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The “Research” Behind the Hypergravity Whole Body Vibration Platform

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The Power Plate people aren’t the only crew out there trying to bamboozle the public into thinking that Whole Body Vibration (WBV) training offers a viable alternative to real exercise, as the folks at Hypergravity are hyperventilating over their vibrating platform.

Here’s a look at the Hypergravity website and the studies they offer as proof that their product does what they say it does.

As I mentioned in my previous piece on this gadget, the home page of the Hypergravity site tells us “Vibration technology is based on Russian research and development. It reached its peak when Russian cosmonauts were able to regain bone mass (which was lost due to lack of gravity in space) using advanced vibration technology. Today NASA is working with similar technology: Whole Body Vibration (WBV) to stop and possibly reverse the loss of bone density.”

But we’re never given any details about this “research.”

The “research” the Hypergravity people provide that is supposed to show us that NASA has unlocked the secrets of WBV is nothing but some old articles about proposed WBV studies.

The Hypergravity website has a “Researches” (sic) section that provides us with links to studies that – in the Hypergravity people’s world – are supposed to prove WBV training works.

Let’s go right to the “Researches” section of the Hypergravity website to see what kind of “researches” there is to support the claims of the Hypergravity folks.

When clicking on the link titled, Acute whole body vibration training increases vertical jump and flexibility performance in elite female field hockey players, we’re taken to a summary of a study on the Pubmed.gov site. This summary tells us that 18 female field hockey players were studied and those who trained with a protocol that included WBV were able to increase their vertical jump and flexibility.

This summary doesn’t use precise language to quantify these increases, but employs the phrase, “there was a positive interaction effect on vertical jump and flexibility parameters following WBV.” This statement is just nonsense as we aren’t told exactly what these “increases” are and what the “parameters” are. This summary concludes with the statement that says muscles that are less exposed to this vibration don’t receive any performance enhancing benefits. So much for a person’s upper body.

And perhaps the Hypergravity people don’t want you to know a study done at Appalachian State titled Acute Effects of Whole Body Vibration on Muscle Activity, Strength and Power and published in the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, found WBV training only increased vertical jump by a paltry .7%. That’s point-seven percent, not seven percent. That’s like buying something for $100 and someone saying, “Hey, let me knock seventy cents off for you.” Gee thanks, Dude!

In this study, the researchers posited this minute improvement in vertical jump could have been due to other, non-WBV training related factors.

Also, the Appalachian State study found that WBV training did not increase any other performance variable. And while the Hypergravity folks didn't site this study, this lukewarm-at-best news didn’t prevent the Power Plate people from using this Appalachian State Study as “proof” that WBV can improve athletic performance.

Let’s move on to the next piece of “research” provided for us on the Hypergravity site, a little piece titled Vibrations and their applications in sport. A review. This is nothing more than a paragraph that summarizes the concept of WBV, makes no mention at all about any sports applications of WBV, and the summary is authored by the person who conducted most of the research he was summarizing.

The best line in this summary is the conclusion, in which the author writes, “The intensity and duration of vibration used in Vibration Training dramatically exceed the standards for occupational vibration established by the International Organization for Standardization.” The IOS is the world’s largest developer of standards.

This means the intensity of the vibrations used in this kind of “training” would not be recommended in the workplace. So one could make the case that even if WBV training did do something, to get these purported benefits a person would have to be exposed to potentially dangerous/injurious levels of vibration. Sounds great to me!

Now onto the link titled, Will WBV training help increase the range of motion of the hamstring? Of course, the author of this study concludes WBV should be recommended to athletes who want to increase their range of motion, but if you look at the study there are some glaring inconsistencies.

Question: What is a WBV training study that includes glaring inconsistencies and design flaws? If you’re a WBV huckster, the answer is “Part of our marketing materials!” Anyway, back to our show.

The problem with this study is that while both groups studied engaged in an active form of flexibility training — the contract-release method — the WBV training group, immediately before performing each stretching exercise, assumed a 90 degree squat on the vibration platform for 30 seconds while the control group did nothing.

A properly designed study would have four groups — a group that squats on the platform prior to each stretch, a group that does nothing prior to each stretch, a group that assumes a static 90 degree squat on a non-vibrating surface, and a group that performs some type of low-intensity dynamic movement such as jumping jacks or body weight squats on a non-vibrating surface for 30 seconds.

Without including some kind of active movement for at least one group in this study, the conclusion can’t be made that WBV training itself is responsible for any improvements in ROM. A group active while stretching is always going to show greater gains in flexibility when compared to a group performing only flexibility exercises.

The giveaway that this study is a set up from the design standpoint is the author concludes “on the basis of the findings from this study, athletes who want to gain ROM in the hamstrings should use WBV training in combination with contract-release stretching.” The author of this study never discusses the possibility of increased ROM in the WBV group could be attributed to the fact that this group was placed in a position where the hamstrings were engaged/working and as a result would be more receptive to the flexibility exercise.

In light of the exorbitant price of these vibration platforms, you would think a responsible researcher would have conducted a more thorough investigation before making the leap that WBV alone can increase hamstring ROM better than other more traditional and “cost less” options.

This study — and the conclusion reached by the researcher — serves as a great example of studies designed so a positive outcome is guaranteed.

The fourth study served up on the “Researches” page is titled Effect of whole-body vibration exercise on lumbar bone mineral density, bone turnover, and chronic back pain in post-menopausal osteoporotic women treated with alendronate. This is yet another great example of how a study is designed to arrive at a predetermined, and positive, outcome.

This study involved fifty post-menopausal women suffering from osteoporosis and lower back pain, between the ages of 55-88. These women were all taking the drug alendronate, also known as Fosomax, which is used to treat and prevent osteoporosis. Right here you have the classic ploys of studying the elderly – sorry all of you 50 and 60 year olds! – and the chronically impaired. This kind of data just doesn’t translate to the rest of the population.

The fifty women were split into two groups, both of which were taking alendronate; one group did nothing and the other group stood on a vibration platform once a week for 4 minutes, for a year. The study found the only difference between the two groups after the 12 months was that the group using the platform experienced less back pain. There are no details as to how this “less back pain” was defined or quantified.

Most noticeably, there was no difference in the bone density measurements between the two groups.

The flaws in the design of this study are obvious, including how these 50 women were grouped, and what these groups did. Actually, what they DIDN’T do. Just as in the above mentioned hamstring study, there aren’t enough groups in this study. In addition to the women taking the drug and the women taking the drug and standing on the vibration platform, there needed to be a group performing some other type of low-intensity exercise. The inclusion of this third group would have allowed the researchers to determine if WBV training alone could be responsible for reducing back pain and/or how WBV compared to traditional modes of exercise in reducing back pain.

Additionally, since this study didn’t see any WBV-induced increases in bone mass, if my proposed third group were included in this study the researchers also could have looked at how medicated exercise compared to medicated inactivity and medicated WBV training with regard to developing bone mass. But then again, this detail would have forced the WBV industry to come to grips with the fact WBV doesn’t offer anything special.

Incredibly, these studies are being offered up as proof WBV training offers benefits. The only reason I can think of as to why this research is even being done is these WBV platform makers are trying to make the case to the rehabilitation industry that these gadgets somehow have a place in legit settings.

The Hypergravity site offers up this dreck as their top 5 reasons to buy their equipment, so how can we hope that any of these other studies will offer up anything better? Rather than just say, “we can’t,” I’ll take a look at the next five studies on the Hypergravity site in a few weeks.

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About Sal Marinello

  • http://screenrant.com Vic

    They’re just preying on the fact that many people will do anything to avoid REAL exercise and are forever looking for that magic bullet shortcut.

    Not that it’s an excuse for trying to rip people off…

    Vic

  • Derek Daniel

    Finally! Sal that is some good honest to goodness deconstruction of B.S

    WBV has one clear cut winner in all of this. The Galilleo/Vibraflex system. The research is solid, peer reviewed, and independent.
    This device seems to be the research reason why WBV is picking up speed and the others are just “jumping on the bandwagon”. I bought one for my studio and have had good results with clients over the past 4 months.

  • Derek Daniel

    oh yeah here is their link http://www.vibraflex.com

  • sal m

    derek:
    it doesn’t matter what company makes this type of machine, as they are all junk.

    as a matter of fact, the flawed study that i mention above in which 50 post-menopausal who were taking Fosomax used WBV, involved the Gallileo contraption.

    what possible good result could you have acheived in a 4 month period?

  • Derek Daniel

    Sal: I hear ya but dont throw the baby out with the bath water. i agree it is not the “be all end all” but there is substantial research besides what you mentioned. I followed nearly the same path you did but found a researcher at the NSCA conference who was more of a skeptic than I was and he turned me on to the differences. Trust me I am with you on the BS side of research methods but do a little re-digging on this one and you may be pleasantly surprised. Check the site biblio….it is either http://www.vibraflex.com or Galileo, I cant spell it.

    trust me b4 I dropped 10k I read every one of those studies and got on myself.

    I found this blog by total accident…I am glad. nice work

  • Joan Bias

    I tried one of these machines and it vibrated my wallet right out of my pocket and then vibrated hundreds of dollars out of the wallet!

    Some stupid people will do anything to avoid getting off the fucking couch and putting down the Doritos. Here’s a bestselling, surefire fitness plan: Move more, eat less. That’ll be $5000.

  • Derek Daniel

    Don’t except bull but don’t be closed minded either.

    Here is what I came up with during an exhaustive review of WBV.
    There are two schools of thought:
    1. Straight up and Down motion at speeds(htz) above 30 (power plate, hypergravity, Vibrogym)
    2. teeter tooter (balance board) movement at speeds 1-30 htz. (Vibraflex, GAllieo)

    The theory behind the two are distinct.
    1. PP, etc… it seems tried to elicit a tetonic response
    2. Vibraflex, Gallileo, tried to elicit the involuntary stretch reflex (think patella tap) which has been verifed to fire maximally on average at about 20-27 htz (EMG verified).
    The planes of motions are also important. I could not figure it out why they just did not choose a motion and apply the different htz but I found out it boils down to a patent. The balance board motion was patented and so no one could copy the Vibraflex/galielo group. OK so my next challenge was seperating all of the research into garbage and decent stuff. Once you seperate the two motions and speeds it becomes lopsided. The Galileo/Vibraflex kills,except for a couple of research docs which I thought were not set up very well(the bone density one Sal mentions was one of three) the rest stood up well. Good researchers, good programs, decent methods for this Galilleo group. The PP was also putting their competitors research on their site and hoping/praying that no one would see that they were espousing the benefits of the research on a device that was not theirs….not a good way to get me to trust them. They have taken it off since and the list is way smaller but still I wanted to see for myself.
    Then I got on each one. I liked the PP except the eye pressure made me nervous and they kept making me bend way down into a 90 degree squat, it was weird, why could I not just slightly bend without pain? next was the Vibraflex, it was intense but still somehow felt good, it was a strange feeling. I could not find any detailed commentary in the research on how the subjects described the feeling, not hard enough science I suppose. Anyways, I asked the Vibraflex rep and he had absolutely no good answer as to why it felt different. This is where the researcher at the NSCA last yr got me interested. The teeter tooter (balance board motion) is the natural ambulatory motion, one hip hiking one dropping, etc… The combination of the reflex firing and the natural motion makes the Vibraflex work. It made sense now. I consider it a motor recruitment and circulation tool and so it will be an important PART of my program for my athletes and clients. Not the only part but I have to say I like it way more than I thought I would. The way I see it is that the motor recruitment/neural component is the least understood, most difficult to measure, and so it does require more research as to the mechanism and truly may be awhile before we understand it fully or we may never understand it fully…but it is here to stay. i sent my athletes into pre season with vastly improved reaction times and they were setting personal bests all summer. I also tried it with the “civilians” and they had both positive acute responses and have maintained improvements throughout….hey you all have the benefit of a lot of soul searching because I really wanted to buy a new power rack and a woodway treadmill…

  • sal m

    all the techno-jargon does is purposely confuse/intimidate people to cover for the fact that there is not a shred of research to justify the use of the extremely costly WBV gadgets in place of traditional and proven methods of exercise.

    feel free to provide links to any research data that you feel proves that WBV is effective.

  • Derek Daniel

    Sal: the “techno jargon” you mention is basic physiology, you seem to have formed an opinion upon the understanding of that same basic science so you at least owe it to yourself and the blog to counter the argument with some more facts…that is the definition of debate. As I said I think you have good points about the Powerplate being garbage and a few of the studies being weak but this technology has potential and if you disagree by saying there is not a “shred of research” and there is, well then you become the BS. I will try to find the link and send it to you. I only have the hard copies that i printed.

  • Derek Daniel

    it is on the Vibraflex site http://www.vibraflex.com

    I will try to find the exact link for research on the page and outline which studies impressed me

  • sal m

    in an effort to clarify, i think wbv is garbage. the different machines are just different brands of garbage.

    the techno-jargon used in the marketing materials is not basic physiology, but irrelevant science that is being severely misapplied misrepresented.

    and it is more than just a few bad studies; all of the studies that have been provided by proponents of wbv are demonstrably flawed.

  • Derek Daniel

    Sal: Regardless of your opinion of WBV, I did my due deligence and if you challenge my understanding of the science you had better bring your textbooks to the blog for the next week. Your blanket statements and summaries make you sound like a “bad talk radio” caller.

  • Derek Daniel

    Significant results in a study done by Univ of Miami School of medicine: Researcher was the former Strength Coach of the University of Miami and went on to be the Director of the Miami Project for paralysis (christopher Reeve Project for Paralysis) I would guess he would not buy garbage…

  • Derek Daniel

    I have some patients which I thought would benefit from the pelvic wall strength improvements. Here is a study which showed significant improvement. This German has extremely forward health care philosophy’s so I thought this was a very good study.

  • Derek Daniel

    Although this was a postmenoposal research study it confirmed my thoughts on the neural mechanism being the key to the WBV Vibraflex due to summary notes stating that it had a concurrent increase in power and velocity but a neutral effect on force. I realized the neural component was also where I could improve movement patterns for my pro athletes with past injuries which inhibited their movements vis a vis, apprehension, etc..

  • Derek Daniel

    This study was interesting because I wondered about the long range benefits. I was convinced of the acute benefits and this study sealed the deal on my long term considerations. I still cannot understand why in the short term strength decreased and after 6 months bone density increased but nevertheless the results were significant and i dont pretend to know everything.

  • Derek Daniel

    Sal: digest all of those studies and perhaps we can continue a science based discussion on how all WBV is not the same and that although the powerplate and some of the other BS platforms are garbage the one I spent my “hard earned” money on, Vibraflex, has enough research to convince the people who actually know what the hell we are doing to buy it….or just tell everyone the world is flat and fire comes from a firegod….

  • sal m

    derek:
    the study that you provide the link to on the orthometrix site doesn’t involve a control group, but looks at one group of 20 people all standing on the vibration gadget, and then some measurements were taken.

    i don’t care who the authors are, a flawed study is a flawed study.

    this is just another case of another flawed study conducted by people that have an agenda, just like in the study involving hamstring flexibility that was provided by the hypergravity people.

    if this study that you provide for us was legit there would have been other groups involved. since you obviously didn’t read the entire critque above i suggest that you familiarize yourself with the concept of control groups.

    and since you seem to think that this study proves the efficacy of WBV why don’t you explain for us why the increased knee torque experienced by subjects in this study is so earthshattering.

    furthermore, you haven’t t