A Good Vibe

By Melissa Conroy

Something that tickles your toes could also help sooth your aching back, increase your bone density and help shed pounds: vibration exercise. Vibration exercise or vibration therapy is a growing trend in the fitness world today, and more people are getting “good vibrations” from this type of exercise. While it may seem like a gimmick, the theory of vibration exercise stretches back more than a hundred years and there are many benefits that you can reap by giving this workout a try.

Vibration exercise involves performing movements on a machine platform that vibrates (generally about 30 times a second). You may perform squats or step ups on the machine or simply hold a static position (such as a lunge) while the machine vibrates under your feet. While this may seem completely unlike exercise, your muscles will contract rapidly as you stand on the platform and after a mere 30 seconds of holding a squat or gripping a vibrating bar, you can find yourself quickly breaking a sweat!

During the late 1900s, John Harvey Kellogg began using vibrating chairs and platforms at his sanitarium as a way of helping his patients regain their health. Vibration exercise gained more popularity in the 20th century, especially for improving athletic performance. Today, vibration exercise is becoming increasingly more widespread, from top-notch athletes to people rehabilitating after an injury to ordinary individuals simply wanting to improve their health.

Vibration exercise is used for both therapy and general exercise. For people suffering from injuries or physical ailments, vibration exercise can be used to help increase blood flow, break up scar tissue and improve spinal problems. Vibration exercise is particularly helpful for individuals whose physical condition hinders them from making certain movements. Someone who has bad knees, a weak back or neck issues often cannot do many traditional exercises such as lunges or crunches. Vibration exercise can allow them to do a workout safely and effectively. Someone recovering from a debilitating accident can also use vibration therapy as a way of rehabilitating.

For people who are healthy and functional, vibration exercise can be a helpful addition to a normal workout routine. One of the benefits of vibration therapy is that it stimulates more muscles than traditional exercise. During walking or running, you are typically engaging only about 40 to 60 percent of your muscles. This is because your body has learned over time just how many muscle fibers you need to activate to perform certain movements. Step on a vibration machine, however, and this increases to about 80 percent as the vibrating platform forces most of your muscles to get to work. This way the machine can help you better tone and strengthen your muscles. Proponents of vibration exercise claim that as little as 15 minutes three times a week is enough to tone your muscles, lose weight and get your blood pumping.

Sound too good to be true? Well, the bitter truth is that standing on a vibrating platter is not going to magically shake 40 pounds off your belly. Vibration exercise can be a helpful addition to your exercise routine and can be a great way of rehabilitating after an injury. If your knees and back are bad, vibration exercise can be a much safer and gentler way of getting exercise than traditional weight lifting or taking a kickboxing class. You still need regular cardiovascular exercise to stay in good shape, and vibration therapy is not an “all in one” workout.

Vibration machines do come with some risks. Not all vibration machines are made alike: Some machines are designed to vibrate up and down, others from side to side and others in several directions. Up and down vibration causes the body to work against gravity and its own weight, and lateral vibration creates more muscle contraction. However, lateral movements can be hard on the joints and a poor quality vibration machine may produce too much lateral vibration that could damage your body. (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has regulations for how long a worker can be exposed to full-body vibrations (such as from a jackhammer) because prolonged or forceful vibration can aggravate hernias, shake loose IUDs or possibly cause brain damage.)

Some of the potential risks involved with vibration exercise are associated with the quality of the machine. Cheap vibration machines are available at your local retail store and online, but these machines are usually not calibrated to give a safe and effective workout. A high-quality vibration machine can cost thousands of dollars, so if you are interested in trying this type of exercise, it is a good idea to find a local health spa or therapy center that offers vibration exercise training. Before you seek out a gym, be sure to consult your doctor first to ensure that vibration exercise is safe for you.

If you are looking for new ways to switch up your exercise routine or you have some joint problems that make running and weight lifting difficult, the answer may be just around the corner. A growing number of gyms, therapy offices, and workout studios across the U.S. are catching the vibe and offering vibration therapy exercise to help people get stronger, feel better and lose weight. It may tickle or feel a little silly, but vibration exercise may be just what you need.

Melissa, an exercise enthusiast, has tried all kinds, from Zumba to P90X2. She can be reached at [email protected].  

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