What's the Deal With Vibrating Fitness Equipment, and Does It Really Work?

What's the Deal With Vibrating Fitness Equipment, and Does It Really Work?

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One of the latest fitness trends may shake up your routine-literally. Fitness companies are now incorporating vibration technology into their products, adding a buzzy twist to exercise equipment that targets and benefits the entire body (think: vibrating platforms that are big enough for you to stand on), as well as accessories that take a more localized approach (next-level foam rollers such as TriggerPoint's GRID Vibe and Hyperice's VYPER 2, which vibrate as you roll out) and even vibrating workout pants.

But with some pretty big claims out there (“It's as effective as cardio! It'll make you stronger!”), it's hard to know how much of that is legit or just hype.

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Good Vibes Only?

Developed by a Dutch Olympic trainer, the Power Plate-one of the most well-known whole-body vibration (WBV) devices-is an effective way to turbocharge the exercises you already do. Chances are you've seen one of these in your gym but have no idea what it does or how to use it. Here's how it works: You perform free weight or bodyweight exercises while standing on a platform that vibrates 25 to 50 times per second, which triggers a reflexive response in the muscles, making them recruit more fibers to complete each action. So your muscles work harder in order to keep your body upright, explains Allison Lind Wiedman, doctor of physical therapy and sports specialist.

And while Wiedman suggests it may not fulfill your cardio component (in the same way training for a marathon might), you can perform cardio exercises (like toe taps or quick feet) on it for an added challenge. Plus, she adds, “you can strengthen in a very efficient way and work on your balance.” There's also evidence it'll help improve muscle endurance and mobility.

WBV may also help muscles recover faster: It's been shown to cut back on delayed-onset muscle soreness-yep, we're talking DOMS-and improve range of motion, and scientists recently discovered it decreases lactate levels and increases heart rate recovery levels post-exercise.Effect of vibration treatment on symptoms associated with eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Lau WY, Nosaka K. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 2011, Nov.;90(8):1537-7385. Effect of whole body vibration on lactate level recovery and heart rate recovery in rest after intense exercise. Kang SR, Min JY, Yu C. Technology and health care : official journal of the European Society for Engineering and Medicine, 2017, Aug.;25(S1):1878-7401. To explain their findings, the researchers speculate the vibrations may boost the flow of oxygen, which might help flush the lactic acid that builds up after a tough workout.

More good news: WBV, together with cutting back on calories, may help with long-term weight loss and lead to a decrease in visceral fat, according to a study published in the journal Obesity Facts.Effect of long-term whole body vibration training on visceral adipose tissue: a preliminary report. Vissers D, Verrijken A, Mertens I. Obesity facts, 2010, Apr.;3(2):1662-4025. And WBV plus resistance exercise may equal more lean tissue.Whole-body vibration augments resistance training effects on body composition in postmenopausal women. Fjeldstad C, Palmer IJ, Bemben MG. Maturitas, 2009, Apr.;63(1):1873-4111. An important thing to note here is this technology seems to work best when used in tandem with other typical weight- and fat-loss techniques-meaning it's probably not going to make fat fly off your frame all by itself, but when paired with other healthy habits, it can make a difference.

One of the most surprising WBV studies suggests the technology might be as effective as exercise when it comes to losing weight and improving metabolism. (But before you ditch the gym, know this was a study performed on mice, and the scientists were quick to point out more research is needed to know whether the same results would occur in humans.)

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As for localized vibration used in tools like foam rollers, it's hard to say whether it would generate the same benefits as WBV, since the bulk of research focuses on the kind that targets the entire body, not one specific area. One exception? In one study (partially funded by Hyperice) out of UNC Chapel Hill, range of motion improved more in people who rolled out with a vibrating foam roller versus one without vibration, which is promising news for sure, but we'd also say more research still needs to be done.

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Other than that, these tools could offer a fun and challenging update to your usual workout. Take a cue from the WBV platforms and try performing strength exercises (like some of these, for example) with a vibrating foam roller. The vibration will force you to engage extra stabilizing muscles to kick your routine up a notch.

Another class of vibrating fitness products takes the technology to a creative new level; unlike the Power Plate or vibrating foam rollers, Nadi X's vibrating yoga pants aren't designed to bring on any of the benefits above but to boost your yoga practice itself by using the vibrations to gently nudge you into moving your body into better, more correct alignment while in a pose. Imagine: a buzz along your leg as a reminder to externally rotate or root down during your practice.

The Bottom Line

While vibrating yoga pants offer a cool, innovative use of the technology, they come with a pretty hefty price tag ($199), and whether they'll actually improve your practice or not is questionable and might depend on personal preference. Our tester, a certified yoga instructor, felt like it'd be better to use your money on a few extra yoga classes to master each pose instead.
Though there isn't a ton of research behind them, isolated vibration tools may be worth a shot to boost your recovery efforts (we've tested them, and anecdotal evidence suggests the vibrations deepen the pressure from the foam roller without increasing pain. Think of how that vibrating massage chair at your nail salon feels good while sometimes a deep-tissue massage feels painful). And with plenty of research to back it up, whole-body vibration gets the green light from both science and experts like Wiedman alike.