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Vibration Training: Foolish Fad or the Real Deal?


By Di Heap, June 2009

Vibration Training: Foolish Fad or the Real Deal?


It’s been around for 100 years and it’s still going strong but does it do anything, at all, apart from extract hard earned dollars from user’s wallets? As people cut back on unnecessary expense, in hard economic times, serious questions are asked about the worth of fitness training methods; gym membership, pilates, private training, and more.


A Little History.....
Massage for the treatment of medical ailments — to stimulate blood circulation, aid relaxation, and improve muscle tone — has always been part of the human experience.  It’s probably the oldest complete therapeutic system in the world.  Affecting the mind as well as the body, acting as a rejuvenator, relieving stress, and aiding in re-balancing hormones it is accepted even when some discomfort is felt in the process.  Hippocrates, the physician, learned massage along with gymnastics and the practice was held in high regard among the ancient Greek and Roman physicians.

Dr. John Kellogg (of Cornflake fame) designed some of the earliest mechanical vibration massage machines. These “Vibro-Therapy” contraptions included mechanical massage beds, chairs and foot massagers and were in use in the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Michigan U.S.A., around 1895.  One such device accommodated up to five persons and provided hand, foot and body massage treatments simultaneously. Vibration Therapy was heavily used up till the time of the First World War and The Depression which saw many fitness centres and gyms having to close.

Move forward to the 1960’s, hyper-gravity loading principles were used by the Russian Space Program as it looked to combat the effect of zero gravity on its cosmonauts.  NASA also began using Vibration Therapy devices to help prevent the loss of bone mass in its astronauts because, although you can’t do weights in space, vibration therapy doesn’t rely on weight; it relies on energy.  In the 1970’s, Russian Scientists worked with dancers, rowers and Olympic athletes and found that vibration therapy, properly used, had potential to increase strength and flexibility.  

Around thirty years later commercial interest began. Vibration machines became available in studios, gyms, and beauty clinics, with home models for sale in stores and on eBay, all accompanied with hype and advertising suggesting that no matter what type of machine (plastic, steel, lightweight, see-saw or upright motion), this exercise method that gave amazing results ranging from weight-loss to achieving a six-pack in a very short time.  

In Auckland, New Zealand, a mortician, Mr. Lloyd Shaw, became disillusioned at the number of people dying of obesity-related ailments, so he set out to do something about it. He became PowerPlate N.Z. Product Manager and brought these machines to New Zealand.  In 2004, having left PowerPlate, he opened New Zealand’s first Vibration Training studio, specifically to provide morbidly obese people with exercise they can do.  Even those for whom a ten-minute walk was laborious were able to use the machines.  With his working knowledge of the human body, along with skills in engineering and being an avid gym goer, knowing the complexities of the body building equipment, Mr. Shaw then designed a series of Vibration Training Machines and a specific safety program for customers to use.  

The new Vibra-Train machines, although sharing some features, differed from other brands.  They were high force machines providing upright (lineal) vibration and the specific design, having bio-mechanical markers — exact places to put feet, hands, knees, and even where to look at — meant that even the slowest learners soon got the positions correct; a meld of user and machine to give exact results.  These same machines remain in use today in Vibration Training studios in New Zealand, Australia, and London.  Mr. Shaw also provides education and guidance for owners of other vibration machine companies worldwide to ensure their machines and training programs comply to quality standards for customer safety and good training results.

As an emergent training method, Vibration Training has not always been welcomed by the fitness Industry.  Some Personal Trainers, who don’t understand how it can possibly work have been very outspoken in their opposition despite having never tried a training machine.  Others feel somewhat threatened by the vibration studio setup, fearing it might take away their clients. In his Auckland City studio, Mr. Shaw works closely with personal trainers and other sports coaches by providing free training sessions and teaching them how Vibration Training works to improve muscle tone and health.  He encourages trainers to include vibration training in their client's programs. Also by reaching out to medical and disability care providers, Mr. Shaw and Vibra-Train have earned respect within this community.

Facts versus Fiction......
Academic studies using varying grades of machines have in the past shown mixed results, but newer studies performed with greater understanding of matching the type of machine used with the study purpose are producing exciting conclusions. There’s much anecdotal evidence of excellent results, of strength and fitness gains, fat loss and muscle gain, but could other factors be involved in the successes people tell about?  

It has been suggested that performing a set of exercise positions on the machine is no different to performing them on the floor.  I can understand that someone might see some changes in their body shape and strength if they were holding each position for five minutes or moving dynamically through a range with a spotter ensuring they “get it right” and taking 60 minutes overall to complete the session, but the Vibra-Train safety program takes a mere 10 minutes two or three times a week under the guidance of an instructor. Results can be seen as changes to the body shape take place, along with users reporting increases in stamina, strength and overall health.  

There are many brands of vibration machine available: in vibration studios, gyms, beauty or fitness centers, and hotel lounges along with home machine sales from sports and department stores, Internet Web sites and “As seen on TV” home shopping.  Intending buyers need to make themselves aware of the types and brands of machines available in their region and “try before they buy,” carefully matching their needs or anticipated results with what the brand is promising, and asking serious questions of salespeople. Those who visit a Vibration Training studio should also ask questions, making sure that it’s the right place for them to achieve their desired goals.

Foolish fad or the real deal? Time has already proven this training method is not going to go away any time soon.  Only those who investigate and really “give it a go” can honestly answer this question.

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