If you have PowerPlates (or similar technology) at your gym, you may have noticed people performing all kinds of weird and wonderful moves on them, from stretching, squatting, doing push-ups or swinging kettle bells, to simply standing in Mountain Pose.
The theory behind whole body vibration (WBV) training is that the rapid vibrations coming from the platform are transmitted through the body, causing your muscles to contract between 20 and 25 times per second. These micro-contractions are said to enhance your training and overall performance. But what does this mean, exactly?
I searched the scientific literature for studies on WBV that were published within the last year, and identified 18 relevant publications.
I initially looked at those performed with healthy and active adult volunteers. Of the eight studies identified, four found no evidence that WBV training increased muscular strength, bone density, lean mass, or balance, beyond the benefits of ordinary training (1-4). Three studies, however, did find that WBV training could increase lean mass in young adults, knee flexor strength in young men, and power output when used as a warm up in cyclists (5-7). One further study found that WBV could increase energy expenditure of a training session by 20% in physically active young men (8).
When looking at studies performed in other populations, the results were more convincing. All of the nine studies identified found evidence that WBV training provides additional benefits beyond those of training alone. These included improvements in sit-to-stand stability, balance confidence, and postural control in older adults (9-11); increases in leg muscle activation in those with easily fatigued muscles or chronic ankle instability (12,13); and improvements in muscular strength during rehabilitation from a knee ligament injury (14). Three of the nine studies reported beneficial effects of WBV in stroke patients, showing improved gait, walking performance, and cerebral cortex activity (15-17).
None of the 18 studies identified looked at stretching using WBV, but one paper did cite improved recovery following aerobic exercise in participants who rested on a WBV chair vs those who rested on a stationary chair following their workout (18). The authors proposed this was due to increased removal of lactic acid from the tissues due to stimulated blood flow. However it should be noted that participants rested on the WBV chair for a full 30 minutes.
So, what does this all mean? Well, if you are a healthy adult in regular training, looking to gain or maintain muscular strength, the jury is out on whether performing exercises on a WBV platform will provide any additional strength gains beyond training on the floor. Personally, I will need a lot more convincing before taking to the platform to perform my squats and deadlifts.
However, if you are looking to burn a few extra calories (and I do literally mean a few) during an otherwise stationary part of your workout, you could probably do worse than to hop on the plate.
As for aiding with muscle recovery, the lactic acid clearance proposal makes sense, but I would be interested to see whether the observed improvements carry-over to the shorter recovery times used in real-life.
What did surprise me was the extent to which WBV training comes into its own for those with weaker muscles, or those in rehabilitation for a chronic condition. My guess is that this is because the micro-contractions within the muscles help activate otherwise dormant muscles fibres and re-connect them with the nervous system. This may not benefit you much if you are already well conditioned and are looking to grow your muscle fibres to build strength, but it is an important process in the early stages of conditioning and for those with neuromuscular impairments.
If you are recovering from an injury or other chronic condition, it may be worth asking your physiotherapist whether they think incorporating some WBV training into your recovery would benefit you.
If there are any topics you would like to see reviewed in future, feel free to send me your requests at any time!
Be well everyone,
1. Hammer R, et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2018 [Epub ahead of print]; 2. Lindsay K, et al. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2018;89:57-65; 3. Morel D, et al. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2017;14:28-32; 4. Gomez-Bruton A, et al. Arch Osteoporosis 2017;12:69; 5. Chen H, et al. Medicine (Baltimore). 2017;96:e8390; 6. Stanla M, et al. Biol Sport. 2017;34:127-136; 7. Due S, et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 [Epub ahead of print]; 8. Milanese C, et al. PLoS One. 2018;13:e0192046; 9. Ko M, et al. Eur Rev Aging Phys Act. 2017;14:11; 10. Lam F, et al. Clin Rehabil. 2017 [Epub ahead of print]; 11. Goudarzian M, et al. J Exerc Rehabil. 2017;13:573-580; 12. Simsek D. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2017;37:147-154; 13. Sierra-Guzman R. Int J Sports Med. 2017;38(6):447-455; 14. Costantino C. Clin J Sport Med. 2017 [Epub ahead of print]; 15. hm Y & Yang D. J Phys Ther Sci. 2017;29:2022-2025; 16. Choi W, et al. Med Sci Monit. 2017;23:4918-4925; 17. Uhm Y & Yang D. J Phys Ther Sci. 2018;30:300-303; 18. Dang S, et al. Technol Health Care. 2017;25:115-123.