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How Whole Body Vibration Works in Simple Terms

08th July 2013

If you’re still trying to understand how standing on a vibrating platform can possibly produce even half the benefits claimed by those selling them, read on. From a scientific perspective, there’s no disputing that Whole Body Vibration works – over 400 research papers demonstrate that it does.

Nevertheless, you’d be forgiven for being skeptical. Some selling vibration machines, particularly the cheap ineffective ones, do make wild claims about what their machines are capable of.

Could simply standing on a vibrating platform improve your muscle power, strength, and tone as well as increasing your bone density among other health benefits?

In this article, I’ll demystify the mechanisms involved in Whole Body Vibration to not only give you confidence that it really could do all those things for you but also explain which features are responsible for producing the benefits revealed in those 400 research papers.

What The Machine Does To You
Despite its sophisticated mechanics, when you stand on a vibration platform, only two motions occur:
1. It lifts you up
2. It drops you down

physics experiment on weight in the elevator1. Take Off
Any time a platform lifts you upward, the first few moments involve acceleration as the movement begins. This acceleration actually causes your body to become momentarily heavier, as if the Earth’s gravity just increased. You may have briefly felt this while traveling upward in a fast-moving elevator. Conversely if it moves downward quickly enough you feel lighter.

It is no mystery that making your your body exercise under a load that challenges the bones and muscles is a proven way to get stronger. The upward acceleration caused by a vibration machine is doing the same thing – by making your body heavier your muscles and bones are challenged by the increased load. This effect is the fundamental principle of vibration training.


The amount of acceleration or ‘load’ is the key. While elevators are limited to an acceleration of around 1.2G (1.2 times Earth’s gravity), the most effective Whole Body Vibration machines produce accelerations that are many times greater, up to 20G, which can translate to significant exercise benefits. Commenting on the need for high G-force in vibration training for Astronauts, Daniel Belavy, a researcher for the European Space Agency remarked:

“Higher-load, muscle-specific exercises are needed if individual muscle size is to be retained”

See the Whole Body Vibration Buyers Guide for the acceleration capabilities of 41 vibration machines tested by an independent engineering company specializing in vibration analysis.

athlete jumping up and down motion and the physical aspects2. Landing
Of course, what goes up must come down. Going up is the first step to getting health benefits from Whole Body Vibration. Going down is the second.

When you stand on a vibration machine, the platform falls from beneath you repeatedly, causing you to drop down to land on it as it begins its next upward movement. Every time this impact occurs, it creates a rapid stretch of the muscles and their tendons. This stretch triggers a reflex that causes the muscle to contract (1). A reflex muscle contraction can be more powerful than a voluntary one.

Similarly when a doctor taps your kneecap tendon with a rubber hammer it causes a rapid stretch of the tendon that connects to your thigh muscles. The reflex this triggers causes those same muscles to contract.

Triggering this reflex is the principle behind Plyometric exercise which athletes use to improve performance in sports requiring speed, balance and power.

Preventing a loss of speed, balance and power is also important as we grow older to prevent falls and maintain independence. Whole Body Vibration offers an excellent solution that is safe, easy to use and time-effective.

The speed of the stretch is the key to triggering the reflex. If you slowly climbed down from a box instead of jumping off it, no reflex would occur when you got to the bottom. On a Whole Body Vibration machine the Frequency of the vibration determines how powerful the reflex muscle contraction is and whether a reflex even occurs in the first place. In a 2010 review of over 250 research studies into Whole Body Vibration exercise, the studies that showed benefits in muscle function all used vibration machines operating at frequencies between 20 and 45 Hz (2).

See the Whole Body Vibration Buyers Guide for the frequency capabilities of 41 vibration machines tested by an independent engineering company specializing in vibration analysis.

Putting it all together
In summary, Whole Body Vibration works because of the way the platform lifts you up to enhance the effects of gravity, and the reflexes it triggers by the rapid change from falling to rising

When a machine can get both of these things right, acceleration and frequency, exercising on a Whole Body Vibration machine can have significant benefits for your muscle power, strength, bone density, balance and spinal function.


(1) Cochrane DJ, Loram ID, Stannard SR, Rittweger J. Changes in joint angle, muscle-tendon complex length, muscle contractile tissue displacement and modulation of EMG activity during acute Whole Body Vibration. Muscle Nerve. 2009 Sep;40(3):420-9.

(2) Rittweger J. Vibration as an exercise modality: how it may work, and what its potential might be. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 Mar;108(5):877-904.

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