Whole body vibration (WBV) is a type of exercise training that has been used in sport, rehabilitation, and recreationally. The basis behind WBV is that the person is in contact with a platform that typically vibrates between 0.5 and 80 hertz (Hz). Points of contact include standing, sitting or performing other strengthening exercises such as planks or push-ups on the platform. It is thought that the vibration of the platform can help to build muscle mass and lean body mass, improving physical conditioning.
The mechanism by which muscular strength is improved via WBV is called the tonic vibration reflex. This reflex results in a continual contraction of the muscle being vibrated, which activates muscle receptors (muscle spindles) that are sensitive to stretch. The end result is an increase in strength of the muscle subjected to the vibration.
Researchers have determined that there are both short term and long term benefits of WBV. Short term benefits include greater activation of the contractile components of muscle, which aid in the efficiency of a muscle. Improvement of circulation is also another short term benefit in which the contraction and relaxation of muscles aids in the pumping of blood and lymphatic vessels. Long term benefits include increases in bone mineral density, and prevention of falls through improved balance, postural control, and overall strength.
A study published this year investigated older persons (average age of 85 years) and the effects of WBV on mobility, balance and overall health status. Participants were assigned to either a "vibration group" or to an "exercise based" group. The frequency of the vibration platform ranged from 6 to 26 Hz and participants performed 4-5 repetitions of a 60 second exercise, 3-5 times weekly over the course of 8 weeks. The researchers found that knee extensor (quadriceps) strength, postural stability, and general health status (measured by a survey) showed greater improvements in the vibration group compared to those who performed general exercises only. Overall, the research in this study indicated that WBV performed by seniors is effective in improving mobility, strength, and balance.
Another study in 2013 also showed similar results in that quadriceps strength and total lean mass increased in participants (active adults) that were subjected to WBV, compared to those in a control group (no vibration training). In this study, participants who were assigned to the vibration group were required to stand on the platform in a semi-squat position for 60 second intervals. VBW was performed 2 days per week for 6 weeks.
Overall, the literature to date suggests that VBW may be beneficial in improving strength (especially quadriceps muscles), balance, circulation, and general conditioning and health.