Once Sneered at as a

For generations, people have run hot and cold on the usefulness of vibrating exercise machines. There are plenty of comedy sketches in 1930s movies that portray overweight people being violently shaken around the midriff by a vibrating machine in the hope of strengthening their muscles and metabolizing fat. Those who have disdained such machines have reasoned that they substitute a mechanism’s work for the work that exercisers should be doing themselves. After all, how can a machine do for you what you won’t do for yourself?

But in the 21st century, “whole body vibration” (WBV) machines that vibrate the entire body have become a staple in many gyms. Should we still be poking fun at the concept? A Belgian study says no. It turns out that vibration plate machines, if properly used, can help people lose weight and trim fat, especially visceral fat around the belly. For people with diabetes, who must be especially careful about their weight and belly fat, that’s good news.

The direction of the vibrations on such machines is up and down. The user stands on the platforms, which delivers vibrations in one of two ways: either by imitating a walking motion so that first one foot is lifted and dropped, then the other; or by lifting and dropping the entire body. Machines that deliver side-to-side or horizontal vibrations generally are not considered helpful or safe.

While standing on the vibrating plates, users carry out conventional exercises such as squats and push-ups. The machines work by accelerating the movement of the muscles. Under acceleration, muscles momentarily lengthen, which initiates a subconscious response that makes them contract. The alternating stretching and contracting strengthens them and metabolizes fat. 

The joint University of Antwerp and Artesis University College study reported that obese people who combined a calorie-restricted diet with regular use of the vibrating plate machines enjoyed greater success in losing weight and belly fat than peers who combined dieting with a more conventional exercise routine.

How the Study Was Done

The 12-month study tracked 61 obese volunteers, most of them women, for a year. During the first six months, called the “intervention phrase,” scientists supervised the patients closely, tracking their use of the Power Plate vibrating exercise machines and their diets. During the succeeding six months, patients were on their own, advised to follow as healthy a diet and exercise regimen as possible.

The volunteers, all of whom initially shared very similar levels of obesity and visceral fat, were divided into four groups:

  • One group was placed on a calorie-restricted diet with no exercise. Dietitians monitored them every two weeks during the first three months and monthly during the second three months.
  • A second group was placed on the same calorie-restricted diet, but also followed a twice-weekly, hour-long group fitness program that included swimming, cycling, running, step aerobics, and muscle strengthening exercises. Members of this group were urged to exercise on their own a third time each week.
  • A third group ate the same diet but did not undergo a conventional exercise program. Instead, they stood on the vibration plate machines for 30 or 60 seconds while performing a variety of exercises-up to 32 in their repertoire.
  • A fourth group, the control, was not placed on a diet or asked to exercise.

The results after one year showed that diet and exercise produced the biggest weight loss, but that the vibration plates worked better than conventional exercise.

Members of the diet-only group lost 6 percent of their body weight over the first six months, but could not maintain a 5 percent weight loss in the second six months.

  • Members of the diet and conventional exercise group lost 7 percent of their weight during the initial part of the study and managed to keep almost all of it off-6.9 percent by the end of the study.
  • Members of the diet and vibrating plate exercise group lost 11 percent of their body weight during the intervention phase and maintained a 10.5 percent loss over the second six months.
  • Members of the no-diet, no-exercise group added an average 1.5 percent to their body weight.

The Belgian researchers said that they will now turn to a larger study group to confirm their initial findings. For now, they’re not certain why vibration seems more effective than even aerobics in breaking down belly fat. They also point out that use of the vibrating machines requires both intense initial supervision and the willingness to engage in a series of complex and thorough exercises while using them-the machines are adjuncts to exercise, not the exercise itself.

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