Why We Use Whole Body Vibration: The Functional Training Movement

Updated: Mar 3, 2019


I have been in the fitness business for over 35 years, longer if you consider my athletic career. My career, starting in 1983, was managing a major health club. That blossomed in 1986 to nine health clubs, and by 1998, I was heading up 47 health clubs, specifically running a portion of the nation’s first national personal training program.

In 1983, we did not have personal trainers. In the industry, we hired fitness instructors who bounced around the clubs helping members, giving advice, spotting a lift, or orienting new members to the exercise equipment. But in 1984, that all began to change.

We had decided to take the then new concept of personal training and create a national program in over 300 health clubs. At that time we were the largest health club in the World, so adding the first personal trainer into the first national personal training program was a pretty big thing.

We chose a guy who was a good instructor and sat down to speak to him. His name was Dan. Dan was the ultimate ambassador for fitness. So choosing him to be the national leader of the first national personal training program in the United States was an easy choice.

Dan rose to the task, and we added more trainers. We tripped, we fell, and we got back up and tried different approaches. By 2000, I had built an 11 million dollar a year personal training program out of nothing. The first national personal training program in the US.

That was a pretty good day!

Later on, after the health club experience, I became a professor at Globe University and authored one of the first Bachelor of Science degree programs for personal training in the U.S. Purdue beat us to the punch of the first by two weeks because the Globe massage therapy program had failed to meet the expectations of the accreditation board (ACICS) and we were delayed three months from approval on any new degrees.

That was not a good day!

While at the University I began researching whole body vibration equipment, at that time, a new concept in U.S. exercise.

During that time, from 1983 to present day, I have seen hundreds of programs come and go. Different supplements, different machines, and different training techniques; I’ve seen them all.

But I was never as impressed with any single machine or training program, than with whole body vibration training.

To be honest, my first thought was that whole body vibration training was a fad.

The claims sounded too good to be true. Fitness equipment comes around every year promising to improve your balance, stamina, flexibility, cause weight loss, and improve your quality of life. At a certain point, it just becomes routine that all fitness equipment is more or less the same. So, when a vibrating platform claims a whole host of health benefits, it just sounds like more tall claims. It was time to do my own research.

But let me go back in time a little first. When I entered the fitness industry we were entrenched in the exercise equipment phase of the industry, and Nautilus exercise machines were dominating the market. In fact, my first health club called itself Nautilus Swim and Fitness.

They (Nautilus) were a marketing machine then. They wrote books, published research, wrote articles, and constantly pushed home this idea that the fixed or leveraged exercise machine was better than traditional free weights and that every health club should have them.

So every health club got them.

Health clubs got on board purely for the business part of the concept. Twelve machines, each representing a different body part, all lined up in a row allows for smoother flow of exercisers through the gym.

Get the member to start on machine one and do one set to failure then move to the next machine and do the same thing. When you got to machine twelve, you were done, go home.

It's a great business model!

Herd lots of unsuspecting members through a bunch of fancy, expensive looking machines and open up a new machine every minute or so.

No waiting. No thinking. Just set your seat, set your weight, and go.

Only problem with this concept is they ignore the most essential part of a fitness program: that strength gained in a fitness facility should be maximally transferable to real life.

Anyone know where real life requires a leg extension? How about an isolated bicep curl? Anyone... take your time.

Fact is, in real life, we do not isolate. We bend, we twist, we squat, we move in multiple planes, and simultaneously at times. No one muscle moves without all the others moving with it to move other parts. In other words, the fixed range of motion exercise equipment does not let you move as you would in real life and therefore doesn't make you strong for the motions of life.

But no one knew that this form of exercise was less than optimal.

So in 2006, I was asked by FreeMotion exercise equipment to do a study to compare functional training to fixed motion training. The caveat was that whatever I found was published. Good or bad. FreeMotion would need to publish them as is, regardless of what we found. They agreed.

The study took 16 weeks to run then another 8 weeks to run a second study. Then, it took another 5-6 months to write the study and obtain publication in a respected research journal. I ended up publishing the study in early 2008 in the Journal of Strength Conditioning.

What I found was mind boggling.

The study compared functional training (multiple plane, non-fixed range exercise) to fixed variable training. At the end of the study, functional users had a 58% greater increase in strength over the fixed group. Their improvements in balance were 196% higher over the fixed group, and they reported an overall decrease in joint pain by 30%.

The fixed group, on the other hand, had a 30% increase in joint pain.

That means that training in a fixed range of motion is more likely to promote fixed pattern overload and fails to address joint strength balance.

To look at the pain and strength factor we further placed the fixed group on an additional 8 weeks of training, but this time on functional exercise equipment.

In 8 weeks, the pain levels had fallen 30% and strength had increased 50%.

So you see, it does matter whether you choose functional training or not.

What qualifies as functional training? Functional training is anything that allows your body to move freely in ways that it would in real life. This means that free weights are functional (you'd lift dumbbells in the same way you'd lift a child), as are cable based equipment like FreeMotion, Precor, and many others.

Whole Body Vibration is also functional as long as the brand you use has "tri-planar" motion such as Power Plate, 3G Cardio, and BTF. That is exactly why we use 3G Cardio at ReVibe.

The question is why whole body vibration over anything else?

Good question.

First of all, not all whole body vibration machines are created equal. There are a ton of copycats out there offering sub-par vibration equipment, so buyer beware. Let's walk through how they work so you understand why the type of machine is important.

When you stress a muscle through exercise, it responds by getting stronger. Any resistance training method can do this including free weights, cable equipment, and whole body vibration.

What makes Whole Body Vibration special is that it supercharges your workout! With Whole Body Vibration (WBV), you go through the same exercises that would make you stronger even if you didn't exercise on Whole Body Vibration plates. The difference is in the way that WBV "hacks" your body's neurological system.

When you workout normally on a plate, you are also being exposed to vibration which shifts your body up and down, left and right, and front to back. This is called "tri-planar motion". With each of these shifts, your body becomes destabilized and reacts in a neurological reflex that contracts your muscles up to 50 times per second. Because the muscles are contracting via the stretch reflex and not conscious control, 30% more muscles fibers are used with each contraction!

This sounds exhausting, but it isn't even done yet. When that plate shifts up and down, it also drops you 4 millimeters. This drop is enough to make your body descend in a micro free-fall. As your body lands from the descent, the plate begins to vibrate back upwards and pushes against your descending legs to create an artificial G-force. On earth, we are exposed to a gravity-force (G-force) of 1. On the plate, you can experience up to a G-force of 8! This means that for a fraction of a second, multiple times per second, you weigh up to 8 times your body weight. However, since this mechanism is based on a reflex and not a real change in gravity, it doesn't harm your joints. That extra "G-force" only stresses your muscle tissue.

The drop of the plate (amplitude), the vibrational direction (tri-planar), and the frequences (vibrations per second) are all unique to tri-planar vibration, and they are precisely engineered to match your muscle's natural reflexive response to that vibration. The vibrations are mild, but the effects are profound.

You can get a better workout in half the ti