A few years ago, vibration training manufacturers seemed to be working on new research constantly, eager to back up the effectiveness of what might have been viewed as a ‘too good to be true’ form of exercise.
Previous studies have shown that whole body vibration training (WBV) can help with muscle development, improved cardiovascular/cardiorespiratory endurance and lymphatic circulation, re-education of neuromuscular pathways and motor skills, better flexibility, greater strength and stability, pain reduction and regeneration and recovery.
However, in recent years the rate of research has slowed down, possibly because vibration training has now become more widely accepted by the industry. “Scepticism among health club operators in the early years has been replaced by positive opinion,” says David Morrell, managing director of React Fitness, the UK distributor of VibroGym. “Personal trainers in particular realise that vibration training forms an integral part of their clients’ programmes, and in many cases will be the key component of an effective and enjoyable workout.
“This is particularly evident when training older clients or special population groups, with vibration training’s potential to prevent and reduce many debilitative ailments.”
Falls prevention is better than cure
Historically there has been an emphasis on vibration training to build bone density, but Steve Powell, director UK training & education of Performance Health Systems – which produces Power Plate – says the key benefits of vibration training among special populations and the elderly are being overlooked: “While vibration training can help build bone density, the reality is that the most effective machine for this outcome is one that can deliver loading in many multiples of body weight, like our bioDensity device. To prescribe Power Plate for building bone density is missing the point: its primary benefits for special populations are to build proprioception, strength and balance for falls prevention.”
The impact of falls is considerable. The Age UK June 2013 report Falls Prevention Exercise – Following the Evidence explains that falls and fractures in people aged 65 and over account for over 4 million hospital bed days each year in England alone, and the healthcare cost associated with fragility fractures is estimated at £2bn a year. There are around 70,000 hip fractures annually and these injuries are the leading cause of accident-related mortality in older people. After a fall, an older person has a 50 per cent probability of having their mobility seriously impaired, as well as a 10 per cent probability of dying within a year (Help the Aged, 2008, Towards Common Ground).
The Age UK report states that a tailored exercise programme can reduce falls by as much as 54 per cent, and draws attention to NICE guidelines on the assessment and prevention of falls in older people: namely, that strength and balance training should be a key component of successful multifactorial intervention programmes.
A one-year study of Power Plate training in elderly people showed improvements in mobility and stability, which resulted in reduced fall frequency and improvement in the response to surface rotations. A total of 220 healthy individuals aged between 60 and 80 years took part in the study. The Power Plate group performed static and dynamic exercises on the Power Plate for 47 weeks, three times a week.
After six months, the percentage of people who didn’t fall in the most difficult conditions had risen to 79 per cent from 64 per cent at the start of the programme. After 12 months, this percentage had risen to 87 per cent of people not falling.
“We already know that WBV training can improve muscle strength and flexibility. By combining this with improved proprioception and balance, Power Plate training can be a very useful tool in falls prevention training for the elderly population,” says Powell.
“There are over 10.3 million people aged 65+ in the UK and the ageing population is growing. As a non-invasive, reflexive, neurological stimulus that can be completed in a relatively brief timeframe, Power Plate offers an effective solution for this population, and an opportunity for the fitness industry to help improve these individuals’ health and lifestyle.”
Reducing the impact of chronic illnesses
Studies have also shown that WBV training offers great benefits and improvements in many conditions such as MS, chronic stroke, Parkinson’s, arthritis, fibromyalgia and diabetes.
Last year, in a 12-week study of 50 non-insulin dependent type 2 diabetes sufferers – conducted at the University of Auckland in New Zealand – WBV was founded to be feasible, safe and effective in improving glycaemic profile, lipid-related cardiovascular risk factors and functional capacity.
A 2012 study reported in the Health Science Journal showed the effects of WBV on a type 2 diabetes sufferer with damage to the peripheral nervous system, commonly associated with diabetes. The 52-year-old woman complained of night sleep disturbance, foot pain, tingling and fear of falling, and had tried medication without any effect. After six weeks of WBV, her pain levels, muscle strength, balance and flexibility improved and her neuropathy score decreased significantly.
On an anecdotal level, the Target Performance centre in Amersham – which has been using VibroGym for seven years, specialising in rehab-based exercise prescription – has helped many sufferers of MS, stroke, Parkinson’s and osteoporosis. Stroke victim Robert Bright was referred to the centre by an occupational therapist in 2012, three years after suffering a stroke. Two sessions a week helped him walk more confidently, improved muscle tone, reduced the swelling around his ankles and brought back sensation to areas he couldn’t feel before starting WBV.
According to centre director James Golden, Bright’s physiotherapist has been amazed by the progress, and Bright has been so encouraged that he invested in his own vibration trainer so he could make the training part of his daily routine at home.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is another illness that can be aided by WBV. A 2012 study, using Powrx Active Evolution 3.5, was conducted at the sports academy of the Sporthochschule in Cologne, Germany, assessing the results of WBV on a group of 10 COPD sufferers. The study sample participated in an eight-week programme of two sessions a week, with exercises targeting upper body muscles versus lower body muscles on a 1:2 ratio. For the first three weeks, the vibration was set at 30Hz, and was then increased to 45 Hz. Where the patients were able to tolerate the intensity, the amplitude of the plate was changed from low (1–2mm) to high (3–4mm).
As a result of this trial, patients saw a 15–20 per cent improvement in how far they could walk in six minutes. Additionally, a 10–12 per cent improvement in overall strength was recorded in all patients.
Benefits for athletes
In case this feature should suggest that WBV is only suitable for those suffering from chronic conditions, a German study shows that it can improve explosive power generation too.
The Sports Science faculty at the University of Leipzig conducted a study into whether WBV can make people jump higher. The scientists studied a group of 14- to 16-year-old male volleyball players to see whether the use of WBV as an integral part of the players’ overall training plan would show a significant improvement in explosive power generation. The six-week study used a Powrx Pro Evolution 3.1. Training involved six intervals of 30 seconds at 30Hz, and also six intervals of 45 seconds at 30Hz, twice a week.
The trial participants were divided into two groups. Group A integrated vibration training into their usual training plan, whereas group B also integrated vibration training into their training regime but were not allowed to participate in any conventional explosive type of exercises. A control group adhered to conventional exercise.
The study showed a height increase of 3.73cm (8.51 per cent) in explosive high jumping ability in groups A and B, but only a height increase of 2.38cm (6.09 per cent) in the control group that did not incorporate vibration training.
The study therefore concluded that significant improvements in explosive power can be achieved with the integration of vibration training, leading to an ability to jump higher.
The ongoing research certainly seems to justify vibration training’s place in gym programmes. The results achieved among those with chronic diseases are especially important given the sector’s enthusiasm for working more closely with the healthcare sector.
WBV’s success with diabetes sufferers is particularly significant considering the current NHS data, which shows that there are now 3.2 million sufferers in the UK – a number that’s increasing all the time.