One can build strength by resistive exercises, which can come in two general forms: high resistance-low repetition and low resistance-high repetition. Bulking up? Go with high resistance-low repetition. Toning and building endurance? Go with low resistance-high repetition. These conventions, of course, are general and there are many exceptions. But, I’m all for “simple.” I think of Whole Body Vibration Training (WBVT) as low resistance-high repetition to the extreme! With each vibration, the body’s posture is perturbed necessitating small muscle contractions throughout the entire body to stabilize itself. These are small contractions but they are happening hundreds to thousands of times a minute. They all add up to a training effect.
WHAT IS IT?
WBVT refers to the transmission of vibrations to the human body for the purpose of eliciting some type of benefit. This is most commonly accomplished with a device called a vibration plate. Or, you can take a bus ride along a remote Nepalese road to Katmandu! WBVT is nothing new. But, over the past few years, there has been much more interest in the medical research community. We now have more evidence supporting its use in the treatment of neuromuscular and orthopedic conditions.
Vibration comes in a few flavors: vertical vibration, horizontal vibration, and oscillation (think teeter-totter). The most common way of using a vibration plate is to stand on it. Simply standing on it for ten minutes has been shown to be beneficial. To step it up, one can lift weights, use resistance bands, throw and catch medicine balls, or practice yoga poses. If you are a master-planker, planking on a vibration plate can be a game-changer. Same goes for push-ups. For individuals who are unable to stand, kneeling and sitting can be effective even if support is needed. Adjust a walker or gait trainer a little bit taller and use it together with the vibration plate. I’ve seen Rehab Technology Therapists make engineering magic happen by attaching vibration plates to the footplates of standers. Sky’s the limit when you knowledge meets imagination!
My interest in WBVT stated about five years ago when a few research studies showed that this intervention could possibly reduce spasticity. 10 minutes on a vibration plate can reduce spasticity for about 45 minutes to a couple of hours.
Things got even more exciting when some studies showed potential strengthening effects for individuals with stroke, the elderly, and children with Cerebral Palsy. Building strength is one of the most effective ways of improving function and mobility in individuals with neuromuscular conditions. It is also one of the most challenging. If one does not have adequate strength and motor control to perform resistive exercises, options for strengthening become very limited. This is where WBVT may be the key. Things were already looking great. Then, WBVT “doubled-down” by showing potential ability to improve balance and bone mineral density. I’m betting that it can improve bowel motility and reduce constipation. The studies haven’t been done yet; but, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does. The research continues and the future looks bright!
WHAT DOES IT COST?
Just a few years ago, one would potentially have to “mortgage the farm” to pay for the $3K to $7K, therapy-grade vibration plate. Luckily, the fitness industry has embraced and adopted WBVT as a way to “super-charge” workouts. As a result, there are dozens of affordable home vibration plates, some under $100. From what I have seen, you don’t need to be at $7K; but, you probably don’t want to be at under $100. The “sweet spot” seems to be in the $200 to $400 price point. Since there are so many options now, it’s important to take a good look at the specifications of each vibration plate.
The LifePro Rumblex 4D is my favorite home vibration plate. It can provide horizontal, vertical, and oscillation vibration or any combination of the three. It has some pretty powerful motors capable of frequencies of 4hz-40hz and oscillation excursion of 1cm-12cm.
The LifePro Waiver Mini is only 23.6 inches long, 13.8 inches wide, and 4.7 inches tall, making it a great choice to integrate with a stander. At 4hz-10hz, it isn’t as powerful as its siblings; but, it should be plenty when used with a stander.
Right between the Rumblex and the Waiver Mini is the LifePro Hovert 3D in power and types of vibration. It is slightly smaller and lighter than the Rumblex 4D (30.5 x 15.3 x 5.8 inches, 35 lb). It has oscillation and horizontal vibration modes but not vertical. For spasticity-reduction, strengthening, balance, and bone mineral density, the vertical vibration mode is the least useful.
I’m hoping to see more studies that will guide us in the optimal “dosing” of this intervention. We need to know how hard, how fast, and for how long to shake, rattle, and roll. And, it would be very helpful to see more studies done with these affordable home fitness vibration plates.
WBVT, I believe, holds great potential. But, it isn’t a good fit for everyone. If you have epilepsy, your neurologist should be part of the discussion regarding the appropriateness of WBVT for you. In general, as for all types of exercise and therapies, I would recommend that you have a chat with your medical team before rockin’ it with WBVT.
Have you tried WBVT as exercise or therapy? Please share your thoughts and experiences!