Is the whole body vibration trend making its way into conversations with your friends, gym mates or colleagues? If not, we’re going to fill you in on one of the most promising technological inventions to enter the health and wellness field in recent years.
We believe this therapy will become more than a passing trend because there is a growing body of research that proves its benefits for busy people trying to economize their workouts, professional athletes ready to level up and anyone suffering from mobility issues or other health concerns. As always, we’ll give you the research-backed facts, allowing you to make your own decisions about whole body vibration therapy.
What Is Whole Body Vibration Therapy?
The idea of using vibration for health benefits dates back to ancient Greece. The concept was connected to modern exercise machines in the 1800s by a Swedish physician named Gustav Zander. He was also a gymnast and inventor, so he created multi-functional exercise machines that were sold through street fairs. Some of his machines utilized vibration, and that trend continued with a vibrating chair created by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.
The concept of whole body vibration transitioned from an unproven concept pedaled by inventors to serious science when the Russian space program used it to simulate the weight of gravity for astronauts who would otherwise lose muscle tissue and bone density while living in space’s zero-gravity atmosphere. It’s also believed that Russian athletes used whole body vibration therapy to improve performance for their Olympic athletes in the 1980s, so you could say that they were the first to seriously implement this strategy on the professional level.
Today, whole body vibration machines make it easy to add this therapy into your own healthy lifestyle. While professional athletes have been using vibration for years to enhance performance, this therapy is beneficial for anyone interested in improving their health. This includes people of all ages, so don’t assume that you’re too old to try something new.
So, how does it work? You position yourself on top of a platform that will start vibrating when turned on. Your body picks up energy transmitted from the vibrating platform, which stimulates muscle contractions naturally. Think of it as giving your muscles a workout while you stand, sit or lie in one place. Some machines with large platforms are suitable for stretching, yoga poses or other exercises that you can do in one place, so you can turn this into an active therapy as well.
As vibration therapy machines become more popular, they’re also becoming more affordable. You can buy one for your home for less than $2,000, or you can find a local gym or fitness club that already has one available.
The 9 Benefits of Whole Body Vibration Therapy
The ancient Greeks and Russians may have blindly accepted vibration as a therapeutic treatment with benefits for the whole body, but we no longer have to assume that they were right. We now have the scientific method and dedicated researchers to identify what the benefits are and how we can use whole body vibration therapy to reach our personal health and wellness goals.
Are you ready to take a look at the proven benefits of whole body vibration? This is where we get into the research, but we’ll also give you some actionable tips on making this work for you.
1. Improve Muscle Strength
This was the primary reason that vibration therapy was implemented for early Russian astronauts, and it turns out that modern science has proven that early theory correct. A study published in 2003 in the peer-reviewed journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise asked 67 women in untrained physical condition to perform a series of knee exercises on a vibrating platform. Those who exercised with a vibration setting between 2.28 and 5.09 g showed significant gains in knee strength while the placebo group showed no significant strength gains.
Another study published in a 2004 issue of the International Journal of Sports Medicine asked 48 women in untrained condition to perform static and dynamic exercises on a vibrating platform over a period of 24 weeks. A comparison group performed up to 40 minutes of resistance training without the vibration, and both groups completed the exercise three times per week. A control group performed no exercise. In the end, the women exercising on the vibrating platform showed knee strength improvement comparable to the women who performed longer strength-training workouts without the vibration.
In a 2011 issue of the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, another study showed that performing resistance training movements in a slow, controlled manner can produce more substantial strength gains in the knees and back when combined with whole body vibration.
Manny Camara, a Rehabilitative Specialist with over 30 years experience and owner/operator of Myotechnology, has been using WBV as a treatment modality for professional athletes for years. These athletes include Mixed Martial Arts pro fighters Cain Velasquez, a two-time UFC Heavyweight champion and Luke Rockhold, UFC Middleweight champion. Manny has seen first hand the strength gain results in these athletes.
Using whole body vibration, I’ve seen incredible improvements in grip strength, reflexes, balance, and coordination. If fact, I don’t know of any other modality or training technique that can produce these kinds of results.
2. Explosive Strength for Athletes
What do we learn from these studies plus others that have produced similar results? We can conclude that resistance training improves muscle strength, and performing resistance exercises with vibration can significantly increase strength gains. If your goal is to get stronger, whole body vibration machines can help.
In 2015, the journal Biology of Sport published the results of a study that asked male and female springboard divers to perform an exercise routine with low vibration frequency, high vibration frequency or no vibration. Measurements were taken to determine changes in flexibility and explosive vertical jump height after the exercise session.
The results of this study showed the following:
- Flexibility and explosive leg strength were greatest in groups utilizing the vibration plate.
- Improved leg strength was still in effect 15 minutes after the workout.
- The divers who didn’t incorporate vibration in their workout experienced a decrease in explosive leg strength 15 minutes after their workout.
These results have been matched by other studies focused on athletes in different sports. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine in 2007 asked 24 male and female sprint runners to incorporate whole body vibration into their routines for six weeks. The study utilized a control group of runners who did the same exercises but without the vibration platform. In the end, those exercising with whole body vibration improved their step length by just over five percent, running speed by close to four percent and jump height by just over three percent.
This is exciting research for anyone who plays a sport that requires vertical jumps or other bursts of explosive motion. Athletes can use whole body vibration just before a competition to naturally enhance their jumping ability, and long-term therapy can provide more substantial performance enhancement.
“With the Mixed Martial Art pro fighters I’ve worked with, I’ve seen incredible improvement in punch speed in particular. We used a high speed camera that measured punch speed and we saw significant improvement after whole body vibration training,” says Manny. In addition, the WBV is a great way for athletes to cross train. Cain Valasquez, two-time UFC heavyweight champion noted,
The vibration plate has dramatically enhanced my athletic performance while minimizing the impact on my body. As a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, I’ve got to find the most effective ways to cross train. Training on a whole body vibration plate I feel gives me an edge.
If you aren’t an athlete, the gains in flexibility and leg strength can still enhance your workouts or help you remain active in daily life. Improving or maintaining flexibility as you age is one of the most effective ways to prevent falls and injuries from functional movements like stretching, bending, twisting and reaching up high.
3. Enhanced Results in Less Time
Do you have the “work harder, not longer” attitude when it comes to exercise? If so, perhaps you’re happy to hear that a short workout performed with whole body vibration can equal the results of a longer workout performed without vibration. Research is even showing that standing, sitting or lying still on a vibration platform daily can mimic the results of exercise.
One study published in the journal Endocrinology in 2017 tested the impact of whole body vibration on mice struggling with obesity and diabetes. Mice of the same age were separated into three groups, each tasked with a different 12-week exercise routine. One group stood on a whole body vibration plate for 20 minutes daily. Another group walked on an inclined treadmill for 45 minutes daily. The third group did no exercise at all.
The results showed that obese, diabetic mice achieved similar metabolic improvements whether they stood on a vibrating plate for 20 minutes or walked for 45 minutes. Mice in both of the exercise groups gained less weight than those in the sedentary group, and they gained muscle mass and improved insulin sensitivity. Healthy mice in the exercise groups showed metabolic improvements as well, but the results were more dramatic for the unhealthy mice.
What does this mean for us humans trying to improve our health and quality of life? There are several ways to implement this study in daily life:
- If you’re physically unable to exercise, standing or sitting on a whole body vibration machine daily may deliver some of the metabolic benefits that you’re missing.
- If you don’t have time for a long workout, try a shortened workout on a vibration platform. Your body may not even miss those extra 20 or 30 minutes.
- If you want to enhance the benefits of a workout, perform some or all of it on a vibration plate.
4. Boost Weight Loss while Reducing Abdominal Fat
We talked about the study that showed the impact of vibration therapy for obese mice, but how do we know that the results translate to humans? We can look at one study produced by the European Association for the Study of Obesity that showed obese or overweight women experience the best weight loss results when combining a healthy diet and short workouts on a vibration plate.
This study included 61 women, and they were each assigned a 6-month plan that included diet alone, diet and conventional exercise, or diet with a progressive whole body vibration workout plan. The vibration workouts were much shorter than the exercise sessions performed by the conventional exercise group, but they delivered the best results in terms of weight loss and abdominal fat loss.
Even better, the vibration exercise group was able to maintain more of their weight loss than participants in any other group. This brings us to another study published in the International Journal of Obesity that found mice subjected to five 30-minute sessions on a vibrating plate each week stored less fat than other mice after 12 weeks of intervention. The researchers noted that the mice gained bone density and mass but didn’t lose muscle mass.
These studies plus others delivering similar results prove that combining whole body vibration therapy with a healthy diet can help those trying to lose or maintain weight. We can take it a step further by arguing that all people benefit from routine vibration therapy because it can reduce the amount of fat stored around the abdominals. Abdominal fat is linked to diabetes, heart disease and many other health conditions, so anything that can reduce fat storage in this area is beneficial regardless of your age.
5. Reduce the Negative Impact of Stress
Cortisol is the hormone released when the body is in a state of stress, and high levels of the hormone leave you vulnerable to headaches, weight gain, anxiety and depression. We all experience stress and eliminating it is impossible in our modern world, which makes finding ways to control the negative impact on our health essential. Research is showing that this is just one more area where routine use of a vibrating plate or platform can help.
One study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed that whole body vibration effectively reduced levels of cortisol in men while increasing testosterone and human growth hormone levels. The same results were found in men and women when researchers from the University of Cologne in Germany took blood draws before, during and after whole body vibration therapy performed by 20 participants. The vibration therapy effectively reduced cortisol and glucose levels while stimulating two thyroid hormones.
This takes the healthy benefits of whole body vibration much deeper than stimulating strength in muscles. We now know that it can alter the release and concentration of hormones, which can have an impact on all systems of the body. The best takeaway from the research is that no negative hormonal alternations were detected, making whole body vibration one of the best ways to overcome the side effects of stress. The more stressed you are, the more you need this therapy.
6. Reduce Back Pain
Are you surprised to see reduced back pain as a benefit of a vibrating machine? If you know that constant mechanical vibration while in a seated position is a leading cause of low back pain and sciatica for workers in a many industries, you may question whether back pain relief from vibration is possible. It turns out that the vibration alone isn’t to blame for workplace-induced back pain. The damage is likely caused by hours of constant vibration combined with a variety of other factors, including seat position, posture and incline.
There are many key differences between standing on a vibrating plate intentionally and vibrating from heavy machinery involuntarily, including:
- Most people stand or exercise while on a vibrating plate or platform, so those factors related to a seated position don’t translate to intentional vibration sessions.
- You can stand tall and improve your posture while on a vibrating plate. In fact, posture is critical if you perform lunges, squats or other exercises while on the plate.
- Most people don’t stand or sit on a whole body vibration machine for hours and hours, so the amount of time spent in the vibrating state is much less than someone who works around machinery during their full-time job.
- The amount of vibration experienced from a machine at your gym or in your home is likely much less than the intensity of vibration created by heavy machinery in a work environment.
From these differences, we could argue that using a vibrating plate for short periods of time at low vibration settings is less likely to cause back pain than working in a seated position close to heavy machinery. The question is whether research backs up this argument.
In 2011, the journal Physiotherapy Canada reported an investigation into research related to whole body vibration machines and back pain relief. They found that there are a couple scientific studies that support the use of vibration plates to reduce back pain, but they cautioned that there were potential weaknesses in both studies.
What does this mean in the real world for those with low back pain or sciatica? Most professionals now agree that it could possibly help, but that you should approach any type of vibrating mechanics with caution. Start out with short vibration sessions at a low vibration setting.
If it helps with your pain, you can increase the frequency and length of your sessions while experimenting with the most effective vibration settings. It’s best to do this with a professional who can match your vibration sessions with exercises known to improve low back pain and sciatica.
7. Increase Bone Density
You may get wiser as you age, but you’re also likely to become weaker with bones that are more fragile. For some people, this concern is amplified due to osteoporosis or other conditions that increase their risk of broken bones. It’s common for the elderly and menopausal women to take calcium supplements and alter their diets to keep their bones as strong as possible, but whole body vibration is offering another layer of protection.
Research is proving that standing or sitting on a vibrating platform can effectively increase bone mass. This is now seen as an effective way to strengthen the bones of people who are unable to perform high-intensity exercise. This is helpful not only for the elderly but also for postmenopausal women who want to prevent the loss of bone density due to hormonal changes. It can also help people of all ages who are unable to exercise due to medical limitations.
For instance, one 12-month trial exposed young women who suffered from low bone mass and at least one prior bone fracture to 10 minutes of whole body vibration each day. 48 women participated, and they were divided in half to create an active group and a control group. The results showed that the group participating in whole body vibration therapy benefited from more substantial increases in bone density in upper and lower parts of the body.
Another study found that postmenopausal women improved the bone density in their hips after six months of whole body vibration therapy. Researchers are now recommending ongoing vibration therapy for young women interested in reducing their risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. It’s likely that these benefits extend to older people who want to improve bone density or at least slow down the loss of bone mass. Most of the research into the benefits of whole body vibration for the elderly has focused on muscle mass and flexibility, so more research is needed to prove that enhanced bone density is just as likely for the elderly as it is for younger people.
8. Improve Balance and Coordination
It’s no secret that we’re all at greater risk of falling as we age. For the elderly, these falls are often more serious because older, weaker bones are more likely to break during a fall. This is why medical professionals strongly encourage daily exercise that maintains or improves balance and coordination. Flexibility is essential to fall prevention as well. If you guessed whole body vibration is a great way to improve in all of these aspects, you’re catching on.
One study published in the journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in 2005 found that whole body vibration reduced the risk of accidental falls for nursing home residents. 42 elderly nursing home residents participated in the study, and 22 were given a protocol of physical therapy and vibration therapy for six weeks. The remaining participants followed a protocol of only physical therapy.
Those utilizing vibration therapy showed greater improvements in body balance and motor capacity. It’s also worth noting that the elderly people using vibration therapy also reported improvements to their overall quality of life.
Manny Camara has worked with stroke patients in his practice and has seen impressive results with their recovery using whole body vibration therapy. He observed improvement in balance and coordination as well as with their vascular system.
These results have been matched by at least one study that focused on people of younger ages, so the balance and coordination improvements aren’t just of interest to the elderly. When you combine enhanced balance and coordination with better flexibility and explosive muscle action, you see why whole body vibration is now used by athletes of all ages.
9. Increase Oxygen & Energy Expenditure During Exercise
If you exercise regularly, you probably know that it becomes harder to breathe as you increase the intensity of your workout. This is because your muscles depend on oxygen to create energy that allows you to sustain the exercise. As you push harder, your muscles need larger volumes of oxygen. If adequate amounts of oxygen aren’t present, your muscles will start to produce lactic acid instead of energy.
This is why it’s beneficial to help your body consume larger amounts of oxygen during exercise. You’ll have more energy and can work harder as a result. Exercising on a vibration platform is one proven way to increase oxygen consumption as well as the energy expended during your workout.
One peer-reviewed crossover study found that physically active young men increased their oxygen consumption by 22 percent and their energy expenditure by 20 percent by completing 20-minute workouts on a vibration platform. This study was designed to mimic the way whole body vibration platforms are utilized in many gyms, which includes 20-minute sessions and a series of resistance training movements.
After working your way through this list of the many benefits of whole body vibration, you should realize that this is a beneficial therapy for people of all ages and in all states of physical fitness. There are even ways to make this work for people who cannot exercise in any other way. This is likely to become a standard form of training in all gyms and fitness centers, but you can start training today. Either find a local fitness center that offers whole body vibration or invest in a personal platform for your home.