Vibration Training 101
The concept of vibration training, also called whole body vibration, is not new, but interest into its application for exercise and sports performance is higher than ever, and for good reason—the leaders in athletic development, as well as many elite, professional and recreational athletes, are using vibration training with tremendous success.
Vibration training involves performing exercises while standing, sitting or lying on a vibrating platform. The unstable platform activates, according to some studies, up to 95 percent of the fibers in a muscle, muscle group or whole body compared to 40-60 percent of fibers activated during traditional resistance training. It also stimulates and challenges musculoskeletal structures (bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments) as they adapt to the vibrating movement.
More Benefits of Whole Body Vibration
- Vibration training stimulates blood flow, which may accelerate recovery after workouts and help speed healing after an injury.
- It appears to have potential benefits in the areas of health (maintaining balance following a stroke, for example)
- It's currently being used to improve fitness and athletic performance that requires strength, power or flexibility.
Vibration Training Research
Dozens of studies have demonstrated potential benefits of vibration training, but like most areas of research, there have also been studies that suggest potential shortcomings of vibration training. What follows is a balanced look at some of the positive and negative findings in scientific literature.
- Vibration training is an effective training method to improve maximal strength and flexibility if training equipment is properly designed. (Journal of Biomechanics, April 2005)
- Whole body vibration resulted in an increased activation of leg muscles. (Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, February 2006)
- Acute whole body vibration training increased vertical jump and flexibility performance in elite female field hockey players. British Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 39, 2005)
- Whole body vibration over a six-week period produced significant changes in running kinematics and explosive strength. (Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, March 2007)
- Whole body vibration training improved proprioception and balance in athletes who underwent reconstructed anterior cruciate ligament surgery. (British Journal of Sports Medicine, January 2008)
- Combined whole body vibration and conventional resistance training did not increase maximal muscle contraction or performance. (European Journal of Applied Physiology, March, 2006)
- Whole body vibration has the potential to induce strength gain in knee extensors among untrained females to the same extent as traditional resistance training at moderate intensity. (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, January 2003).
- Whole body vibration is a suitable training method and is as efficient as conventional resistance training in improving knee extension strength and speed of movement in older women. (Journal of the American Geriatric Society, Volume 52, 2004)
- Knee extensor and knee flexor strength are not significantly different between vibration training and control groups. Also, “getaway” out of the blocks, acceleration and top speed were unaffected in sprinters. (International Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 26, 2005)
- Among the four studies presented at a recent meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, none found a significant immediate effect of vibration training on physical performance.
- With whole body vibration training, younger fit subjects may not experience gains unless some type of external load is added to the exercise. Whole body vibration has demonstrated gains in flexibility in younger athletic populations. (Current Sports Medicine Reports, May/June 2008)
Although limitations exist, they are typical of early research in any scientific field. A body of supporting evidence collected over a period of time, as well as measurable on-the-field results, is the ultimate indicator of the value of any training method, including whole body vibration.
While there are many trainers and researchers who question the effectiveness of vibration training, there are also many athletes and coaches who are already using vibration training and seeing results. “Our players like vibration training, they believe in it and it works for them, so we’re going to use it,” says Michael Marotti, CSCS, Director of Strength and Conditioning at the University of Florida. This bit of anecdotal support is noteworthy and an example that the method is being used in high-profile NCAA Division I sports programs.
Before beginning a program of vibration training, decisions must be made regarding several variables, all of which can be modified. Those variables include frequency, amplitude, duration, body position and external load. Results likely depend on each individual's response to these variables.
- Frequency: Refers to how many repetitions or oscillations the platform completes during a one-second cycle. In theory, the higher the frequency, the greater the load placed on the muscles and bones. Frequency is measured in hertz, and frequency in commercially available platforms usually ranges from 14 to 60 Hz.
- Amplitude: Determines platform’s range of motion—how far it moves in any direction. The higher the amplitude, the greater the movement of the platform and the greater the intensity of a workout. Amplitude ranges from 3-10 mm.
- Duration: How long each session of vibration training lasts. At present, the length of time ranges from 40 seconds to four minutes.
- Repetitions: How many times the athlete repeats a vibration training sequence of exercises (as few as three and as many as 10).
- External Load: The types are variable. A person might perform one of several lifts (barbell squats, triceps dips or knee extensions, for example) with specific loads or complete a vibration training session without external loading.
Vibration Training at Athletes' Performance
Vibration training has already been incorporated into many innovative and effective training programs, including those at Athletes’ Performance and the Core Performance Center in Santa Monica, California.
There is sufficient scientific evidence to indicate that whole body vibration training has the potential to become an effective tool when added to conventional resistance training exercises. Some professional athletes, and recreational athletes alike, swear by it and will continue to use it to improve performance and recovery from exercise.
If ongoing research continues to provide more supporting evidence than it does evidence to the contrary, vibration training combined with external loading may become a more widely-accepted and highly popular adjunct to resistance, flexibility and aerobic training. It is likely to be used in combination with—not as a replacement for—conventional exercise protocols.
Jim Brown, Ph.D. has written 14 books on health, medicine, and sports. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, New York Post, Sports Illustrated for Women and Better Homes & Gardens. He also writes for the Duke School of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Cleveland Clinic and Steadman-Hawkins Research Foundation.
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