Any product that claims to make us stronger, healthier and faster (read: all around more awesome) without any real effort deserves a long, hard look. But some studies actually support the use of vibrating platforms for exercise and rehab purposes, specifically for rehabbing back injuries. But that doesn't mean all the claims associated with these devices -- increased muscle performance and bone density, for starters -- stand up to some basic scrutiny.
Shake It Like a Polaroid -- Why It Matters
News flash: Infomercial products aren't always what they're cracked up to be. And yet the vibration platform (or plate) is one fad dozens of manufacturers, professional athletes and gyms across the country are getting in on -- all for one easy payment of $1,000 and up! While some models just shake things up, others come equipped with a virtual coach to walk the user through an on-platform workout. They don't even all vibrate the same direction -- some move up and down, some pivot like a seesaw. The common thread: All machines vibrate 20 to 50 times per second while the user enjoys the sensation of riding a rickety roller coaster... standing up.
Manufacturers claim these good vibrations cause the body's skeletal muscles to contract and stretch, engaging more muscles than voluntary movements alone. And some studies do support this hypothesis. Researchers have found vibration on its own, vibration with on-platform exercises and vibration in combination with off-platform workouts all seemed to slightly enhance athletic ability for a brief window (think: minutes, not hours) of time. At just the right frequency (which varies depending on the activity or person), hopping on a vibrating platform helped amateur male athletes jump higher and swing a bat faster for a few minutes after getting off the machine. Pulsing away also ups blood flow (though it's not clear from the research if that's a good thing), which could help speed rehab for spinal cord injuries.
All Shook Up -- The Answer/Debate
While some studies have shown these platforms work in specific applications (i.e. ultra-controlled trials and specific medical treatments), many researchers maintain the overall benefits have been exaggerated. For starters, the effects of the vibration are only felt for a very limited period of time (i.e. 30 seconds to four minutes) and that window of time is different for everyone. There are also multiple studies showing no benefits at all. As for manufacturers' claim that a whole lotta shakin' could improve bone density, research has yet to support that.
Full-on body rockin' can have its downsides, too. Truck drivers exposed to similar frequencies for long periods of time may experience chronic back pain and nerve damage. While the vibration on a platform isn't exactly the same, it does bring up similar concerns such as joint damage, suggests Greatist expert Linda LaRue. Instead, she recommends full-body exercises that engage stabilizer muscles, like push-up planks (which don't cost a thing).
The moral of the story? Olympic athletes looking to jump just one inch higher may benefit from a quick bout on a vibrating platform (timed perfectly for their jump, of course). But for everyday folks who just want to perform a bit better, it looks like the best bet may still be old school gym time with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
The Takeaway: Maybe. There are some clinically proven benefits of vibrating platforms, but most products' claims are severely exaggerated.
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