight loss. It is true that obese people or those who don’t exercise at all can benefit from the modest calorie-burning that vibration plates provide. However, it is stressed that you are supposed to exercise while on the platform – do lunges, push-ups, etc. In this sense, there is no proof that those who exercise on stable ground burn less weight than those who vibratef (see this study, for example )
  2. Strength and performance. Vibrations are particularly felt in your calves if you stand on the platform, and indeed research shows that it can strengthen your legs and increase the flexibility in your knees (more info here). Of course, you can achieve the same with any number of sports. Studies show that for a very short time (several minutes) after a vibration workout, athletes have improved performance, but there is no long-term effect on speed.
  3. General fitness level. Any efficient workout regimen has to include two things: resistance training and aerobic exercise. No vibration platform can give you an aerobic workout: it doesn’t increase your heart rate. Therefore, you will still need to run, dance, or swim several times a week.

Exercise caution

Some professions that include long-term exposure to whole-body vibration (workers operating machinery, truck drivers, etc.) often develop back pain and joint problems. There is no data on the safety of regular vibration workouts. Even if they are safe, they definitely do not replace conventional exercise. Vibration therapy can be very helpful for people who are very obese and can serve as a gentle introduction to working out, but don’t get your hopes too high if you already exercise a lot.

In any case, it’s definitely not worth it spending $2000 on a platform for use at home. It may work or not, but you know what definitely works – and very well? Your good old squats, plank, push-ups, and lunges.

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