Whole Body Vibration for Sports Performance - Does it Works?

>> January 02, 2016

Russian scientists have examined the application of "vibration" for performances, such as strength and power quality. It dates back to 1970's and more research on vibration were published subsequently in 1980's and 1990's such as those of Nazarov and Spivak (1987), Issurin (1994, 1997 etc.), Bosco (1998 etc). Issurin's 1994 work was the first study of vibration in athletic performance (strength, power, and flexibility) that was published in English. Unlike the current practice, he actually used vibration to specific parts of the body.

Most of the studies that were published after 2000 reported positive benefits following vibration exposure (e.g. using the Whole Body Vibration, WBV). However, WBV is not invariably favorable and appears to depend on fitness level and the WBV variables (will be discussed).

Recreational / untrained subjects
There appear to be some benefits of WBV to this group. Most probably they are more responsive to the intensity of WBV, which resulted in an increased muscle activation. In the last 10 years, enhancement of jump performance, sprint ability, change of direction, flexibility, and balance have been reported following exposure of WBV.

Elite athletes
The effect of WBV on elite athletes is not conclusive. The most frequently cited reasons for the insignificant results following exposure of WBV is "insufficient stimulus" and "dampening effect." The stimulus of WBV comes from one or more of the WBV variables such as intensity, duration etc. (will be discussed). Dampening effect is associated with internal and external factors. The internal factor related to athlete's fitness level, basically, the fitter you're the more stimulus is needed. The external factor may be related to an accessory that can possibly weaken the vibration signals such as your shoes.

Application of Whole Body Vibration.
There are a few variables to consider, primarily the amplitude, frequency, volume, and recovery.

  • Amplitude - as determined by displacement (peak to peak distance, in mm) of the wave-like shape (sinusoidal) that is produced by vibration device. The amplitude can determine the "up and down" of movement.
  • Frequency - number or rate of the wave produced in a minute. In layman's, given 50 Hz vs 40 Hz of frequency, 50 Hz vibration can "shake you" a bit more than the 40 Hz. 
  • Volume - this is the duration of exercise. In literature, 30s of WBV with an appropriate set of amplitude and frequency can elevate performance (e.g. jumps). Most of the studies used 30s to 2 minutes of total duration for warm up application, and this can be longer when WBV applied as training mean.
  • Recovery - rest between WBV exposure (e.g. set 1, set 2 and so on) and also recovery between last WBV to the performance. Rest between exposure is around 1:1 work to rest ration and the recovery before performance is at least 1 minute.
The physiology of vibration
Vibration can produce wave and energy. During the WBV exposure, the body is "accelerated" or "shaken" because of the amplitude and frequency of vibration. This will give a stimulus primarily from the activation of receptors, the muscle spindles. Activation of muscle spindles enabled reflex potentiation or a better recruitment of motor units. This effect can also be seen in other athletic activities such as plyometrics, dynamic warm up, and so on. The enhancement of neuromuscular recruitment results in improvement of neuromuscular excitability that is crucial for athletic performance.

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