March 3, 2010
Whole body vibration (WBV) training is a technology that is currently being utilized throughout the world yet the full extent of its benefits is still pending further investigation. While there have been some studies to support the notion that WBV exercise could potentially serve as a good supplement to a sensible diet and exercise program, at this point in time the limited amount of scientific evidence surrounding this type of training makes it difficult to fully support or refute the numerous claims that are being made regarding its relative effectiveness.
This type of training is performed on a WBV machine (which varies from one manufacturer to another), consisting of a vibrating platform that the exerciser either sits or stands on. The thought is that the rapid mechanical vibrations will cause the muscles to reflexively contract, stemming from Newton's second law of motion where force equals mass times acceleration. It is important to note that not all WBV machines are created equal, as machines can differ in a number of areas including two of the biggest variables, which are the number of vibrations per second (known as frequency) and the depth of the vibration (known as amplitude).
Over the past few years the hype surrounding this type of training has dramatically increased as more and more marketing claims are being made regarding the many health and fitness benefits that WBV exercise provides. From toning muscles to improving balance and strengthening bones, the message being given to consumers is that that these health and fitness benefits, along with a slew of others, are possible with just a few minutes of WBV training per day, done in place of 60 minutes of “traditional” exercise.
Many of the research studies that have been conducted on WBV training have specifically looked at the benefits that this type of training can have for individuals with specific conditions, including multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, as well as certain populations, such as deconditioned older adults and postmenopausal women. The findings of these such studies support the notion that WBV exercise may in fact have positive effects on strength, stability and bone density specifically in individuals with specific needs and/or limitations. However, more research is needed to substantiate these claims, especially as they pertain to the “average” apparently healthy adult. There are also still many unanswered questions surrounding the exact training protocols, such as what is the optimal vibration frequency and what is the optimal duration for WBV training to potentially ellicit such results.
The bottom line
While there are some benefits to WBV training, the reality is at this time the research (or lack thereof) suggests that it is best to utilize this type of training as supplement to, not a replacement of, conventional exercise.