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Is Whole Body Vibration Therapy a Scam?

Over 50 years ago, when I was a boy in Los Angeles, there were TV advertisements for the newest rage in conditioning and body sculpting. Typically it would show a woman standing with a belt around her hips that was gyrating madly causing the woman’s body to shake violently. The claim was that these vibrating belt machines could passively exercise the body and cause weight loss, dissolving away that unsightly cellulite. I played around on one a couple of times at Vic Tanney’s Gym, and all I really noticed was that it made me itchy. Actually this approach, in one form or another, dates back to the Victorian Era. With advancements in science and technology the vibrating belt machine went the way of the washboard and the steam engine.

dr_weston_picToday there is a new incarnation of this old principle. It’s called Whole Body Vibration or WBV. In it, the person stands, sits, or leans against a surface that vibrates 25 to 50 times per second. The first time I tried it, I felt like I was being electrocuted and actually thought I might wet my pants. The second time I was more physically and mentally prepared for the sensation. I will admit that it tickled and still made me chuckle a bit, but when I stepped off the platform I did feel different, more invigorated.

The proponents of WBV claim it’s a form of passive exercise that is a spin-off of a program used to train Russian astronauts in a weightless environment. The vibration causes rapid micro muscle contractions that decrease bone loss and increase circulation, muscle strength, and even flexibility. From the Russian experiments the concept rapidly spread throughout Europe, Asia, and finally to America. It is now employed by trainers and health care professionals for medical, therapeutic, and rehabilitation purposes in gyms, fitness centers, offices, and even homes. The big question it poses is, is it a fad, effective marketing, or real science?

a_one_hour_workout_picThe theory is that WBV is a manifestation of Sir Isaac Newton’s Law of Motion, which states that force is equal to mass times acceleration. Because of the amazing acceleration, the weight, force, and time required for a workout is far less. There are claims that a 10 minute whole body vibration workout is equal to a 1 hour gym session. So this technology may be particularly appealing to those who have little time for exercising, those who cannot do normal work-outs due to age or disability, and those who may want to increase the effectiveness of their regular work-outs. Additionally, it impacts every cell and tissue in the body simultaneously. There are claims for literally hundreds of health benefits. Here are just a few of those claims:

  • Better athletic performance by increasing strength, endurance, and flexibility.
  • An effective tool for weight loss due to boosting metabolism.
  • Improves function in chronic debilitative problems like arthritis, fibromyalgia, spinal problems, and even multiple sclerosis.
  • Speeds up the rehabilitation of sports and accident injuries.
  • Effective in firming and toning lean body mass, possibly reducing cellulite.
  • Helps you feel relaxed and refreshed, with effects similar to a good massage.
  • Improves balance and minimizes bone loss in elderly individuals.
  • Enhanced circulatory and cardiovascular health.

Though there is an increasing body of research pertaining to Whole Body Vibration, most of the benefits claimed are anecdotal reports by individuals employing it in their personal routines. Whether WBV proves to be an enduring “Silver Bullet” of sorts, a placebo, or a passing fad remains to be seen, but it does have some rationale behind it, some real experts supporting it, and the results are hard to discount. Even if some of the claims are exaggerated, my personal opinion is to give it a go, and you be the judge.

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