Monday, 20 June 2011

Vibration Training - Does it give the results the experts claim?

Vibration training has become increasingly popular with athletes and, much more recently, everyday fitness trainers.

How did vibration training come about?

Vibration training was developed by the Soviets in response to their space programme. Specifically, to keep cosmonauts in space in as best physical condition as possible for the longest period of time. The USSR held numerous endurance records in this respect.

How does vibration training work?

Vibration training uses specially designed 'gym' machines that vibrate at frequencies normally between 30-50 Hz. The main example is 'platform-based' – although there are also vibration dumbbells, and even breathing devices (to strengthen the breathing muscles).

More specifically, it is argued that…

Vibration training can recruit nearly 100% of a muscle's/muscle groups' muscle fibres. This contrasts with the 40-60% recruitment normally associated with other resistance training activities.

How does it recruit so much muscle fibre?

Vibration training achieves these high recruitment levels by creating an almost continuous muscle contraction. Specifically, this is called a 'tonic stretch/reflex' and means that, while subject to vibration training, your muscles are automatically contracting at incredibly high frequencies. And they are also subject to considerable force – at 30Hz the body is subject to a load equivalent to 2.5 times its weight.

Increased blood flow

Vibration training also stimulates increased blood flow to the muscles. This can speed up recovery from work outs and rehabilitation from injury.

Better balance

Due to vibration, balance and body awareness are believed to be enhanced.

Other applications

I also found out that vibration training has developed credence within the medical world where it is used for the treatment of, for example, cerebral palsy, osteoporosis, chronic pain and back injuries.

I looked at some research to discover what the sports scientists really think of vibration training. After all, you can't believe all the hype the manufacturers might make. In trawling through the learned journals and talking to vibration experts I found out, for example, that not all machines work the same, which can make comparisons difficult and apparently alter the efficacy of the specific machines.

Whole-body vibration training

Roman researchers looked at the effects of whole-body vibration training on various measures of physical performance in female competitive athletes – whole-body vibration requires the athlete to stand on the vibration machine plate for designated time spans and/or perform reps of designated exercises, with or without added resistance (2). The athletes were split between a vibration group (13 athletes) and a control group (11 athletes). The former vibration group trained three times a week. At the end of this period they were tested on:
counter-movement jump (bend the knees, extend and jump)
leg extension strength
horizontal leg press
flexibility – sit and reach test.
Watch video of these exercises being demonstrated

The researchers found that the vibration trainers displayed a significant improvement in leg extension strength, counter-movement jump performance and flexibility. There were no significant changes in the tested abilities of the controls. The team qualified their findings by indicating that the optimal frequency, amplitude (movement of the vibration platform), and g-forces need to be identified when using vibration training in order to maximise its effects.

I then discovered that transatlantic research between the University of Aberdeen and the University of North Dakota discovered that a 30Hz protocol with 10mm amplitude (the travel of the vibration plate) for their 60 seconds on/off of vibration training exercise protocol, elicited the most significant muscle fibre recruitment in the vastus lateralis (thigh muscle) as measured by EMG (electrical activity in muscles)(1). Higher frequencies did not elicit a significantly superior response. The athletes – in this case elite female volleyball players – stood on the platform in a squat position with their knees at a 100-degree angle.

Everyday fitness and aerobic development with vibration machines…

I then wanted to find out whether vibration training could work for the fitness population. As I said at the start of this piece, many commercial gyms are installing vibration machines and many home models are entering the market.
Belgian researchers compared the effects of whole-body vibration training for fitness purposes on untrained women (3). What makes this research particularly intriguing is the fact that aerobic training was also included in the design – I'd assumed that vibration training was predominately a resistance training method. In this instance they wanted to see whether vibration work outs could reduce body fat – this is something that would normally be associated with CV training.

Forty-eight untrained young women (average age 21) were involved in the study. The whole-body vibration group (18 members) performed unloaded static and dynamic exercises on a vibration platform. The fitness group (also 18 members) followed a standard cardiovascular (15-40 minute duration) and resistance training programme. The latter included the leg press and leg extension exercises. Both groups trained three times a week. There was also a non-exercising control group (12 members). The researchers measured body composition by underwater weighing and took 12 skinfold measurements to measure body fat levels. Quadriceps strength was also tested.

The results: over the 24-week progamme, there were no significant changes in weight, in percentage body fat, nor in skinfold thickness in any of the groups. However, fat-free mass increased significantly in the whole-body vibration group only. I believe this could be explained by the fact that they'd increased their muscle mass, probably because of the vibration training's ability to target increased amounts of muscle fibre. The more muscle you have, the leaner you will tend to be due to this body tissue's high metabolic cost.

Additionally, the vibration trainers also benefited from a significant strength increase, as did the fitness group. This led the researchers to conclude that, 'The gain in strength (for the vibration training protocol) is comparable to the strength increase following a standard fitness training programme consisting of cardiovascular and resistance training.'

Interesting results, indeed, for the proponents of vibration training for fitness purposes.
It seems from the research quoted that whole-body vibration training can enhance (or at least match) performance in sport and fitness activities achieved by 'normal' training methods. Richard from Galileo did say that whole-body vibration training should be regarded as an adjunct to your normal training and not as a wonder work out.

For more information or to book a vibration training session get in touch with the fitness specialist at or call 07867 535696

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