Any product that claims to make us stronger, healthier, and faster (read: all around more awesome) without any real effort deserves a long, hard look. But some studies actually support the use of vibrating platforms for exercise and rehab purposes, specifically for rehabbing back injuriesEffects of whole-body vibration on blood flow and neuromuscular activity in spinal cord injury. Herrero, A.J., Menéndez, H., Gil, L., et al. Research Center on Physical Disability, ASPAYM Castilla y León, Valladolid, Spain. Spinal Cord, 2011 Apr;49(4):554-9.. But that doesn’t mean all the claims associated with these devices — increased muscle performance and bone density, for starters — stand up to some basic scrutiny.
Shake It Like a Polaroid — Why It Matters
News flash: Infomercial products aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. And yet the vibration platform (or plate) is one fad dozens of manufacturers, professional athletes, and gyms across the country are getting in on — all for one easy payment of $1,000 and up! While some models just shake things up, others come equipped with a virtual coach to walk the user through an on-platform workout. They don’t even all vibrate the same direction — some move up and down, some pivot like a seesaw. The common thread: All machines vibrate 20 to 50 times per second while the user enjoys the sensation of riding a rickety roller coaster… standing up.
While some studies have shownthese platforms work in specific applications (i.e. ultra-controlled trials and specific medical treatments), many researchers maintain the overall benefits have been exaggerated. For starters, the effects of the vibration are only felt for a very limited period of time (i.e. 30 seconds to 4 minutes) and that window of time is different for everyoneEffect of different rest intervals after whole-body vibration on vertical jump performance. Dabbs, N.C., Muñoz, C.X., Tran, T.T., et al. Kinesiology Department, Human Performance, Laboratory, California State University, Fullerton, California, USA. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Mar;25(3):662-7.. There are also multiple studies showing no benefits at allThe Effects of Whole Body Vibration in Isolation or Combined with Strength Training in Female Athletes. Preatoni, E., Colombo, A., Verga, M., et al. 1Sport, Health & Exercise Science, Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath (UK); 2Dipartimento di Industrial Design, Arti, Comunicazioni e Moda (INDACO), Politecnico di Milano, Milan (Italy); 3Dipartimento di Bioingegneria, Politecnico di Milano, Milan (Italy); 4Corso di Laurea in Scienze Motorie, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan (Italy); 5Istituto di Medicina e Scienza dello Sport, CONI, Roma (Italy); 6British Olympic Medical Institute, London (UK); 7University of Aberdeen, School of Medical Sciences, Aberdeen (UK); 8University College London, Division of surgical and interventional medicine, London (UK). Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Nov 4.. As for manufacturers’ claim that a whole lotta shakin’ could improve bone density, research has yet to support thatEffects of whole body vibration on bone mineral density and falls: results of the randomized controlled ELVIS study with postmenopausal women. von Stengel, S., Kemmler, W., Engelke, K., et al. Institute of Medical Physics, University of Erlangen, Henkestr. 91, 91052, Erlangen, Germany. Osteoporosis International, 2011 Jan;22(1):317-25..
Full-on body rockin’ can have its downsides, too.Truck drivers exposed to similar frequencies for long periods of time may experience chronic back pain and nerve damage. While the vibration on a platform isn’t exactly the same, it does bring up similar concerns such as joint damage, suggests Greatist expert Linda LaRue. Instead, she recommends full-body exercises that engage stabilizer muscles, like push-up planks (which don’t cost a thing).
The moral of the story? Olympic athletes looking to jump just one inch higher may benefit from a quick bout on a vibrating platform (timed perfectly for their jump, of course). But for everyday folks who just want to perform a bit better, it looks like the best bet may still be old school gym time with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
There are some clinically proven benefits of vibrating platforms, but most products’ claims are severely exaggerated.