Wibble, Wobble… Vibrate yourself Fit!

If you have been down to your local shopping centre recently, you might have seen a kiosk with vibration machines on display. They look like big bathroom scales shaking in an earthquake, their rapid see-saw motion just begging the four-year-old in you to hop on for a ride. In this article, we ask why they have become so popular, what they do, and whether or not they are worth the $400 to $17,000 price tag.

History of Vibration Machines

One of the first proponents for the health benefits of vibration was Dr. John Kellogg, the famous inventor of Corn Flakes breakfast cereal. He started to use vibrating platforms to treat people who visited his sanitarium in Michigan, USA in the late nineteenth century. However, it was not until the 1960s that serious research and experimentation into vibration training took place, first in the former East Germany (work of W. Biermann), then in Soviet Russia when Vladimir Nazarov developed vibration machines for elite athletes competing in Olympic sports.
That work soon caught the attention of space agencies in the USA, USSR, and Europe concerned with keeping astronauts and cosmonauts healthy in zero-gravity environments. Since then, numerous studies into their effects have been published and multiple companies have manufactured and marketed vibration machines for home and gym use.
The popularity of vibration machines exploded in the mid and late 2000s when celebrities such as Madonna, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and the Collingwood Football Club were reported to use them extensively. At that time, vibration machines were expensive and relatively bulky, but in the last few years prices have come down as the technology has matured.

How Vibration Machines Work

Your muscle fibres contract when you make a conscious effort to move them, for example when you move your leg in order to walk. They also contract without your conscious effort when your body feels as though it is falling. We have all experienced how fast our hands shoot out to block a fall when we step on the soap in the shower. Scientists have found that many more muscle fibres are activated during these involuntary contractions when compared to normal conscious contractions. Vibration machines trick your body into thinking that it is falling.
When the vibrating platform drops down suddenly, for an instant your nerves sense a fall and cause an involuntary muscle contraction in your legs, torso and arms before your thinking brain can react. This repeats again and again at the rate of about 20 to 50 times per second. Muscle contraction is exercise, so the rationale of a vibration machine is that you can get an exercise workout which may be more efficient and more convenient than alternatives like jogging in the park. More efficient because more of your muscle fibres are being activated, and more convenient because you can do it in a small space.

The reported Benefits of Vibration Machines

Much has been written about the reported benefits of vibration machines, and from our review it seems pretty clear from published research that regular vibration training delivers the following benefits:
  • Efficient expenditure of energy due to sustained muscle use
  • Growth in muscle mass and strength due to supercompensation effect
  • Improved circulation due to short-term vasodilation (widening of blood vessels)
  • Improved explosive power in muscle tissue due to rapid contraction training
  • Comparatively less strain on bones, ligaments and joints than weight-based exercise, so ideal for people with excessive weight or age-related frailty
  • Increased activity in osteoblasts (bone building cells) due to compression and remodelling of bone tissue
Although the above benefits have been confirmed in reputable studies, it must be noted that some claims put out by manufacturers and marketers have been exaggerated and in some cases downright false. False claims include reports that vibration machines can “re-align” twisted spines and “break up” fatty deposits in the hips and belly. Vibration machines can be of significant benefit to your health and wellness, but they cannot cause significant weight-loss by themselves.
For that you need to control calories and enjoy an active lifestyle which could include 20-30 minutes of shake, rattle and roll when you watch TV every day.