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Vibrate yourself to fitness

Dan Fivey provides an overview of whole-body vibration technology

Whole Body Vibration (WBV) is one of the most exciting technological advances in the fields of sports medicine, rehabilitation, general wellness/health and athletics in many years. By using the principles of Whole Body Vibration many people can improve sports performance, enhance current fitness and wellness levels, and even accelerate recovery from injury. I have created this text to help individuals learn more about WBV as well as providing them with the basic knowledge needed to properly program, instruct and utilize whole-body vibration as a training modality, so that you may implement these benefits into your work with patients, clients or athletes.

Fads and trends

The fitness and sports performance industry are rife with fads and trends that come and go. Often, these items, activities or modalities rely on unfounded claims with little or no research to support these claims. And the results do not support the hype, either. That is not the case with WBV training. With over 30 years of practical and scientific research supporting Whole Body Vibration, it has become increasingly clear that this training technique is valid and will continue to grow.

Whole-body vibration provides the following advantages: it increases bone mineral density; improves muscular strength, enhances flexibility and improves key hormone levels. As research continues, we learn even more about the benefits of WBV training. The studies that have examined WBV training have examined different variable in vibration, including duration, amplitude and acceleration as well as differences in training methodology (sets, reps and weight used). One thing all these studies have in common is that they point to the benefits of using whole-body vibration.

The History of Whole Body Vibration

While Whole Body Vibration (WBV) may seem like a brand new technological innovation, the use of vibration for therapeutic purposes dates back to the ancient Greeks who utilized it for enhanced healing of injuries. This device consisted of a sheet of fabric with one end wrapped around the injured body part and the other end tied to a flexible saw that provided the vibrations. Then, late in the 19th century, famed physician John Harvey Kellogg used mechanical vibration to treat patients at Battle Creek Sanitarium who suffered from various conditions.

The first description of the functioning of the rhythmic neuromuscular stimulation method (RNS - the technique that today's vibration methodology is based on) dates back to 1960 when Professor. W. Biermann, from the former East German Republic, described so-called "cyclical vibrations" capable of improving the condition of the joints (by stretching) quickly. After the building of the Berlin Wall, the former Soviet Union took over this East German method, and these insights disappeared behind the Iron Curtain.

Russian scientist, Vladimir Nazarov, became the first to utilize vibration training in its most modern application, with what was called Biomechanical Stimulation (BMS). With this technology, he and his associates were able to investigate involuntary muscle contractions and involuntary movement. This information coupled with the mounting knowledge of voluntary movement initiated by the central nervous system allowed them to answer any questions regarding neuromuscular control.

The Russian space program utilized WBV to allow their cosmonauts to stay in space longer without adverse reactions. Later, ballet dancers with minor muscle injuries (i.e. Achilles tendonitis) discovered that vibration aided their healing process. They also found that their muscular strength increased and that their jump height increased, with only one-fourth of the effort or time of traditional training methods. This led many of Russia's top Olympic athletes to adopt WBV into their training regimens. Since this time, many other athletes have discovered the benefits of vibration training.

In 1997, one of the top trainers of the Dutch Olympic team, Guus van der Meer, began to use WBV on healthy, untrained persons. Based on his positive results, he then developed the PowerPlate (later to be called the Vibrogym), and set up special training programs, to meet the demands of the health and fitness sector.

Scientifically Proven Benefits of Vibration

One of the greatest advantages of WBV training is that one can achieve great results in fewer amounts of time compared to conventional methods. This advantage was the principal question behind most research and studies. The research into a structural effect of vibration training on force and/or speed does not speculate on temporary facilitation, but on the development of new, more efficient motor patterns, as a result of which more force or power can be provided without intramuscular changes. All of these studies use submaximal or maximal contractions during vibration training. By so doing, they speculate on the assumption that the total excitatory input is much greater in this way than in normal weight training. In maximal contractions, the vibration stimulus results in the use of motor units that are normally dormant or inactive.

Benefits of Whole Body Vibration

Training Discovered Through Research in WBV has uncovered numerous benefits. These include:

  • Shorter training time required
  • Increases muscle strength
  • Improves flexibility
  • Intense stimulation and increase of neurological systems
  • Increases blood circulation
  • Vibrations aids in the reduction of pain
  • Increased bone mineral density
  • Increase in key hormones - Testosterone, Growth Hormone, IGF-I, Serotonin
  • Massage applications
  • The decrease in cortisol (stress hormones)
  • Increase in balance and coordination
  • Decrease in DOMS

Acceleration of the Vibrogym Platform

In a double-blind research project done at the Catholic University Leuven (Belgium), the acceleration of the Vibrogym was measured using an accelerometer. As can be seen from the table below the greater the amplitude and frequency of the vibration, the greater the acceleration and thus the greater impact on gravitational force.

Exercising with Whole Body Vibration

The vibration exercises are performed on the vibrating plate or by straps attached to the plate. The distal ends of the lower or upper extremities contact the plate or straps. A static or dynamic or pulsing contraction will take place in which the joints associated with the affected chain, unlock. One holds a position passively (static) or actively engages in motion (dynamic) or a pulsing movement. This way the vibrations are primarily absorbed by active structures and secondary by passive structures.

The execution of exercises while on the platform is virtually the same as it is when performing the conventional method, so the same rules apply. Because you work out large muscle groups, you can make a distinction between the upper and lower body. Within these two groups, there are plenty of variations regarding the types of exercises, the performance and the multiple parameters.

A significant aspect of the application of Vibration Training is the footwear used. When someone wears shoes with shock-absorbing soles the effect of the vibration may be reduced by 50%. Conversely, the effect is optimal when one stands on the plate without any shoes. However, the vibration reduction is found in the amplitude and not the frequency experienced (i.e. 2mm to 1mm, 4mm to 2mm, etc.). The change in amplitude will also reduce the gravitational force experienced while training.

It is highly recommended that users wear either training type shoes or utilize the mat included rather than having direct contact with the plate itself, due to the friction and tthe impact experienced while training with WBV. The pad should be used for all massage exercises; however, depending on the individual's clothing, mass and tolerance to vibration, shoes and the pad are optional. The individual working with a client or patient must pay close attention to this fact.

Recommended Settings

The following are the recommended setting guidelines for optimal utilization of the VibroGym:

  • Beginners: all exercises at 30 or 35 Hz low (30 or 45 seconds)
  • Intermediate: all exercises at 35 or 40 Hz low (45 or 60 seconds) or 30 Hz high (30 or 45 seconds)
  • Advanced: all exercises at 30 to 40 Hz high (45 or 60 seconds)
  • Strength/Muscular Development: 30-35-40Hz (Low/High)
  • Flexibility/Stretching: 30-35-40Hz (Low/High)
  • Massage: 40-50Hz (Low/High)

In principle, we can divide the participants into beginners, intermediate and advanced. At each stage, the duration, frequency and amplitude in the various exercises may be changed, or other exercises added.

It has been well documented that athletes have much greater motor unit recruitment capabilities than non-athletes (or those less fit) and they will adapt to a vibration much faster than others. However, because most people (especially those who are elderly, rehabilitating or unconditioned) do not have well-trained motor unit synchronization, utilizing settings above 35Hz for these individuals (even after extended training time) would be too great of a demand for their neurological and muscular systems to handle.

Because of the physiological characteristics of the fast-twitch muscle fibre, strength training at 50 Hz provides no muscular benefit due to the maximum rate of contraction is 42mm/s. It is for this reason 50 Hz is utilized primarily for massage and non-weight bearing movements.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • FIVEY, D. (2006) Vibrate yourself to fitness. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 32 / May), p. 6-7

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • FIVEY, D. (2006) Vibrate yourself to fitness [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Dan Fivey is a Personal trainer with 10 years of experience who has travelled the world promoting Whole Body Vibration (WBV). He has worked with athletes in a variety of sports, the general public, disabled and rehab patients with WBV with excellent results.