Vibration plates - the exercise machine for those who don't like exercise?
What Vibration Plates do –
and What you need to know about Vibration Training
Vibration Plates (or vibration machines – sometimes called Power Plates but, like ‘Hoover’, ‘Power Plate’ is a brand name) are a relatively modern addition to the exercise machine roster.
For those who are used to seeing treadmills, bikes and rowing machines whose functions are pretty self explanatory, you may be wondering what exactly a vibration plate is and what it does.
(If you’re already familiar with vibration plates and vibration training and you just want to know which one to buy, click here: What’s the Best Vibration Plate?.)
What is a Vibration Plate and How Does Whole Body Vibration (WBV) training work?
Vibration plates are not really cardio machines in the traditional sense of doing something repetitive to exercise the cardio-vascular system by raising the heart rate (though that is still possible).
With the vibration machine, you stand, or sit or lie or place part of your body on the plate while it vibrates. The effect is to help increase the amount of work the muscles do.
To understand how it works, you have to understand a little about how the body works –
The purpose of the cardio-vascular system is to provide oxygen and nutrients to the muscles when required. The only thing a muscle can do is contract (or release its contraction), so the number of times and the intensity with which your muscles are contracted are responsible for the amount of work they do.
When we stand still, there are numerous muscles which act in opposition to each other to retain our balance. Generally, because our reactions to losing balance are fine-tuned, the muscles are constantly micro-managing our balance and not much contraction is required. If, however, the platform you are standing on is unbalanced, your muscles are called in to action to a greater extent. This is termed ‘instability training’.
What vibration machines do is create an unstable platform to which your muscles instantly respond and the rate at which the machine vibrates – and therefore to which your muscles react – is much faster than normal, so they are doing much more work in a short period of time.
So engaging muscles while using the plate will have a greater effect and, basically, magnifies whatever the exercise is. If your time is at a premium, exercising with a vibration machine can reduce your exercise time to a fraction of your current regime.
Furthermore, because you don’t have to put much strain onto any particular muscle, and because you can maintain a good posture, it can be a useful way to exercise and regain strength when you have been injured or, for example, have a bad back.
At the most minimal level, just standing on the machine can provide some instability training and is definitely better than not exercising. However, although there is a degree of ‘passive exercise’, you will achieve much better results and realise the potential of the vibration machine if you include active exercises with the plate.
When all of your weight is on the machine, your whole body will vibrate accordingly, hence the term Whole Body Vibration (or WBV) training. But your whole body does not need to be on the plate. For example – doing push ups with your feet on the floor and your hands on the plate increases the workload compared to normal push ups.
Further benefits are said to be gained in fat loss, combatting chronic pain and increasing bone density.
Origins of the vibration plate
Most of the normal exercise that we do relies on lifting our bodies or external weights against the force of gravity, which is something of a problem for astronauts, since it is the one thing seriously lacking in space. Thus the idea of using repeating vibrations to stimulate muscles was invented. In fact, NASA have tested it with a view to compensating for loss of muscle and bone density experienced by Astronauts in extended space trips. There could well be a vibration plate on the first manned trip to Mars!
Vibration training for osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is estimated to affect 200 million women worldwide – approximately one-tenth of women aged 60, one-fifth of women aged 70, two-fifths of women aged 80 and two-thirds of women aged 90, while it is estimated that the residual lifetime risk of experiencing an osteoporotic fracture in men over the age of 50 is up to 27%, higher than the lifetime risk of developing prostate cancer of 11.3% [https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics]
As is has been found that using a vibration plate can help combat osteoporosis, this is a very good reason for many older people to use one. And not just older people – my wife bought one mainly for this reason.
Vibration training for weight loss
Studies have shown increased weight loss in comparison with standard exercise regimes – in tandem with a managed diet. There is simply no type of exercise, or exercise machine, which will make you lose weight without also eating healthily.
How does WBV training compare to traditional exercise?
As we’ve been using vibration training is brand new compared to the millennia we’ve been exercising naturally, research into this technology is still in its infancy. Nonetheless, early evidence is that it compares well in effectiveness for both strength training and weight loss or, at least, muscle to fat ratio. This research cannot yet claimed to be conclusive, and I would not recommend therefore that you give up other forms of exercise and, as it were, put all your eggs in the vibration plate basket. In any case, varying your exercise regime is a good idea but, if for some reason, (e.g. age or injury) prevents you from other forms of exercise, vibration training is certainly a good alternative.
Furthermore, arguably the main benefit of WBV exercise is that is can achieve similar results to standard training with much shorter exercise sessions – a matter of minutes per day, rather than long sessions at the gym. In this respect, vibration plate exercise is more akin to high intensity exercise.
It has to be said that, when we’ve asked friends and family to try using ours, some people love the feeling of the vibration and some don’t at all. The former can also enjoy the massage effects that can be utilised, while the latter just won’t use it as much. I suggest, therefore, that you try using one before spending your money.
As always, it is advisable to consult with your doctor before buying and using a Vibration Plate (or any exercise machine) if you have any medical issues which could be affected.
What to look for in a vibration plate exercise machine
Oscillation vs Vertical vs Tri-plane vibration
The first important variable in different types of vibration plate is whether the vibration effect is the oscillating type or the vertical type (or both) – see illustrations below. Again, more research needs to be done but the general feeling amongst experts is that, while oscillating vibration is good, vertical may be better. On the whole, cheaper machines use horizontal vibration which is, presumably, easier to engineer. Tri-plane machines incorporate the best of both worlds but tend to be more expensive.
This is the most common type of vibration at the cheaper end of the market. The oscillations do much of the work for you in the sense that, in general, you stand with your knees slightly bent and let the vibration trigger your muscles into working. It mainly works on the legs muscles, glutes (bottom) and stomach.
In general, most experts seem to think that vertical vibrations provide a more intense workout than oscillating plates and you can do more types of exercise with them, so they help more parts of the body.
Many of the professional machines utilise vibration in all three planes and some consumer machines do too, albeit on the more expensive side as a rule.
This is the overall distance of the plate from one extreme to the other. e.g. In vertical vibration, that would be the distance from the highest point of the plate to its lowest point.
The other variable to do with the actual vibration is the frequency. i.e. the no of times per second the plate vibrated. This is usually measured in Hertz (Cycles-per-second).
The ability to vary the Amplitude and/or Frequency means you can very your workout and, although not a direct equivalent, could, I suppose, be compared to changing the weights and number of reps in a weights-based workout.
A pre-set timer is included so you can press Start and the machine will operate for a fixed length of time
A remote control is available on some models to allow you to exercise is different positions without having to press the main buttons, then have to get into position with the machine already running.
No. of programmes
Many machines have a number of different programmes for varying your workout.
Straps are often included for a range of exercises, particularly using the arms.
Full size or Platform-only
Most vibration plates have a tower at the back of the platform and some also have a frame at the sides for support, but this does make them rather large and unwieldy and therefore more difficult to move if you don’t have the space to leave it permanently in one place. There are, therefore, some plates which consist only of the platform, so you may wish to consider those if space is an issue.
The size of the platform itself also varies and is a compromise between useability and space/convenience.
Max User weight
If you’re on the heavy side – and possibly looking to use a vibration trainer to help you lose a few pounds – you should be aware of the advised maximum user weight.
As price is such an important consideration for most people, and most have some idea of how much they are prepared to spend, I have arranged the main shortlisted vibration machines into groups based on price-ranges.
Now that you know what vibration plates are all about, if you think you might buy one you’ll want to know which one to get – so click here to find out.