Fitness for all: Injured athletes are among the early supporters of whole body vibration platforms

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Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette
Luke Getsy, 22, works out on a whole body vibration platform at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on Pittsburgh's South Side. The vibrations stimulate muscle growth, according to manufacturers of the platforms.
Click photo for larger image.

If you want a slimmer, trimmer wallet for 2007, you might consider purchasing a whole body vibration platform. They're the rage in Europe, and they're catching on fast here.

But they'll set you back some. The leading manufacturer is Power Plate, which sells three machines ranging in price from $3,500 to $9,250. Hypergravity also sells three machines, ranging in price from $3,499 to $7,499. The Ironman Resolution retails for $2,000. Others cost as much as $13,000.

These machines, understandably, are marketed chiefly to health clubs, athletic teams, and rehabilitation clinics. But Soloflex will sell you a standalone unit. There's also a whole body vibration platform with a Soloflex home gym attached to it for $495.

The theory behind these machines is that if a muscle is gently shaken while it is being worked, it will call upon neighboring muscle fibers for assistance. This causes muscles to grow both larger than they otherwise would, and faster than they otherwise would.

Whole body vibration platforms have many fans among athletic trainers. Three professional football teams -- the Tennessee Titans, the Oakland Raiders and the Green Bay Packers -- use them in their training regimen.

But there are skeptics.

"If standing on a vibrating platform offered real health benefits, subway riders would be the healthiest lot on the planet," said Sal Marinello, a strength and conditioning coach who writes a health and fitness column for BlogCritics magazine.

Whole body vibration systems were first developed in the 1960s by Russian scientists to treat cosmonauts who suffered bone loss after lengthy periods of weightless in outer space.

There's plenty of evidence to indicate whole body vibration systems are a good treatment for that. Cosmonauts who were treated with the system were able to stay in space for more than a year without suffering serious health effects. American astronauts, who were not, could stay in space for no more than 120 days.

You're not planning to orbit the earth anytime soon. So why should you buy one of these machines, or encourage your health club to get one?

"Vibration training is a highly potent weapon for burning fat, reducing cellulite and building lean muscle," say the Hypergravity people in their promotional materials.

Working out on their platform can increase your muscle strength up to 50 percent in as little as three weeks, elevate your testosterone, and dramatically increase your flexibility, the Hypergravity folks say.

Ten minutes on their machine provides the same benefits as an hour of conventional weight lifting, the Ironman people say.

On their Web sites, most of the manufacturers link to research studies that they say validate their claims. But the studies don't validate the more extravagant claims.

For instance, Hypergravity links to a 2005 British study authored principally by Dr. Marco Cardinale of the University of Aberdeen. The study concludes:

"The latest results support our idea that the current technology/methods of WBVT (standing on a vibrating plate with low force generation in the lower limbs) are unlikely to produce significant improvements in performance in well trained athletes, and physically active young subjects, and even if they do, conventional resistance exercise should still be superior."

A 2004 Belgian study concluded that "24 weeks of whole body vibration training did not reduce weight, total body fat or subcutaneous fat in previously untrained females. WBV training did produce a small increase in knee extensor strength, the study said, but "the gain in strength is comparable to the strength increase following a standard fitness training program."

A 2005 study of patients at a Belgian nursing home indicated that doing exercises on a vibration platform can increase balance and mobility, but added that "it is still insufficiently clear whether WBV has supplementary benefit on muscles performance and flexibility compared to classic exercise."

Another study indicated that working out on a vibrating platform can increase vertical jump height ... but by only 0.7 percent.

Despite the fairly modest evidence of improved performance, WBV platforms are undeniably popular with athletes, both of the professional and the weekend variety.

WBV platforms make warmups faster and more pleasant, said Chris Verna, a professional trainer in Florida who has had a Power Plate for nearly five years.

"I like to use it in the first part of the workout because it stimulates all the nerve endings," Mr. Verna said. "It's a much better warmup than riding the [exercise] bike."

Steve Watterson, the strength and rehabilitation coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, got his first Power Plate 31/2 years ago, and just bought a second one because it is so popular with his players.

"It's great, especially for athletes who have injuries," Mr. Watterson said. "Some of the players use it right before going out on the field."

Another fan is Ron DeAngelo, director of sports performance training at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who got his whole body vibration platform a year ago.

"It helps with recovery from injury," Mr. DeAngelo said. "It acts as an analgesic. You can do some exercises [on it] that you might not be able to do normally."

Mr. DeAngelo is helping Luke Getsy, 22, who was the University of Akron's quarterback last season, get ready for pro football's combine next month.

Mr. Getsy, a Steel Valley High School graduate, likes working out on the WBV platform.

"It feels real good," he said. "The vibrations help your muscles. Instead of getting fatigued, you feel good all the time you're on it."

Aasha Sinha is a professional ballet dancer who has had three surgeries on her hips, the most recent last August. She moved to Pittsburgh for the surgeries and for rehabilitation at UPMC. Last week, she worked out for the first time on the whole body vibration platform.

"I haven't been able to put any weight on this until I started to work out on the platform," she said. "For some reason, it tricks you into not feeling the pain."


Correction/Clarification: (Published Jan. 17, 2007) This story on whole body vibration platforms as originally published in the Jan. 10, 2007 edition indicated Soloflex sells one as an attachment to its home gyms. Soloflex also sells a WBV platform as a stand-alone piece of equipment.

Jack Kelly can be reached at jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.


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