Whole-body-vibration training shakes up workouts

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      Working as a cruise director, Dominica Bay quickly learned that the best way to cope with 15-hour days was to exercise regularly. Going to the gym, even at 11 at night, kept the Vancouver native feeling healthy and helped her combat stress. She hung up her dock shoes after a decade, but she took her passion for fitness with her.

      “I do hot yoga, I’m a runner…and I love getting outside,” Bay says in an interview at Pure Vibe, the Kitsilano-based whole-body-vibration (WBV) studio she owns and operates with Elgan Ross. “It’s just a huge part of my daily life.”

      Once Bay knew she wanted to get into the fitness industry, she moved to Palm Desert, California, a fitness hot spot, to research equipment and techniques. She was won over by whole-body-vibration training, which was developed in the 1960s for Russian astronauts, according to marketing materials for the 40-plus types of machines available on the market today. Increasing the gravitational force on their bodies helped cosmonauts overcome the muscle atrophy and bone-density loss they experienced from months in space. From there, health professionals started using WBV on injured athletes; some chiropractors and physiotherapists use it in their practice. It’s also been incorporated into the training programs of NFL teams, soccer teams, and pro golfers. Part of the appeal is efficiency: proponents say that 10 minutes of WBV training offer the same physical benefits as an hour-long workout in the gym.

      WBV employs a vibrating machine that you can stand, sit, or lie on. A base plate moves in a seesaw motion at high speed, sending waves of energy into muscles and causing them to contract and relax over and over. But as Bay makes clear in classes she teaches at Pure Vibe, the objective is not to simply stay static on one of the machines. Rather, participants do lunges, squats, crunches, lateral leg lifts, and other exercises atop them and incorporate the base in order to do other moves such as planks and triceps dips. An easy workout it is not, but the intensity can be adjusted by changing the frequency of the vibrations.

      The Hypervibe Performance machines at Pure Vibe have a minimum frequency of 6 hertz and a maximum of 28. Those numbers are significant, Bay says, because when the machines started to flood the fitness market in North America in the early 2000s, many of them capped out at 12 hertz, a level Bay says isn’t sufficient for much, if any, physical benefit.

      And she’s quick to point out that it’s one thing to hop on a machine but quite another to do appropriate exercises with proper positioning, technique, and alignment.

      “Vibration studios that are really big in Europe and Australia and the States—California especially—typically…have five or six machines and you come in and stand on it for 10 minutes,” Bay explains. “If you stand properly—bending your knees, engaging your glutes, and engaging your core—yes, you can get some benefit; however, you can get so much more when you start moving on it, and it’s so important to move the right way. You have to learn how to use the machine properly and how to train on it to really see results.”

      WBV helps improve circulation, decrease inflammation, boost muscle strength, drain the lymphatic system, and increase bone density, according to Bay. Other purported benefits include weight loss, better balance and coordination, and improved metabolism.

      Bay says WBV isn’t a silver bullet and that, ideally, people would use it as a complement to other activities, such as biking, running, walking, and yoga. Because there’s no impact involved, it’s suitable for those with joint problems and people of all ages.

      Research into the effectiveness of WBV as a fitness tool for the public is scant, but one small study showed that it resulted in physical-fitness benefits among older people. Published in the October 2012 issue of Maturitas, a European medical journal, it involved 24 men and women over 65 who did WBV exercises three times a week for 11 weeks and a control group of 25 people who did no WBV exercises. Those who did the vibration exercises were, on average, able to do two more reps of upper- and lower-body strength exercises. They also had slightly better lower-body flexibility and a faster walking rate.

      WBV training isn’t recommended for women who are pregnant or people with epilepsy, serious cardiovascular disease, or hip or knee implants, among other conditions. Bay adds that people who haven’t been exercising regularly or are recovering from an injury or illness may need to limit the intensity at the outset.

      Besides the 20-minute small-group classes at Pure Vibe, people can come in and use the machines on their own once they’ve learned how to use them, Bay says. (The first session is free; monthly rates start at $79 for three sessions a week.)

      “With classes, there’s that camaraderie, that group energy,” Bay says. “You’re more likely to work hard if you’re in a class than if you’re on your own. But the main thing is being comfortable and feeling confident. That’s when you really work hard.

      “When people talk about wanting to commit to a regular fitness routine, the biggest obstacle is time,” she adds. “With this, you get a great workout in 20 minutes.”