June 8, 2004 - Vibration Training Research
Remember the old black-and-white advertisements for the vibrating belts of mid-century "reduction machines" that were supposed to effortlessly trim your waistline? If you thought they looked silly, wait until you see what's shaking now in the fitness industry. New "whole body vibration" machines showing up in some swank health clubs and rehabilitation facilities are generating ripples of curiosity -- and concern.
The training method, pioneered in the 1970s by Russian Olympic sports trainers looking to boost muscle strength, flexibility, range of motion and more, involves standing on what looks like a high-end bathroom scale with handlebars. But even on a bad day, your home bathroom scale won't bounce like this.
Step up, flip the switch and, instantly, you're all aquiver. If there's anyone in the room you want to impress, it's too late now.
Reading the roster of vibration proponents, though, might stop your laughter.
Garrett Giemont, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' strength and conditioning coach, says he has players use the Power Plate not to replace standard conditioning, but to loosen and massage sore muscles the day after a game. "I call it a tool in my toolbox," he said.
Lance Armstrong, who claimed his fifth consecutive Tour de France bicycle race win last July, owns one body-shake device, called the Galileo, says its marketer, Orthometrix. So do nearly all the German Olympic training centers, the company says. The maker of a competing body-shake product, the Power Plate, counts among its users the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team, the New York Mets baseball club and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey squad. Patrick Jacobs, an assistant professor and researcher with The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami School of Medicine, uses able-bodied subjects to test the Galileo's impact on muscle strength and flexibility. If his initial studies go well, he hopes to use the device with people with spinal cord injury. Vibration training may be advantageous for patients who retain some feeling and range of motion. Jacobs and research colleagues presented results of the initial studies at last week's annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis.
One study found that vibration increased heart rate response, flexibility and muscle power in healthy adults; the other revealed significant neural changes in healthy subjects after vibration, findings that have promising implications for people spinal cord injury, said Kristina Beekhuizen, one of the researchers.
"I was very, very impressed with our preliminary results," said Jacobs.
Neither Jacobs and colleagues nor the university has any financial stake in the Galileo or Orthometrix.
For those who'd like to still like to try whole body vibration, Rodney Corn, an educator with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, has this advice: Go easy and consult with your doctor first.
If you want to buy your own machine, start saving. Commercial units cost around $10,000 (Power Plate recently cut the price on most models to $8,500). The company's looking to roll out a home unit by year's end for around $3,000. Galileo has no home unit yet. Or then again, maybe you can pick up one of those old jiggly belt things at an antique store or garage sale for a fraction of the price.
Whole body vibration is not recommended for people with fresh fractures or new implants, people with epilepsy, individuals prone to blood clots and women who are pregnant.