However, the data is very inconsistent largely due to the variety of vibration application methods such as vibrating platforms, vibrating dumbbells, and targeted vibration equipment. Additionally the protocols followed during vibration training such as resting vibration, static exercise with vibration and dynamic exercise with vibration also make conclusions difficult to draw. Researchers at London South Bank University have published a paper in a peer-reviewed journal demonstrating that during and subsequent to a single set of leg extension exercise with vibration (Vibrex, Exoscience Ltd.) at 35% of 1-repetition maximum (1-RM), subjects responded in a similar manner to the responses observed subsequent to the subject performing a single set of leg extension at 70% 1-RM without vibration (Mileva et al., 2006). The training studies are not finished yet but this result suggests that lowering the exercise intensity (weight lifted) and adding a vibration stimulus could lead to similar benefits as high intensity resistance training. It is still very early days for vibration research and application but the important principle appears to be reducing the stimulus quantity and increasing the stimulus quality. For these reasons we would always recommend that someone interested in using vibration for training, especially at the elite level, consults qualified practitioners as part of a training programme such as the Human Performance Centre at London South Bank University.
How it Works
So what is it about vibration training that could potentially lead to the benefits described above? Well probably the easiest way to think about vibration training is to remember when you have been to the doctors and the doctor has performed the knee tendon tap causing your lower leg to jump up. This response is called a stretch reflex. The stretching of the muscle or tendon is sensed by receptors and sends a very fast signal to the spinal cord which responds by causing a very strong muscular contraction, and if this tendon tap is superimposed on a maximal voluntary contraction, extra force can be produced. Now imagine doing this knee tap 20-30 times a second whilst performing exercise. This could lead to greater levels of muscular activation than voluntary contractions alone. Certainly we have seen shifts in muscle recruitment patterns towards greater activation of fast powerful muscle fibers than in normal non vibrated contractions, leading to the suggestion that combining training with vibration could lead to a greater training stimulus and therefore greater performance gains. In fact researchers have estimated the amount of work done from the g-forces involved and have estimated that a massive amount of work would need to be done to match the levels of g-forces involved (Bosco et al., 2000). The current methods of vibration delivery do have their limitations. The most common method of vibration training is that of vibrating platforms that the user performs exercises on. These devices have been used often in research but the results produced, although offering potential, are not consistent. Around 30% of people can’t use these devices as they can cause nausea, and if used incorrectly can cause the vibration to be sent straight up the spine to the base of the skull (as I found out one day when I was left dizzy and an aching head!).
Targeted Vibration Training
For these reasons we prefer the idea of targeted vibration directly to the exercising muscle ensuring a more specific training stimulus and eliminating any of the unpleasant side effects. Also targeted vibration training has been shown to lead to strength development 3x greater than conventional strength training (Issurin et al., 1994). In our lab the targeted vibration system we developed (Vibrex) was tested on small groups of people and 1 lady could lift 70Kg 1 time before training, and after training 3x per week for 5 weeks with Vibrex she lifted 125Kg 17 times which is a remarkable improvement. This study was presented at the Physiological Society meeting. We also believe that there was increased bone formation to match this strength improvement.
Breathing Vibration Training
We have recently released a targeted vibration device for the respiratory system called youbreathe (www.youbreathe.com) which causes the airflow into and out of the lungs to be pulsatile stimulating the stretch reflex of the respiratory muscles. Results look very exciting with 15% improvement in performance after just 10 breaths (Sumners et al., 2007). youbreathe is currently being used by elite cyclists, triathletes, footballers and rugby players who all report perceptible benefits for their sports performance. More trials are under way with plans to continue clinical trials with the aim of reducing symptoms of cardio-respiratory disease such as cystic fibrosis, coronary heart disease, asthma and COPD.