Move over, wobble board, the vibration platform is here. In the past 10 years there has been an increasing interest in the somewhat strange concept of vibration training and its potentially positive impact on athletic performance. Can simply standing on a vibrating platform improve a players strength, power and flexibility? Is this a gimmick providing a short-term fix, or can players and coaches expect to see some valuable long-term training adaptations? Is vibration a useful rehab tool?
What is Vibration training?
Early work by the Russian space agency looked at the use of vibration training in combating the effects of zero gravity conditions on the musculoskeletal system. It didn't take long for scientists working within sport to start using vibration training with a variety of athletes (rowers, track and field, gymnasts and ballet dancers). Although this pioneering research indicated that vibration training had the potential to enhance both strength and flexibility, it was another 10 years or more before the international sports science community dusted off the old research papers and began to take a closer interest in this training intervention.
Among the advocates for vibration training within the sporting world are: American Football (Tampa Bay Buchaneers); Ice Hockey (Anaheim Mighty Ducks); Baseball (Chicago Whitesox); Football (AC Milan); Cycling (Lance Armstrong); Running (Alberto Salazar -Marathon runner and head coach of the Oregon Project); Skiing (Herman Maier) and Rugby (Lead Physiotherapist for the Scottish Rugby Union team, Stephen Mutch)
When a player stands on a vibrating platform, the repetitive movement presents a strong stimulus to musculoskeletal structures due to the muscle stiffness changing in response to the vibration, which researchers believe produces physiological adaptations to accommodate the vibratory waves.
We do not clearly understand the exact mechanisms for enhanced athletic performance and injury prevention. Potential adaptations include:
increased excitation of peripheral and central structures (pre-activation of musculoskeletal system, resulting in improved readiness for the training stimulus)
increased synchronisation of motor units;
stimulation of GTO (golgi tendon organs), inhibiting activation of antagonist muscles;
increased hormonal secretion;
variation of neurotransmitter concentrations (dopamine, serotonin);
excitation of sensory receptors such as muscle spindles, leading to improvements in the stretch reflex cycle.
Training effects: Performance Enhancement and Rehabilitation
Enhanced physical preparation is arguably the birthplace of vibration training and is where most of the research has been conducted. It was in the late 1990s that claims started to circulate that 10 minutes of vibration training could produce the same training effect as completing 150 leg presses or half squats with loads of three times body mass twice a week for five weeks; and that 10 days of vibration training was the equivalent to completing 200 drop jumps from a height of 60cm, twice a week for 12 months! Recent research has also shown improvements in strength as well as improvements in flexibility and muscle activation. Professionals working in sports rehabilitation have been quick to set about establishing a role for vibration training within injury treatment and rehab. Initial work has already investigated the effect on bone health and ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) rehabilitation strategies. At the start of 2005 it was reported that the Edinburgh and Scotland flanker Allister Hogg had used vibration training during his rehab from a knee injury sustained during a cup match.
Take Home Messages
1. Vibration training may be an effective intervention for reducing the ageing process in musculoskeletal structures.
2. Vibration training may be an effective rehab tool for people that have not exercised for some time (e.g. injured players).
3. More research is needed to understand the neurophysiological mechanisms involved in muscle activation.
4. Optimal amplitude and frequency need to be identified.
5. Vibration training seems safe when standing on the vibrating platforms for a relatively short time with the knee semi-flexed to limit transmission of vibrations to the head.
6. Prolonged exposure to vibration training can have a negative impact on health and proper care should be taken when exercise programmes are prescribed.
Should we all rush out and buy a vibration platform? Despite the mounting body of evidence in support of this modality, the jury is still out. Vibration training could yet be the next big thing to revolutionise performance enhancement, injury prevention and rehabilitation. But so far, the men in white coats cannot give us a green light, and anyone using this technique will be doing so with their fingers firmly crossed behind their backs.