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Vibration Machine & Weight Loss - A Myth?

For the past fifty years, the fitness industry has been flooded with the latest and greatest products to seemingly accelerate weight loss, "toning", "sculpting" and "body shaping". Looking back over the years, some of these products seem totally outrageous. Take the 1960's vibrating belt for example. This machine guaranteed to "shake the fat away" and yet was quickly dismissed as an outright bogus product because it just didn't work! That's not to mention there was no scientific evidence supporting it's claims. I remember back in the 1990's the infamous machines that sent constant electrical impulses to contract muscles while you relaxed. Funnily enough, this technology didn't last long on the market as soon as it became common knowledge as to how ineffective this method was at assisting weight loss. Then of course we have a plethora of other "weight loss", "toning", "sculpting" and "body shaping" machines currently available, including abdominal machines, sled based machines, pilates machines, thigh/butt machines...the list goes on and on.

When you think about it, there has been so much junk introduced into the fitness industry that quickly disappears a few years later once the marketing hype wears off. But now a brand new type of technology, vibration machines, have been introduced into the consumer fitness market. Is this yet another gimmick? It's hard to provide a direct yes or no answer to this question. So instead, let's consider all the current evidence that's available, compare that to the marketing hype and see what we can conclude.

Believe it or not, vibration machine technology (AKA Whole Body Vibration or WBV) dates back to the 1960's where Professor W. Biermann described "cyclical vibrations" capable of improving the condition of joints relatively quickly. Russian scientist Vladimir Nazarov then developed the system and used this technology to combat problems of bone and muscle wastage in cosmonauts.1

Fast forward to the modern day. Plenty more studies have been performed and vibration machine technology has been shown in some studies to increase or maintain bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. Vibration machine technology has also been shown to increase lower leg strength and power in athletes.2 However, as concluded by a recent study in March 2009, "further research is required to determine optimum vibration training protocols and to clarify whether vibration training produces performance benefits greater than those of traditional training methods"3.

Vibration Machines and Weight Loss

When researching "whole body vibration" in a scientific literature search engine (PubMed), 688 results were displayed. Upon reviewing the studies, most of these studies were directed toward bone mineral density, disease treatment, injury rehabilitation, dangers of vibration machine technology and athletic performance. I then proceeded to search up WBV studies that were specific to weight loss and found only a very small number of studies available on the topic...three in fact.

Just a side note before we proceed. Within the scientific community, it takes years and years of research and many studies to "prove" that a particular process or technology actually works for a certain purpose (if it can be proven at all). This is particularly true with biology because there are a seemingly infinite number of variables that can affect results. So therefore, if a particular area has only been studied in relatively little detail, it is completely unreliable to deduce any solid conclusions. In the context of vibration machine technology, with such little research conducted regarding weight loss, it would be ignorant to assume that vibration machine technology necessarily does or does not result in weight loss based on these results. Nevertheless, let's take a look at the two most interesting studies I could find on the subject.

One particular study conducted by Roelants et. al. in 2004 investigated the effect of 24 weeks of WBV on the body composition of a group of 18 females. The conclusion of the six month study was "24 weeks whole body vibration training did not reduce weight, total body fat or subcutaneous fat in previously untrained females. However, whole body vibration training induces a gain in knee-extensor strength combined with a small increase in fat free mass. The gain in strength is comparable to the strength increase following a standard fitness training program consisting of cardiovascular and resistance training". In laymans terms, there was no effect on body fat and there was a slight increase in strength that could have been achieved through a standard cardio and weights training program.4

Another study by Gojanovic et. al. in 2008 looked at whole body vibration training and it's benefits. Overall, the conclusion was very vague due to the lack of research in this area. They admit that some benefits have been observed in "strength, body balance and bone mineral density in aged home residents or post-menopausal women". However, "minimal or no effects have been found in young sedentaries or athletes"5 - and this is the greatest concern that such little evidence has concluded that this technology is near completely ineffective for the average person or athlete.

Dangers of Vibration Machines

In contrast to the research conducted on weight loss in this area, there has been far more research looking at the dangers of vibration machine use, due to the amount of research conducted in a medical context. The consensus is clear according to one study, "The most pronounced long-term effect of whole-body vibration is damage to the spine. The spinal region most frequently affected is the lumbar part, where spinal deformation, lumbago and sciatica can develop"6. Another study concluded "Due to the danger of long-term exposure to whole body vibration, it is important to develop safe exercise protocols in order to determine exercise programs for different populations."7

Whole Body Vibration Research In Summary

As you can see from what has been reported above, in regards to weight loss, there is an insignificant (almost nonexistent) amount of evidence available to suggest that these vibration machines do encourage weight loss. A fair amount of research into WBV has been conducted on changes in bone mineral density and athletic performance2 however, far more research is needed to draw any solid conclusions in these area's.

It also seems very clear that long-term use of these vibration machines can pose many dangers, particularly to the lower (lumbar) spine.

But Wait...That's Not What They Said On TV?!

This is the painful bit to the discussion because, as a professional within the fitness industry, I see a countless number of people buying "gimmick products", only to see no results (after investing their hard-earned money). Based on the research presented above, it seems obvious to me that vibration machine technology has no credibility in the area of weight loss. It may have benefits for medical, rehabilitory and athletic performance purposes, but for the typical consumer seeking to lose weight, it doesn't look very promising.

Unfortunately the weight loss industry is very loosely governed worldwide. Consequently, claims that something "may" happen, or implications that something necessarily results in something else can be made without any legal responsibility. An example of this would be an advertisement suggesting that "This machine may help you to lose 20kg in 10 weeks!". As you can see, it "may" or "may not"...so really this is a moot point.

One other point to observe with these advertisements is that one study can be quoted, disregarding all the other research that is available (even if 100 other studies conclude a completely different result!). But here's the real catch - the study quoted could actually have been conducted by the company trying to sell the product. Of course, you would assume that this would be a highly subjective conclusion (which is very often the case in the health and fitness industry).

Vibration Machine Advertisement Examples

To expand on the previous points, let's now consider a few statements/implications made from one particular advertisement that I viewed in regards to an Australian WBV machine that has recently been released onto the market. Keep in mind that these comments, perceived implications and interpretations here are my own opinion as a professional. I strongly encourage you to perform your own research and draw your own conclusions:

  1. "Muscles are forced to contract and expand, building muscle tone" - Unfortunately the continual contraction and expansion of muscle does not necessarily "build muscle tone". The term "muscle tone" isn't even a biologically sound term in a scientific context (as will be explained in the next section). In actual fact, I am not even sure what they are referring to here! This is a great example of a vauge statement that cannot be proven (or disproved).
  2. "The proof is in the heat!" - This seems to be implying that as a certain area of your body heats up, more fat is broken down. I am yet to see one objective research paper that has concluded that as a direct result of WBV, an increased degree of heat within the body necessarily results in an increased degree of fat oxidation (or fat breakdown). So...what "proof"?
  3. "The vibrations will do the work for you" - Insinuating that you can just stand on the machine and do nothing...completely not what the research suggests. Plus, this is a marketing exploitation of normal human behaviour to opt for the easy way out.
  4. "Loosens tensions of the muscle tissue to break down fat cells" - Again, the implication that WBV loosens the muscle fibres in order to increase the rate of fat breakdown. I have not reviewed any scientific research that has drawn this same conclusion.
  5. The implication seems to be made that different positions will encourage fat loss and muscle tone in different areas of the body. For example, standing on the machine will encourage leg tone or placing your arms on the machine will encourage arm tone. This rely's on an old-wives tail, "spot reduction", which suggests that you can target a specific area of the body to lose fat from. Unfortunately, there is zero scientific evidence to support this myth (yet it is exploited countless times by fitness marketing agencies). In actual fact, performing running can actually result in more fat being broken down from your waistline than your legs. You actually have no say in the fat-loss process.

I could go on, but I think you get the point here. Almost every infomercial is the same - vibration exercise machine technology is no exception.

Toning, Sculpting and Body Shaping

I feel that it is quite relevant within the scope of this article to further expand on marketing terms used, particularly with this vibration machine technology. Terms such as "toning", "sculpting" and "shaping" all refer to exactly the same thing. You can only perform two processes to alter your physique - build/lose muscle, gain/lose fat. These fancy marketing terms refer to a slight increase in muscle and a decrease in fat. Yes, it actually is that simple.

If you are interested reading further into this topic, we posted up a Q&A on our web site nearly three years ago, Body sculpting - what does this mean?

The Bottom Line...

As a professional within the fitness industry, it is my job to deliver clients with results based on proven principles. So as you could imagine, with so little research for vibration machine technology in regards to weight loss, it would be negligent of me as a professional to advise a client to jump on a vibration machine instead of following a standard exercise and nutritional regime.

After having considered all of this research, I do strongly feel that consumer based vibration machines are presented to the general public with flimsy rationale that has little to no scientific evidence to support their claims. Please keep in mind that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. Boy do I love that quote, because nothing is more appropriate within the health and fitness industry.

What science does know is that a structured nutrition and exercise regime will result in healthy, sustainable and effective weight loss. If you are serious about achieving a particular weight loss goal, I would strongly recommend that you educate yourself with the completely free resources available on this web site I also strongly encourage you to enquire about our personal training services if you are seeking professional guidance.

Thanks and I wish you all the best in your weight loss endeavours!

 

References

1. Special Feature, Network Magazine (The Official Publication of Australian Fitness Network) Autumn 2007 pp 32-33

2. Prof. Mike Climstein Whole Body Vibration: It's Not Black Box Technology! Network Magazine (The Official Publication of Australian Fitness Network) Spring 2007 p 17

3. Wilcock IM, Whatman C, Harris N, Keogh JW. Vibration training: could it enhance the strength, power, or speed of athletes? J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Mar;23(2):593-603

4. Roelants M, Delecluse C, Goris M, Verschueren Effects of 24 weeks of whole body vibration training on body composition and muscle strength in untrained females. S. Int J Sports Med. 2004 Jan;25(1):1-5.

5. Gojanovic B, Gremion G, Waeber B. Whole-body vibration training: fact or fiction? Rev Med Suisse. 2008 Aug 6;4(166):1712-6.

6. Bogadi-Sare A. The effect of whole-body vibration: an unrecognized medical problem Arh Hig Rada Toksikol. 1993 Sep;44(3):269-79

7. Cardinale M, Pope MH., The effects of whole body vibration on humans: dangerous or advantageous? Acta Physiol Hung. 2003;90(3):195-206

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