The strength and performance industry often find itself bombarded with the latest fitness trends and gimmicks that trick the untrained consumer into a purchase through the promise of shortcuts and bold claims. From belts that “give you abs” while you literally do nothing, to the classic sauna suit that while useful in dehydrating the body for certain weight classed sports, does little to actually help you burn fat.
Every once in a while however, the fitness industry gets it right. People start to see results and research is conducted to prove these claims. One such method is the use of vibration training. Though while I say it “works,” it’s important to understand advantages and limitations of this modality (what VT actually works for and doesn’t or hasn’t been proven to work for) by scrutinizing available research on the subject matter.
VT dates back to the 1800’s where it was seen in the form whole body vibration (WBV) and promoted for health and fat loss.
It took time for whole-body vibration to gain traction in the U.S., though it saw more widespread use in Russia as a means for rehabilitation and recovery in Olympian training protocols in the 1980s. As anecdotal evidence of the modality surfaced, researchers took to the labs to prove or disprove VT. As technology improved, the devices became more affordable, smaller and more widely available.
Today, we have everything from whole body vibration systems and vibration plates to vibrating spheres and foam rollers. But what do these actually do, and do they live up to they hype? Claims include effects on delayed onset muscle soreness, pain-pressure threshold, range of motion, muscle strength, in addition to other variables. While there is still research to be conducted, here’s what the current literature found:
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
- Significantly less total development of delayed onset muscle soreness
- Faster reduction in pain and discomfort due to DOMS 2-5 days following exercise
- Immediately following vibration treatment, total magnitude of delayed onset muscle soreness was decreased
- VT was effective for reducing DOMS following resistance exercise
- Immediately following vibration treatment, an increase in the pain-pressure threshold was seen
- Lower pain-pressure threshold
- Increase in pain-pressure threshold compared to baseline, though no significant change compared to traditional foam rolling
Range of Motion
- Recovery of range of motion associated with DOMS was significantly faster in a control group with VT
- Immediately following vibration treatment, an acute increase in range of motion was seen
- VT proved effective for regaining range of motion
- Foam rolling with vibration increased range of motion compared just static stretching or foam rolling without vibration
- No significant effects on recovery of muscle strength
- Immediately following vibration treatment, a transient decrease in muscle strength was seen
- Less reduction in max isometric and isokinetic contractions following exercise
- More studies are needed to address individualized parameters like amplitude and frequency and their effect
- VT may improve power development
- Vibration foam rolling and regular foam rolling do not provide any significant enhancement of power production, however they do not hinder it either
- VT could have benefits for athletic neuromuscular performance
- Vibration may improve neuromuscular performance through afferent signaling and hormonal responses
- Vibration therapy increases blood flow under the skin
- Vibration may have positive effects in preventing aging and osteoporosis, though individual required stimuli vary
- No significant effects on serum creatine kinase levels
- Lower creatine kinase levels in blood
As demonstrated above, it is not uncommon for there to be conflicting research studies. Consensus statements regarding specific issues are usually generated from years of research and overwhelming proof.
With a subject like vibration training, there are so many unique variables that can be manipulated, it is incredibly difficult to test the effects of the broad topic of vibration training as a whole. These include amplitude and frequency of vibrations, age, gender and training level of participants. With this said, the studies seem to agree that vibration training increases range of motion and decreases the presence and duration of delayed onset muscle soreness. In my personal experience with vibrating foam rollers, I have noticed an increase in pain-pressure threshold possibly due to a type-1 pain control through afferent nerve stimulation.
Consider adding vibration foam rolling after a high volume or high intensity training session to avoid intense delayed onset muscle soreness that could derail your next training session. With regard to range of motion increases, vibration training may be beneficial at the start of a dynamic warm-up prior to your lengthening phase for increased functional range of motion. I would recommend an activation portion of your warm-up following this to prime the muscles for functional performance after the potentially inhibitory effects of the foam rolling paired with vibration.
Effect of vibration treatment on symptoms associated with eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage Lau WY1, Nosaka K:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21273897
Vibration Therapy in Management of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)Veqar Z1, Imtiyaz S2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25121012
The Use of Vibration as Physical Exercise and Therapy-Giuseppe Musumeci 1,2: http://www.mdpi.com/2411-5142/2/2/17/htm
Effect of Vibration Foam Rolling and Non- Vibration Foam Rolling in the Lower Extremities on Jump Height-Undray Bailey, Eastern Washington University: http://dc.ewu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1258&context=theses