Take a moment right now and picture the most gimmicky piece of fitness equipment you could think of. Is your brain now playing a mental video of those ridiculous shake weight infomercials from the early 2000s? Or maybe you're imagining a housewife in full makeup and classic '50s hair smiling emphatically while a gigantic rubber band attached to a whole-body vibration machine vigorously shakes her from the waist?
Well, it turns out that there may be more to these types of exercise modalities than you might think.
I'm not saying shaking a dumbbell is going to give you bulging biceps or standing in place while being violently jiggled is going to shed oodles of fat from your body, but the concept of using vibration for everything from muscle gain to fat loss has actually been widely studied, and I think you'd be surprised by the results.
Even when I was a student studying exercise physiology and biomechanics, and later when I worked as a personal trainer and manager of various health clubs throughout the years, I would see these vibration platforms off in a distant corner of the gym and smirk to myself while the poor folks standing, kneeling, and doing all sorts of poses on them thought they were going to see results from simply being “vibrated”. Granted, I literally saw folks sucking down giant 24 ounce Jamba Juices while standing on said platforms, so I was somewhat justified in my judgement.
But as I would later find out after diving into the research myself, I couldn't have been more wrong about the actual science of shaking.
In today's article, you'll discover what top physical therapists, doctors, and chiropractors around the world who use whole body vibration machines in their practice already know—that they provide a safe, proven, and quite literally effortless way to burn fat, build muscle, improve circulation, and beyond. You'll also learn why all vibration plates are not created equal and what to look for when shopping for one.
Whole Body Vibration (WBV) For Fat Loss
From visceral belly fat to the cellulite you may have been misled to believe there's nothing you can do about, WBV has been proven to help with these more stubborn types of fat and has also been shown to have a positive effect on overall body composition.
Aside from giving you a Homer Simpson gut, visceral fat is a particularly dangerous type of fat that can be found in your arteries as well as your abdominal cavity.
Wrapped around vital organs such as your liver, stomach, and intestines, visceral fat, has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, stroke, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, and high blood pressure, just to name a few. Visceral fat also causes your body to make more of the proteins that inflame your body’s tissues and organs and narrow your blood vessels.
WBV has been shown to reduce visceral abdominal fat more than aerobic exercise alone. In one study, four groups (Diet, Fitness, Vibration Plate (VP), and Control) were followed for six months. In all three intervention groups, bodyweight decreased significantly, by 5-10%, in measurements taken after the 6 intervention months. However, only the Fitness and VP groups managed to maintain their weight loss of 5% or more in the six months following the completion of the study. The VP group even maintained a weight loss of over 10%.
The main difference between the VP group and other groups is the decrease of visceral fat that occurred. Illustrated in the graph, the VP group lost twice as much visceral fat after six months, when compared to the Fitness and Diet groups. The decrease in visceral fat also remained at the same level in the VP group after 12 months, while the Fitness and Diet groups returned to their baseline values after 12 months.
In another study, 55 individuals were separated into three groups (VP, cardio + VP, and control). In six months, the VP group saw a 25.7% reduction in the appearance of cellulite on their thighs and buttocks from a mere 8-13 minutes of exercise, two to three times per week.
WBV For Strength Training
There's an old adage about how to build muscle that goes something like this: “Pick up heavy things, and put them down.” But, as you learned in my article “Inside Isometrics: The Performance-Enhancing, Muscle-Boosting, Long-Forgotten Exercise Modality That You Can Do Anywhere.“, there's more than one way to skin this cat.
Whole body vibration happens to be one such way. Yes, believe it or not, performing simple movements on a vibration plate is a safe, efficient, and non-exhausting alternative to traditional weight training for building muscle and enhancing strength.
A meta-analysis from 2013 compiled data from 17 randomized controlled trials and showed that the use of a vibration plate alone, or adding WBV to an existing exercise program resulted in greater improvements in knee extensor muscle strength and countermovement jump performance than identical conditions without vibration.
- Increased strength at least as effectively as conventional resistance training.
- Enhanced the body’s sensory awareness and function and force production.
- Had no adverse side effects. (In general, workouts were considered enjoyable and not exhausting.)
Additionally, as is illustrated in the graph below, 12 weeks of standing knee extensor exercises (lunges and squats) performed 3 times per week on a vibration plate at a frequency of 35-40 Hz resulted in a significant increase in vertical jump height.
Maintaining peak muscle strength is important for everyone, but the elderly especially can benefit from the simplicity and non-strenuous nature of WBV, which has been proven to, not only increase strength in post-menopausal women, but also…
- Increase bone mineral density.
- Reverse bone loss and eliminate osteoporosis.
- Prevent falls and fractures.
- Improve balance and equilibrium.
…all of which can allow a senior to function independently well into their golden years.
In another study on elderly participants, 220 women and men were randomly divided into three groups. The group that performed only basic WBV exercises saw an increase in peak oxygen uptake, time to peak exercise, and isometric muscle strength with just 40 minutes of total exercise time (including warmup, rest periods, and cooldown). These increases were almost equal to those in the group that followed a fitness program consisting of 90 minutes of cardiovascular, resistance, balance, and flexibility exercises. As you can see in the graph, significant increases in muscle mass and strength were seen in the vibration plate group, despite 50 minutes less total workout time.
WBV is an easy way to enhance strength and muscle performance in everyone from the elderly to the seasoned athlete. An effective low-impact workout, WBV is especially useful for those who may not be attracted to, or physically able to, perform traditional strength training exercises.
WBV For Increasing Growth Hormone
Growth hormone is responsible for maintaining bodily functions such as tissue repair, muscle growth, brain function, bone density development, skin thickness, energy, and metabolism. As you age, your levels of growth hormone naturally decline, setting off a cascade of adverse effects on your body. To make matters worse, the amount of growth hormone your body needs increases based on your level of activity and how much recovery you need.
In other words, if you tend to beat your body up on a day-to-day basis, you're going to want to focus on increasing your growth hormone levels—ideally naturally with intermittent fasting, getting deep, restful sleep, supplementing with colostrum or DHEA, or WBV.
Yes, there are shortcuts—such as the growth hormone supplement stacks I go over in this article—but with certain growth hormone therapy prescriptions costing upwards of $30,000 per year, and requiring daily injections, I'd much rather opt for the easier, safer, and more affordable methods for stimulating the production of growth hormone naturally.
When Soviet scientists first developed WBV (surprised?), they noticed that even when an individual was too weak to voluntarily contract a muscle, their reflexes still engaged that muscle. They designed a vibration platform to destabilize the body in order to engage reflexes, and thus muscle. In 2000, researchers demonstrated that this destabilization had a more powerful effect on the hormonal balance of the body than regular exercise. They saw a naturally occurring 460% increase in growth hormone post destabilization stimulation, which was more than double than what was seen in existing research on conventional exercise and growth hormone stimulation!
Numerous researchers have replicated this study with growth hormone changes ranging from 435% – 560% to 2,600% – 1,375% following exposure to vibration. These results indicate that a similar but safer benefit can be achieved with WBV than with anti-aging GH prescriptive therapy, as this response is created naturally.
WBV For Recovery
WBV has been shown to not only burn fat and increase growth hormone and strength, but also to result in a hormonal, immune system, and anti-inflammatory response that can speed recovery.
When utilized immediately after a workout, the massage-like effect of whole body vibration gets your blood flowing, enhances lymphatic drainage, and reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—and aside from all of that, it just feels amazing following a grueling workout.
In one study of 50 healthy non-athletic individuals, half of the participants had a 50 Hz vibration applied to their left and right quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles for 1 minute, while the other half had no vibration applied. Next, both groups walked down a 10-degree decline on a treadmill at a speed of 4 km/hour. After 24 hours, serum levels of creatine kinase and DOMS (measured by visual analog scale) were measured. The results showed decreased isometric maximum voluntary contraction (a measurement of muscle strength) force, reduced pressure pain threshold, significantly increased DOMS, and elevated creatine kinase levels in the non-vibration group.
Another study showed that WBV is just as safe and effective as conventional spinal stabilization exercises for improving lower back and hamstring flexibility, increasing relative back strength, and increasing abdominal muscular endurance.
I don't think there's a person out there who hasn't, at one point in their life, suffered from knee pain. The addition of WBV to simple squat exercises performed three times per week for 12 weeks was shown to improve the self-perception of pain, balance, gait quality, and inflammatory markers in a study conducted on patients with knee osteoarthritis.
One of the most common knee injuries is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture. The issue most people have trouble with after surgery for an ACL rupture is a decrease in anterior-posterior stability. In a study done on 20 male athletes who underwent ACL reconstruction surgery, a WBV training program showed significantly greater improvements in postural stability than those using conventional therapy treatments. You can see just how drastically different the results were among the two groups in the graph.
In another study of 16 ACL reconstruction surgery patients, a 10-minute WBV program, two times per week for ten weeks also resulted in the maintenance of size and strength of leg musculature, while the control group suffered atrophy and loss of strength.
A word of caution regarding injuries: Because there is an element of friction when you are standing on a vibration platform, WBV is best avoided in the early stages of healing any injuries that may be aggravated by the “rubbing” of ligaments on bone from friction (IT band friction syndrome, for example).
WBV For Improving Circulation
Healthy blood flow to your skin and the tissue beneath it is crucial for healing injured muscles, improving oxygen supply, and helping to get rid of waste products (such as lactic acid) from your muscles.
We've all heard a personal trainer say something along the lines of “Let's get that blood pumping first!” prior to working out, but in addition to being a great way to warm up, improving circulation can also lead to improved skin tone, a reduction in the appearance of cellulite, and muscle recovery after exercise or injury.
Studies have shown that WBV can significantly increase circulation in your arms and legs. In one such study, 45 participants were randomly divided into 3 groups. Group one performed static exercises (squats and calf raises) at a vibration of 30 Hz, group two performed the same exercises with no vibration, and group three received three rounds of 60-second calf massages at a vibration of 30 Hz. Group three exhibited an increase in skin blood flow immediately following, and 10 minutes after, the massage.
While no change in skin blood flow was shown in the other two groups (perhaps because blood flow requirements of the active muscles were greater than the increased blood supply, or because the blood flow was directed away from the skin and towards areas where it was needed more, such as muscles), this study did show that short spurts of massage on a vibration plate can significantly increase circulation.
Another study showed that just five minutes of massage on a vibration plate significantly increases circulation in the arms. Benefits were seen at 30 Hz, but performing massage at 50 Hz provided additional benefits by increasing the blood flow more rapidly and retaining the level during the recovery period, making the effects longer-lasting.
WBV For Hypertension
The leading cause of death in the developed world is myocardial infarction (heart attack), a direct consequence of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. When arteries lose their flexibility, the heart continues to pump blood, but the arterial walls do not move as they should, resulting in an increase in blood pressure.
As the heart pulses, and the pressure increases, the heart has to work harder to contract. The higher the pressure gets, the greater likelihood an individual will have a cardiac incident.
Atherosclerosis is primarily caused by poor dietary habits, but also has environmental and genetic factors. Conventional exercise reduces blood pressure by increasing the strength of the heart but does not affect arterial stiffness to a significant degree.
In 2005, researchers in Japan found that the muscular reflexive engagement of the body through WBV exercise significantly increased blood flow and oxygenation. Three years later, a different group of Japanese researchers found that ten, 60-second sets holding a static squat position with knees bent on a whole body vibration machine at 26 Hz acutely decreased arterial stiffness in males in their mid-twenties.
Dr. Arturo Figueroa, an associate professor at Texas Tech University, has conducted numerous studies on the effect of using WBV to decrease arterial stiffness. The findings of Dr. Figueroa and his research group showed a decrease in arterial stiffness in a young obese female population. This population differed from the young males that were previously studied, as obese females are often not able to engage in conventional exercise. The women decreased their arterial stiffness significantly using WBV therapy 3 times per week for over 6 weeks.
In 2013, Dr. Figueroa and other researchers began studying similar protocols with postmenopausal hypertension and pre-hypertension patients and found that WBV improved systemic and leg arterial stiffness, blood pressure, and leg muscle strength in this population.
Finally, results were also seen passively with stroke survivors in a parallel study at Florida State University. Stroke survivors in this study could not engage paralyzed lower limbs, yet still received the benefit of lower blood pressure and a decrease in arterial stiffness from using a whole body vibration machine.
How To Shop For A Whole Body Vibration Machine
As I mentioned in the intro, when it comes to WBV, not all vibration machines are equal, nor are all types of vibration. The two most common forms of WBV machines are vertical vibration (VV) and rotational vibration (RV).
VV moves up and down (OK, I guess that was kind of obvious) and RV moves side to side. Research shows that both are safe, effective, and provide many of the same benefits.
The vibration plate I use, the Power Plate, is technically a VV plate, but actually goes far beyond that. The Power Plate offers what is known as “tri-planar” vibration, which moves in more of a “three-dimensional” motion: up and down, side to side, and front to back with every oscillation. This is important for the following reasons:
- Gravity is vertical. This is the most important force on your body, and you must constantly move with, and against, it all day long whether you are exercising, playing sports, or simply living life. The other side of this is that every time you hit the ground—your foot hitting the ground when walking or running, for example—the ground hits you back! This is called ground reaction force. Your body must be able to tolerate these forces or injuries and dysfunction will occur.
- Your entire body’s architecture is three-dimensional. There are no straight lines in your body. Your nerves, muscles, bones, joints, connective tissues, and yes even your organs crave motion in all directions. In life and in sports, you move up and down, side to side, and front to back. New tissue models itself along the line of stress, so if you want healthy new bones, muscles, etc. then you need to stimulate (stress) them in alignment with how there are made—your habits literally become your anatomy.
- Frequency, amplitude, and G-forces. These three terms are used to define how much work is being done on a whole body vibration machine and therefore how much stress is being applied to your body. Science shows that optimal ranges seem to be 25-50 Hz, 2-6mm, and 1-8 Gs, which are the ranges you'll find with a Power Plate. Once you set your frequency and amplitude (and therefore forces), it will stay precise no matter how you move during the exercise. For example, if you select 40 Hz / High (5 Gs) and decide to do push-ups and squats, it doesn’t matter whether you have a wide squat and push up, or a narrow one—either way you are working against the same load. With RV, as you make your hand or foot positions wider or narrower, the forces change. A wider stance would equal more forces and a narrower less. This means that if a small, but strong, person squats with a narrow stance and a larger, less conditioned, person squats with a wider stance, the deconditioned larger person is squatting against a greater force. It should be the other way around. This would be similar to saying that a treadmill moves faster for taller people than short. Also, with some RV platforms, they can go in excess of 16G, which is extremely high with no added benefits and a greater potential for risk.
So, while both forms of WBV are safe and relatively effective, the Power Plate goes leaps and bounds beyond RV machines and other VV machines and delivers what have been proven to be safe and effective vibrational levels. Power Plate has even been NEAT-certified (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) by the Mayo Clinic, which essentially means that it has been shown to enable you to burn calories without actually having to do “a formal workout” or exercise session.
You can check out the Power Plate here to learn more or get your own. (For all of the benefits they provide, these machines are surprisingly affordable; plus you can save $600 on a Power Plate Move when you use my link.)
Whole-body vibration machines have come a long way since the '50s (and so has the science backing up their efficacy).
The research is clear that investing in a WBV machine would make a positive impact on just about anyone's health—from elite athletes to the elderly, to those who are unable to perform traditional strength training exercises and everyone in between.
Again, WBV has been shown in numerous scientific studies to…
- Reduce visceral abdominal fat more than aerobic exercise alone.
- Improve knee extensor muscle strength and countermovement jump performance.
- Increase strength and bone mineral density, reverse bone loss, eliminate osteoporosis, prevent falls and fractures, and improve balance and equilibrium.
- Improve blood pressure.
- Have more powerful effects on hormonal balance than regular exercise.
- Improve perception of pain, balance, gait quality, and inflammatory markers.
- Increase circulation in arms and legs.
- Significantly increase blood flow and oxygenation.
- Decrease arterial stiffness.
- And much more!
I've only scratched the surface on WBV benefits in this article, so if you'd like to learn even more be sure to check out my podcast from last week entitled “Everything You Need To Know About Whole Body Vibration For Fat Loss, Strength Gains, Cardiovascular Fitness, Stem Cell Production, Growth Hormone, Testosterone & Much More!” with Jason M. Conviser, Ph.D., MBA, FACSM, and true expert in all things WBV and health and wellness in general.
Finally, I'd be remiss not to fill you in on one of my favorite Power Plate WBV workouts I frequently do at my home gym, often on an easier recovery day. It goes like this:
- 60 seconds, 30 Hz body weight squats
- 60 seconds, 30 Hz pushups with hands on vibration platform
- 60 seconds, 60 Hz isometric squat hold
- 60 seconds, 60 Hz pushups hold in bottom position
- 60 seconds, 30 Hz double leg back bridges with heels on vibration platform
- 60 seconds, 30 Hz decline pushups with feet on vibration platform, hands on ground
Repeat 3-5x as a circuit, with minimal rest.
Try it out and let me know what you think if you do! Also Leave any comments, questions, or thoughts you have about whole-body vibration below.