The Power Plate – A Way To Power Your Workout
Julia Basso – PhD
I am really excited to say that I joined a new gym – the Summit, NJ YMCA. It is fully equipped with all of the best workout equipment and many machines that I have never seen before. I was introduced to one called the power plate. It is a rather sizable machine that is located at the front of the gym in the corner – right where everyone can see you.
No one ever seems to be on it, so I decided to give it a try. What the machine does is that it vibrates at 30, 40 or 50 times per second, and you are supposed to do your exercises on it while the power plate vibrates. The power plate has settings of only 30, 45, or 60 seconds so that you can do your exercises in repeated bursts. The idea is that the vibration causes you to engage muscles that you normally wouldn’t, especially your core muscles.
This strange machine was developed by the Soviet space program in the 1960s so that before they went into space, astronauts could use it to enhance bone density and muscle mass. This is called vibration training or whole body vibration. Compared to conventional types of resistance training, vibration training boasts that it can lead to enhanced weight loss and metabolism, increased strength, greater bone density, and reduced cellulite.
This machine is certainly not meant to replace all exercise and should be used sparingly – a few days a week for 30 minutes at maximum. Doctors report that the high-intensity vibration stimulates (and can perhaps overstimulate) the nervous system, causing possible upset to several of the bodies systems including the digestive system. The idea, however, is that this powerful machine can lead to an accelerated workout; you can do more work in a shorter amount of time.
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Vibration training is also known as acceleration training and is based on Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion. For those of us who don’t remember, the equation is: Force = Mass * Acceleration. By increasing the acceleration component of that equation, you can increase the force on an object. If we apply this line of thinking to the power plate, you can increase the amount of force your muscles exert by increasing the acceleration of those muscles. Practically, vibration training works by stimulating fast-twitch muscle fibers.
When you read about the magic of the power plate online, you learn that vibration training can cause a wide range of effects including immediate improvements in blood circulation, decreased levels of cortisol, increased levels of human growth hormone, and improved lymphatic drainage. Over time, vibration training can lead to increased muscle strength, flexibility, and stability, better range of motion, faster recovery from injury, increased motor learning, and enhanced agility. All of these benefits sound great, but let’s see what the science says.
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One study examined the effects of 18 months of whole-body vibration training on body composition, maximum isometric strength, and leg power (von Stengel et al., 2012). 151 post-menopausal women (65 years and older) were randomly assigned to a training group, a training group that included vibration, or a wellness control group. The two exercise groups performed the same type of aerobic and strength training exercises twice weekly for 60 minutes per week. Each exercise session consisted of 20 minutes of aerobic dance (at 70-80% of maximum heart rate), 5 minutes of coordination and balance, 20 minutes of functional strength training for the trunk and upper extremities, and 15 minutes of strength training for the legs. The only difference between the two exercise groups was that the leg strength exercises (a total of 15 minutes) were performed either with or without vibration.
The control group performed a low-intensity wellness program that included light physical exercise and relaxation. Exercise training produced favorable results in lean body mass, total body fat, and abdominal fat; however, no additional improvements were seen with whole body vibration. Vibration, however, favorably affected gains in muscle strength and power. Compared to the control group, 18 months of vibration training increased the flexion strength of both the legs and trunk. Other studies have shown that compared to traditional exercise, exercise with whole body vibration positively impacts muscle power, muscle force production, jump performance, hormonal status, skin perfusion, patellar tendon size, flexibility, and bone mineral density (Marin & Rhea, 2010; Ebing et al., 2016). Despite the fact that exercise with vibration may not make you lose more weight than traditional strength training, it certainly is way to enhance gains in strength and flexibility.
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Where can you find the power plate, you ask? First, ask your gym if they have one – it may be stuffed in a corner somewhere. Second, several boutique gyms throughout New York City (and perhaps your hometown) are offering power plate training sessions or classes. For example, Fluid Fitness (http://www.fluidfitnessny.com/power_plate) on 6th Avenue (between 38th and 39th Streets) offers 30-minute private power plate training sessions for $65 apiece, or you can use it on your own for 30 minutes at rate of “only” $25. Find a power plate near you, check out this site: https://powerplate.com/locations.
Ebing, J., Gast, U., Hauptmann, C., Felsenberg, D., & Belavý, D. L. (2017). Hypertrophy and Explosive-Reactive Functioning in Sedentary Men following 10-weeks of Whole-Body Vibration. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.
Marín, P. J., & Rhea, M. R. (2010). Effects of vibration training on muscle power: a meta-analysis. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(3), 871-878.
Von Stengel, S., Kemmler, W., Engelke, K., & Kalender, W. A. (2012). Effect of whole‐body vibration on neuromuscular performance and body composition for females 65 years and older: a randomized‐controlled trial. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 22(1), 119-127.
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