Good Vibrations

In the former East Germany Dr Biermann was experimenting with the use of cyclic oscillations and their effects on the human body and the Russians were experimenting with the use of Whole Body Vibration to prevent their cosmonauts from developing severe bone mineral loss (and subsequent osteoporosis) caused by extended time in a non-gravitational environment. They soon recognised the benefits for their athletes, with great success at the 1980 Olympic Games.

But this is not where it started.

There are records of vibration first being used for the improvement of human performance in ancient Greece, where a saw, covered in cotton, was used as a tool to transmit mechanical vibrations to the part of the body that was not functioning properly. In the 1880s and 1890s, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg utilized vibrating chairs, platforms and bars at his Battle Creek, Michigan sanitarium as part of his “wellness” strategy.

How does it work?

The vibration stimulates the stretch reflex of the muscles, which results in contraction of the muscle. Due to this subconscious contraction, many more muscle fibres are used than in a conscious, voluntary movement, resulting in muscles all over the body contracting together, instead of just the group of muscles that are being worked on, as in traditional training. This makes it a very efficient way of training, and it has the potential to stimulate muscles which are no longer under voluntary control – i.e. paralyzed muscles.

Proven benefits through Scientific Studies:

  • Increased range of motion, flexibility, reactivity and balance.
  • Significant improvement in the quality of life of elderly people
  • Improved muscle tone
  • Improvements in Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis symptoms
  • Reduces lower back pain.

Non-Proven benefits:

  • Vibration training engages 97% of the muscle fibres while standard conditioning training uses only 40% at any one time.
  • Increases bone density
  • Helps reduce cellulite
  • Accelerated weight loss
  • Lymphatic drainage (an unproven but logical assumption)
  • Great for sports recovery
  • Immediate (but short lived) stretch reflex
  • Improved mood, libido and reduced stress


Whole Body Vibration (WBV) has now emerged as a popular training technique amongst elite athletes as part of dynamic training and recovery. WBV is also used for weight loss and is providing valuable assistance in the treatment and management of chronic neurodegenerative conditions and promoting recovery and stabilization. It is considered by many to be the next generation in physical conditioning and training, providing time efficient exercise and a break-through in medical rehabilitation.

As with any new medical product that claims miraculous improvements, there is scepticism. Hundreds of scientific studies have now been carried out. Although most of the product tests have been done on the able-body population; there has also been some focus on the elderly, cerebral palsy, stroke victims and degenerative diseases. 

There has also been a lot of progress in the understanding of the effects of WBV therapy over the last few years, but there are still a number of unanswered questions and uncertainty about the negative effects. It has become evident that it needs to be used correctly and with guidance in order to ensure that it does not do more damage than good.

There are many whole body vibration brands on the market, and the quality may vary. Some machines are able to provide the benefits that are described in the studies, others do not. One difficulty is that there are no recognized systems to rate whole body vibration machines.

WBV benefits reported by readers included: immediate improvement in blood circulation with the knock on effect of improved health and increased energy levels; increased muscle strength and flexibility resulting in improved function; increased range of motion; pain reduction in spinal cord injuries and decreased cellulite resulting in weight loss. It has also been used effectively to improve the central low tone in children with cerebral palsy.

Although the more effort put in the greater and faster the benefits will be, this equipment’s popularity stems from the rapid benefits achieved without much active participation from the user.

Andrew de Kock, from Hi-Tech Therapy, explained two key features to look at when selecting a vibration machine that make the difference between equipment being therapeutic or damaging: 

  1. It is extremely important that the vibration is not too violent. The vibration AMPLITUDE is the distance that the plate moves up and down. A good plate has controlled amplitude and only moves between 2 – 6 mm. NB: If the vibration is too great there is a risk of injury.
  2. The FREQUENCY is the speed of movement of the platform. This is measured in Hertz and should fall between 20 – 45 vibrations per second (20 – 45 Hz). This should be adjustable according to the user’s needs, as different frequencies have different effects.

It is important to use a machine with adjustable frequencies. High frequencies improve muscle strength, medium frequencies improve muscle tone and low frequencies result in relaxation.

The acceleration of the plate is measured in G-forces. This is a combination of amplitude, frequency and the weight of the user. The effect on the muscles is dependent on the frequency and G-force of the vibration. An optimal G-Force for the average person is approx. 8G (the G-force of gravity is 1G). People with disabilities or injured muscles should use the lower range of G-Forces while elite athletes use the higher ranges. It is essential that anyone using WBV should be trained in how to use these machines correctly.

Different vibration platforms have different vibration characteristics. The intensity and the direction of these vibrations are essential for their effect.  Not all platforms perform in the same manner, causing results to differ, and research on one plate not necessarily applying to other plates with different vibration characteristics.

The vertical (up-down) movements elicit the stretch reflex in the muscles which results in them contracting.  Some of the more advanced machines work in horizontal planes as well as vertical, which gives a more intense workout. Some incorporate a see-saw action where the two sides of the plate alternate, with one side being up while the other is down. This mimics the bilateral action of walking. 

When selecting a vibration plate there are a number of factors to be considered: the noise of the machine and the warranty and backup service offered which is often a good indicator of the quality of the machine. Decide how often it is going to be used. The ones designed for commercial use are designed for continuous usage whereas the home use ones are designed for a limited number of operating hours. They also have weight limits.

For wheelchair users, and anyone with limited range of motion, a very convenient feature is a remote control as this allows the user to position themselves and then press the start button. Having to reach for the start button can be difficult from certain positions!

Research has shown that the size of the motor does not reflect the quality of the machine. The strength of the vibrations is related to how the motor has been designed, and is not necessarily related to the watts.


WBV training can be very effective, but it also has the potential to do a lot of damage if it is used incorrectly. Most manufacturers will recommend short sessions of no longer than 20 minutes.

Due to a number of contraindications, it is strongly recommended that you consult a physician before starting on a WBV training program as the intensity of the exercise may result in over-training of muscles, particularly weak, untrained muscles.

WBV training is contraindicated for use in the early phases of treatment, as well as for: people with any form of infection or open wound; any spinal implants; any form of metal implant such as hip replacements, Harrington rods etc; recent surgery; epilepsy and Deep Vein Thrombosis, to name but a few.

For contra-indications details go to

For information on the “Truth and Facts about Vibration Training” go to

Caution! Ladies using any form of "loop" for contraception: beware as it could be dislodged by the vibrations!


The Power-plate is the best known vibration plate. It works in three planes, which gives a very intense workout with the muscle contractions working in multiple directions. It is available in Commercial and Personal models, with prices ranging from R27, 000 – R150, 000. For those who cannot afford to buy one, there is a ‘plate locator’ at so you can find the closest one for you to train on.

According to Heleen van Wyk, a Physiotherapist at the Pasteur Hospital, they have found the Power-plate to be very effective in normalising muscle tone and spasticity in long-term neuro -rehabilitation patients. Feedback from her patients shows that it increases sensation, especially with regard to proprioceptive awareness of the position of the limb, which is particularly important for walking.

Erik Anderson has a degenerative disease and found that frequent and regular use of the Power-plate not only slowed down his degeneration but, in certain areas, has given him back some function. He noted marked improvement in his abdominal muscles and thighs, after about four months of using the Power-plate.

Erik’s main benefit is improved blood circulation with a resultant increase in energy levels. He also believes that it has re-activated muscle groups which he had forgotten how to use. He says it is the best thing he has bought for himself, and having it at home makes it easy and convenient to use. 

Hi-Tech Therapy carries an exciting range of WBV products from DKN Technology and Globus Physioplate. Both rate as good-value-for-money at and prices range from R11 000 (for a home solution), to R75 000 for their top-of-the-range, Physioplate.

All of their products have adjustable frequency settings, optimal G-Force ranges and three dimensional vibration action.

FisioNova have the FitVibe SMART for home use and the FitVibe Medical for professional use.

The SMART has limited frequency and amplitude adjustments, while the Medical has a full range of adjustments and settings.

A Fitvibe trademark is the built-in personal coach. On-screen training protocols allow users to train safely without a constant need for guidance.

The Extreme Fitness Plate available through Wellness Direct, has been used very successfully by a quad who suffers a lot of nerve route pain.

He uses it daily and finds that it makes such a difference to his pain levels that he will not go away on holiday unless he can take his Fitness plate with him!

Homemark’s Vibra Shape belt is an interesting variation. Pam Hill, an incomplete paraplegic, is happy with the results from the belt which was recommended to her by an orthopaedic surgeon. The belt is normally used for slimming but Pam says she can see how her stomach muscles have improved, consequently firming the core muscles and obtaining better balance.

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