Whole-body vibration (WBV) training has become more popular in the literature lately. While most people don’t have access to the machines necessary to perform WBV right now, a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research took a look at whether or not we should consider including them in the gym.
If you’re not familiar with WBV, it involves the vibration of a platform that an athlete stands on. The vibration then transfers to the body. This kind of vibration is used for physical therapy, but it is also sometimes used as part of a training protocol to develop muscle and strength, which is what they did in this study. The training is isometric, meaning the positions are held statically. In this study, the subjects held a squat in the top quarter position.
What Is WBV?
WBV has been shown previously to improve bone health and possibly affect both the cardiovascular and hormonal responses to strength training. The main mechanism that has been garnering interest of late, however, is the effect of WBV training on the nervous system.
It seems as though WBV causes an increased recruitment of the motor units. Whether the vibration stimulates the nerves directly or creates an unstable position that increases the need for muscular control is unknown, but regardless of the exact mechanisms involved, it seems to work.
In the study, there were 41 recreationally active participants, divided into three groups. They did WBV training either twice per week or three times per week for two of the groups, and no training in the control group. The goal of the study was to determine which frequency of training worked better, and to see how both fared compared to no training at all.
The training program lasted six weeks. The platform was set at a 50Hz frequency and an amplitude of 4mm. The participants held the quarter squat position for a minute, then took a minute rest, repeating for a total of eight sets in the first week. One set was added each week for the rest of the program. The only difference between the two training groups was the extra weekly session for the three-times-per-week group.
For size, the program worked. Despite undergoing just six weeks of training, the twice-weekly group gained two pounds of muscle and lost almost as much fat. The thrice-weekly group gained nearly 3.5lbs and lost the same amount of fat as the other group. Both of these improvements were significantly greater than the control group.
As far as strength goes, both of the training groups got stronger in an isokinetic test. While that’s not the same as the lifts you do in the gym, it demonstrates that the WBV training did develop some strength.
There were no significant changes in bone health by the end of the study, but it has been demonstrated in other studies. Perhaps the protocol simply wasn’t long enough in this case. Either way, it’s a safe bet that WBV doesn’t hurt bone health and is likely beneficial.
WBV has been demonstrated to work. Both two and three sessions weekly were pretty darn effective, despite the fact that the subjects simply held a quarter squat position. While it would be nice to see how this fares against holding a quarter squat with no vibration at all, we can say for certain that it is effective.
1. Pedro Alcaraz, et. al., “Effect of a whole-body vibration (WBV) training modifying the training frequency of workouts per week in active adults,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000531.
Photo courtesy of D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.