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Meet the Expert: Whole Body Vibration

Is this new technology giving off good vibrations, or is it on shaky ground?

Trends in the fitness industry come and go, and it's often difficult to know which will last, and which will benefit your facility and its members. While no one knows for sure, some trends are definitely worth looking into, as they have either been tested and proven in other industries (such as professional athletes), or because you, as a seasoned facility manager, have the feeling that this could be the next big thing. Whole body vibration (WBV) is one such trend, with celebrities and athletes touting its benefits. However, as with all trends, there are pros and cons to jumping aboard this bandwagon.

Meet the Expert

Rex Owens, NASM-PES, CES, ACSM HFI, is director for the sales, nutrition, training and golf training departments at TruFitness, Roseville, Calif.

What is WBV?

WBV is a platform that vibrates while the user stands, sits, etc., on it. Exercises can be performed while on the platform, which will have a different effect on the body compared to performing these exercises while on solid ground. The biological reaction to vibration is dependent on the frequency, magnitude, duration and type of vibration - or how often, how much and how long the vibratory stimulus is. There is an involuntary muscular response to vibration; the muscle contracts at the same rate as the Hz set on the WBV unit. Specific WBV frequencies make muscles contract more often and to a greater degree. For example, if the unit is set to 30Hz for 30 seconds, the muscle will contract 900 times.

Sensory organs in muscles are sensitive to mechanical stimulation. Some, like the muscle spindles, monitor the tension in the muscle. Others, when excited, like the Golgi tendon organ (GTO), cause the muscle to relax. In response to the vibration stimulus, the muscle spindles, tendons and GTO cause the muscle to contract and relax at the same frequency of the vibration. The bottom line is this: Certain frequencies cause the working muscle to contract more often and harder, while other frequencies cause a relaxed muscle to relax to a greater degree. When used properly, these varying frequencies, combined with exercises, can cause beneficial training effects in clients.


Training Parameters

There are three controls WBV platforms use to determine the training effect. These controls determine the outcome of the exercise performed on the machine: strength training, relaxation or massage.

WBV training parameters: Force = Mass X Acceleration 1. Amplitude (mm or cm) = the distance the platform moves in one second 2. Frequency (Hz) = number of times the unit moves per second 3. Duration (S) = how long the user is on the unit


Benefits to your members

WBV's benefits to exercisers can include a reduction in delayed-onset muscle soreness, and increases in muscle activation, flexibility, strength, power, bone density, blood flow and balance. At present, research is being performed examining the use of WBV in the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis and a variety of other ailments. Many positive effects of vibration on the human body have also been reported in clinical settings in which vibration has been used for pain management. Recently, the use of vibration for improving the training regimens of athletes has also been investigated. Vibration has been used during strength-training movements, and the application of vibration for this purpose has been shown to increase electromyogram activity during the exposure to vibration. In addition to the potential training effects of vibration, the post-vibratory period has shown marked improvement in power output, which may lead to better training protocols for athletes.

In addition to fine-tuning the bodies of professional athletes, WBV can be used to train individuals who lack enough muscular fitness (power, strength, endurance) to perform basic activities of daily living, or who have high blood pressure or other cardiovascular diseases. They may benefit from the shorter training times needed when using WBV, and the smaller range-of-motion requirements.


Here are sample circuit programs using WBV:

Simple CircuitSquat (WBV unit) Cable row DB chest press Lateral raise Ab crunch

Advanced Circuit Vary WBV exercise Squat Cable row DB chest press Lateral raise Ab crunch

WBV Circuit Squat Push-up Isometric row* Reverse lunge Plank Hamstring stretch

*Many WBV units have straps attached, allowing for isometric contractions.


Benefits to your facility

WBV can also help make your facility unique, and differentiate it from the competition. When was the last time you introduced something significant to create a buzz in your community? This media attention can translate into a powerful sales tool for your facility. What if part of your membership tour included a demonstration of the use of a WBV platform? And, if your trainers could maximize the training effect for members and reduce recovery time, wouldn't that help differentiate you from your competitors?

Integrating WBV into a training program

As with all training programs, trainers must consider the frequency, duration, volume and selection of the exercises, to name but a few training/loading parameters. Remember, Force = Mass x Acceleration. Generally, most resistance exercises use mass as the primary means of force production; WBV uses force and acceleration. The use of WBV as a general warm-up could be beneficial due to the increased blood flow in the muscles, the stimulation of the central nervous system (CNS) and the increased "lubrication" of the joints. Balance work could be improved with the proprioceptive feedback that WBV affords, and power training could be enhanced due to the increase in CNS stimulation. And, your members/clients could get more from a workout, with better recovery and less perceived delayed onset muscle soreness.

Another way to use WBV is to incorporate it in a circuit-style workout, using the WBV platform as one of the circuit stations. To progress the program, exercisers could repeat the circuit and change the exercise that is performed on the WBV platform each time. The possibilities are limited only by your trainers' creativity and your clients' goals.

Negative effects

The negative effects of vibration in the workplace are well-documented, and most often are due to exposure to large vibration loads or chronic exposure to vibration. Though exposure standards exist for the workplace, there are no standards to limit exposure to vibration in athletic events. Sports such as snow skiing, skateboarding and horseback riding are known to have a significant vibration load. Though research has shown some inconsistencies in the effects, in my opinion, this is due largely to the differences in the type of vibration, amplitude and frequency.


A Brief History of WBV

Late 1800sDr. John Harvey Kellog used a vibration chair to treat ailments like headaches and back pain, and to stimulate intestinal peristalsis (movement).

1960s During the space race, Russian cosmonauts used vibration training for a quicker recovery after pronounced muscle atrophy due to weightlessness. Vibration training allowed them to stay an unprecedented 420 days in space vs. the Americans' 12 days.

1970s to 1980s Professor Nazarov used vibration training with Soviet Olympic athletes - specifically the gymnastics team - to both stretch and strengthen their bodies. The Russians won 125 medals in the 1976 Summer Games, and 199 in the 1980 Games (which the U.S. boycotted).

1990s A study by scientist Carmelo Bosco concluded that vibration training increased muscle strength in a shorter amount of time than conventional training. Bosco measured electromyogram activity to show twice the amount of muscle activity than conventional training.


Contraindications should be discussed before demonstrating the WBV unit to clients. When introducing clients to the unit, have them place one foot on the platform and turn it on. This will give them time to experience it, and gain a level of comfort before placing them on the unit. Next, have them stand on the platform, holding onto the support handles. Be sure their knees are bent in a squat position before turning the unit on. Explain that locking out the joints can be uncomfortable, and have them experiment with shifting weight from the whole foot to more toward the toes, which will decrease the vibration sensation. This will allow them to have more control of the distribution and feel of the vibration. Stand close to clients, as they may have initial difficulty maintaining their balance on the unit.

A release should be signed by participants before demonstrating the unit, and all members should complete a PAR-Q and a pre-participation/informed consent waiver prior to any type of exercise or exercise demonstration. There are also some questions to ask participants before placing them on a WBV platform. If they answer yes to any of them, they should not step on the platform: Do you ever lose consciousness, or do you lose your balance because of dizziness? Do you have a joint or bone problem that may be made worse by a change in your physical activity? Are you pregnant? Do you have insulin-dependent diabetes? Have you had a hip or knee replacement? Do you have a pacemaker? Have you had any recently placed screws, pins, bolts or spirals? Do you have an acute hernia, disc or spine problems? Do you have acute thrombosis or blood clots? Do you have epilepsy? Do you have a history of detached retina? Do you have rheumatoid arthritis?


Vibration Equipment Supplier Directory

DKN Technology; Fitvibe Americas +55 23 84-21-91-41; FreeMotion Fitness 877 363-8449; Hypergravity 818 468-6252; Maxuvibe 800 223-1362; Pneumex 800 447-5792; PowerPlate 877 87-PLATE; TurboSonic 800 800-9119; VersaClimber 800 237-2271; VibraFlex 877 249-4229; Vibration Health Solutions Inc. 949 485-5425; VibroGym +31 (0)23 517 35 80; The WAVE 866 420-7546;

As with any training program, clients should consult a physician before starting an exercise program. It is also a good idea to hang a two-sided, laminated poster on the WBV unit. One side can list the possible benefits of use, and the reverse side can list contraindications. Fitness centers should obtain a physician's release before placing anyone on the WBV unit who has any of the listed contraindications. Check with your legal counsel for specifics, and the manufacturer of your WBV unit for more detailed information.

What is the future of WBV?

No one has a crystal ball that reveals the role WBV will end up playing in fitness facilities. Much of that depends on consumer demand, and facility owners' willingness to take a chance on this new technology. The future of WBV in a fitness setting remains to be seen.

Bosco, C., et al. The influence of whole-body vibration on the mechanical behavior of skeletal muscle. Biology of Sport153:157-164, 1998.
Cormie, P., R.S. Deane, N.T. Triplett, J.M. McBride. Acute effects of whole-body vibration on muscle activity, strength and power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 20(2):257-61, May 2006.
Delecluse, C., M. Roelants and S. Verschueren. Strength increase after whole-body vibration compared with resistance training. Medicine &Science in Sports &Exercise 35(6):1033-41, June 2003.
Van den Tillaar, R. Will whole-body vibration training help increase the range of motion of the hamstrings? Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 20(1):192-6, February 2006.
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