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What's the big hype about Powerplates?

By Kelly Marshall BSc (Hons),Dip PT, NASM, SFS, IFS, CES

Technology is advancing in sport science and exercise medicine and the "Powerplate" (also described as "vibrostation", "toning plates", "vibraxis", "exercise plates", "bodyshaker exercise fitness plates" and many more combinations of the these words), is one of the newest creations to emerge from this growing wealth of knowledge applied to the fitness industry.

What do they do?

These high-tech pieces of equipment transmit waves of energy throughout the body, making muscle fibres contract between 25 and 50 times per second, enhancing the co-ordination and efficiency of both muscles and nerves in the body.

Power Plate

The vibrations essentially create instability that forces the body to respond with multi-directional contractions as a counter balance and this type of complex reaction is what is required within everyday life. This is essentially a more powerful version of already established "stabilisation" equipment, such as fit balls, (also termed Swiss or exercise balls), Bosu's, Dyna discs, foam rolls and Reebok core boards. With all of these exercise modalities the underlying principles are the same:

- That the instability created, forces activation, (switching on), of additional nervous tissue and muscle fibres including the 'core' musculature. The more muscle you "switch on", the more is available to tone and burn calories.

The instability enhances the flexibility and strength of the tendons and ligaments around joints, unlike most traditional exercise, which makes people stronger and more aware of their own body, reducing the risks of injury.

This is a real breakthrough in training and conditioning as we can now optimally "load" the human frame while minimizing high impact, high load, and high stress factors. As we can maximise involvement of the body as a whole, without necessarily going through great ranges or even any movement, it provides a powerful tool in the areas of rehabilitation and exercise prescription for those with medical conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's Disease.

What are the benefits?

Scientific medical research for many of the benefits of vibration technology exists with most of the academic literature available on sites like www.powerplate.com/EN/technology/. Benefits include:

  • Immediate improvements in blood circulation
  • Increased muscle strength and flexibility
  • Increased joint range of motions
  • Decreased cellulite
  • Increased bone mineral density
  • Reduced pain and soreness
  • Faster recovery and regeneration from injury and training, (research support includes Moezy et al (2008), that indicated enhanced recovery from anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery using vibration technology during rehabilitation)
  • Enhanced metabolism and lymphatic flow and reductions in cortisol (which is a stress hormone)
  • Little impact on the joints and ligaments
  • Capacity for whole body massage and relaxation
  • Increases the production of collagen to encourage firmer, smoother skin
  • Helps prevent age-related muscle loss, bone density loss and skin wrinkles
  • People with medical conditions can exercise while working within their personal physical limitations
  • Helps prevent injuries through enhanced propriceptive awareness and control

My View

The marketing on these vibration machines is generally misleading as the benefits are glorified with slogans such as "the 10 minute workout". What is important to remember is that 10 minutes on a powerplate is not sufficient to replace other forms of exercise and its integration into existing exercise plans should be viewed as an alternative for variation rather than a sole substitute.

I personally rate vibration technology because the power of these machines for rehabilitation, muscle massage and relaxation are phenomenal and together with an opportunity for escapism from 'traditional' exercise, I think these will continue to grow in popularity and availability. It is however, important that we remain critical, (perhaps even sceptical), with all 'new' technology, discoveries and theories as what we know at any given time may, in the future be shown to be wrong, (the "benefits" of smoking for example!), therefore it is worth considering the following:

There are minimal cardiovascular benefits with the powerplate and although improvements in body tone and flexibility are easily achieved, significant improvements in stamina of your heart and lungs will be limited.

The cost is an issue - with 'new' technology comes an expensive new price tag with top of the range models costing around £7000. There are brands that are available for less but with reduced price comes reduced durability, economic function and plate size and subsequently reduced vibration options. They are becoming increasingly available in health clubs.

If you get one at home, be prepared as they are not the sort of equipment you can hide away, or just get out of the cupboard every time you want to use it. It would require a designated space at home if you were to purchase a personal one.

The research into the extent of contra-indications and potential issues from long-term use of vibration technology are very limited as the machines are so new. It is for this reason that I am particularly cautious about the volume and duration of use with my clients and therefore only phase its use in to their training schedules for select periods of time. It may be possible to overuse this subtly powerful method of training and it is recommended that people don't exceed 10 minutes of vibration per workout and ideally not more than 3 times a week (avoid consecutive days).

As mentioned already, it is not an all-round solution and it is wise to avoid the misunderstanding that it can replace traditional exercise. It is handy for those who want a quick workout, but the best solutions are found in combining it with other forms of exercise.

You need to start gradually by increasing the frequency slowly and make sure you stand correctly in order to optimise the benefits and ensure safe biomechanics. Try to choose a combination of compound exercises, (big muscle group exercises like squats or push-ups) and isolation exercises, (that focus on single muscles, i.e. bicep curls and front raises). This will increase the calorie burning potential of the workout.

It is easy to forget but make sure you drink enough water, as your muscles will be contracting 30-50 times more quickly, thereby generating a lot of internal heat and subsequently increasing the likelihood of dehydration.

Just a note of safety. You should consult a physician/exercise professional before beginning any exercise program, including one involving the use of a power plate machine. If you want more information and instruction regarding the use of a powerplate, one of the best sources is powerplate.com.

References

Olyaei, G, Hadian, M, Razi, M and Faghihzadeh, S (2008). A Comparative Study of Whole Body Vibration Training and Conventional Training on Knee Proprioception and Postural Stability after Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Published online 8 Jan 2008;

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