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Understanding Whole Body Vibration (WBV) Training

By: NCSF  on:  Jan 10 2014
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The fitness industry is constantly giving birth to new methods of training. Many of these methods are not supported by scientific research but are rather fueled by anecdotal claims and flashy marketing. While some stand the test of time others fall to the wayside once associated infomercials run their course. Occasionally, a new training method arises which seems to have true merit the fitness industry - one such method is Whole Body Vibration Training (WBV). The idea behind WBV is to overload both the muscular and nervous systems to expedite adaptation responses within the body. The body’s ability to produce force is calculated by multiplying the mass of an object by the acceleration of that same object (F = m x a). Traditional resistance training helps to improve force by increasing the mass component of the equation while WBV training functions be increasing the acceleration component of the equation.

The physiological adaptation responsible for the increase in muscle contraction speed is referred to as the tonic vibration reflex (TVR). When stimulated by WBV training, the activity of the nerves that connect muscles to the spinal cord increases. This in turn creates a circuit which enhances and “speeds up” muscle activation. In terms of sport performance, WBV training has been shown to increase flexibility; making it a useful tool prior to training or competitive events. It also seems to increase the rate of fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment, potentially leading to performance gains depending on the scenario.

Of additional interest, WBV training has also been shown to negate the loss of type II muscle fiber contraction speed associated with aging. Advanced aging leads to atrophy, which in turn lead to losses in muscular power. For athletes, power loss usually results in decreased vertical jump height and running speeds; however for older adults, power loss affects activities of daily living (ADLs) such as stair climbing or rising from a seated position out of a chair. Several studies have demonstrated that loss of power occurs twice as fast as strength, making power training with older populations a necessity for maintaining independence.

The following results are derived from several studies speaking to the effectiveness of WBV:

  • Three 2-minute sessions of WBV training twice a week increased power output among the elderly by 5%.
  • WBV training has been shown to increase muscular strength as well as promote a small increase in fat-free mass. Gains in knee-extensor strength using WBV are comparable to strength gains seen in a standard fitness training program consisting of cardiovascular and resistance training.
  • Stretching using WBV resulted in superior improvements in hip abductor and trunk flexor range of motion (ROM) when compared with regular static stretching.
  • WBV training demonstrated greater improvements in bone mineral density when compared to traditional weight training. Among homogenous groups, the WBV training provided a slight improvement in bone mineral density within the hip above resistance training alone.

These studies suggest that WBV training is beneficial in terms of improving power as well as minimizing bone mineral density losses among the elderly, and providing useful flexibility and strength gains among the elderly and athletic populations alike. WBV is a novel type of training however, and must be further studied to completely attest to its effectiveness. WBV can be easily incorporated into most training programs (as long as the equipment is readily available) but it is not recommended as a solitary, all-inclusive modality for multi-faceted training goals.

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