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  • Whole body vibration (WBV) machines have a vibrating platform that you stand, sit or lie on. Sometimes you hold onto a support bar.

    The speed (frequency) and strength (amplitude) of the vibrations can be changed to match your fitness level. The platform vibrates and you hold an exercise position, usually for 60 seconds. For example, you might stand on one foot, or you might squat with your knees fully bent.

    People who are selling this idea claim that WBV training can strengthen your muscles, tone and shape your body, reduce cellulite, increase blood circulation and speed up weight loss. These claims seem surprising when we think about the damage to our bodies from vibrations such as those from jackhammers and heavy machinery.

    The issue of WBV training is being debated in the sports science world. Different research teams have carried out experiments to find out whether it works. Scientists often look at a range of research studies and use this material to make up their minds.

    Researchers Associate Professor John Cronin and Greg Owen, working at the Institute of Sport and Recreation Research at the Auckland University of Technology, and Dr Nicholas Gill, from the Waikato Institute of Technology, have reviewed research in the area of WBV training carried out by other scientists.

    They have identified research on both the short-term and long-term effects of WBV training on muscular performance – effects of WBV can be measured immediately after a single vibration training session (short-term effect) or measured after several sessions over days or weeks (long-term effect).

    Nature of science

    Often teams of scientists work together on a research project. When their findings are published, all the members of the team are acknowledged but the order of the list of the names is important. The lead researcher has the first place in the list. Because these lists can be long, they are published once in the paper and then only the first name followed by "et al" (short for the Latin et alia, which means "and others").

    Their review identifies some research which shows positive effects from WBV but also other research that shows no effect. For example, some researchers provide evidence that WBV training regimes provide the same level of increase in muscle and power that can be achieved with conventional strength training. The short-term effects of WBV on muscular performance are thought by some researchers “to be similar to those reported after several weeks of strength or explosive training.” Some reports also show that WBV training regimes may increase flexibility and endurance. However, other research contradicts these findings.

    These are some of the research teams’ findings, selected from just one very small section of their review data on short-term effects. The table provides some data that indicates positive benefits as well as some that indicates negative aspects of WBV training – scientists need to examine opposing as well as supporting evidence.

    Table 1: Short-term changes in performance from vibration training

    Research team

    Vibration settings on the training machine
    Frequency = number of vibrations per second Amplitude = amount of up and down movement

    Exercise position

    Observed changes measured as a percentage (%)

    C. Bosco, et al

    Frequency – 30 Hz
    Amplitude – 6 mm

    One arm a little bent and holding a 2.8 kg vibrating dumbbell for 5 x 60s with 60s rest intervals. Other arm control.

    Significant increase (approximately 10%) in maximum power (= work and speed) of muscle during elbow bending.

    C. Bosco, R. Colli et al.

    Frequency – 26 Hz
    Amplitude – 10 mm

    Vibration applied on one leg, while standing on toes (100° flexion) for 10 x 60s with 60s rest interval. Other leg control.

    An increase in average power (5.5-7.6%), average force (5.0-7.3%) and average velocity (0.2-0.5%) at various loads (70, 90, 110, 139 kg) during maximal dynamic leg press.

    Table 2: Short-term studies in which vibration had no influence

    Research team

    Vibration settings on the training machine
    Frequency = number of vibrations per second Amplitude = amount of up and down movement

    Exercise position

    Observed changes measured as a percentage (%)

    J Rittweger et al.

    Frequency – 26 Hz
    Amplitude – 105 mm

    Stand on the machine for 30s. Then stand and squat (3s down, 3s up) while holding a weight. In the research experiment, this weight was 40% body weight for men and 30% body weight for women. Keep standing and squatting for as long you can (called ‘until failure’).

    Knee extension decreased
    9.2% and squat jump height decreased by 9.1%.

    S Torvinen et al.

    Frequency – 25, 30, 35, 40 Hz (increasing each 60 s)
    Amplitude – 2 mm

    Do this 60s cycle four times: 0-10s light squatting, 10-20s standing tall and straight,
    20-30s standing with bent knees, 30-40s light jumping.

    Leg press strength and counter movement jump height remained unchanged at 2 min and 60 min post WBV.

    While many of the studies reviewed show positive benefits from WBV, some do not. The New Zealand researchers concluded that before WBV can be confirmed as being effective, much more research needs to be carried out, for example, comparing the effects of WBV with the effects of conventional strength training over months or years, and until this research is carried out, WBV training claims cannot be guaranteed.

    Nature of science

    Because scientists often have conflicting results, there may be opportunities for scientists to write a review of current research. This article provides a summary of the research on WBV training and is an example of how scientists review other people's work.

    Activity idea

    Try this activity with your students as they investigate data about research on WBV. It is a great way to help their development of visual and numerical scientific literacy.

    Useful links

    Science-Based Medicine and Mayo Clinic have analysed recent research on the effectiveness of WBV.

      Published 21 June 2007, Updated 14 November 2016 Referencing Hub articles
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