Effects of whole-body vibration therapy on muscle & explosive strength

Heather Campbell
 min read

Effects of whole-body vibration therapy on muscle & explosive strength are only recently being acknowledged.

Effects of whole-body vibration therapy on muscle & explosive strengthWhen we think of the greatest athletes of all time, we think of Tom Brady in American football, Michael Jordan in basketball, Muhammad Ali for boxing, Usain Bolt in athletics, Michael Phelps in swimming, etc.

As a whole, resistance training is a popular method for strength and explosiveness. Vibration training is on the rise since, if combined with resistance training, it can increase the concentration of testosterone and growth hormone after exercise, and lead to muscle hypertrophy.

These top athletes possessed distinctive physical performance capabilities, tremendous mental toughness, and a massive dose of talent.

Muscular strength and explosiveness are two essential elements in performing peak physical performance. Training methods that can increase these two components are crucial in athlete development.

Continue reading to learn more about the effects of whole-body vibration therapy on muscle and explosive strength, and their correlation.

Effects of whole-body vibration therapy on muscle & explosive strength: Introduction

Resistance training is the most popular method for gaining strength and explosiveness gains.

Vibration training, however, is on the rise and is significantly increasing in popularity in fitness centers as an alternative method of improving performance.

Several scientific studies with untrained participants could already note gains in muscle strength and explosiveness.

In trained athletes, on the other hand, the effects of vibration training might be somewhat less than traditional training methods because of their smaller margin of progression and a slower rate of improvement.

Two types of vibration techniques: Direct and indirect

Vibrations have been applied to muscles since the late 19th century, when it was used locally to reduce pain.

In the early 1970s, vibration training was also applied in neurophysiology and neurorehabilitation and was intended to elicit muscle activity in paretic muscles.

Later, people also recognized the benefits of vibration therapy in respiratory rehabilitation and proprioception.

Tip: For an overview of other benefits thanks to whole-body vibration therapy, check our other article Whole-body vibration benefits in the short and long term

However, vibration training to improve athletic performance is relatively recent and was first used in Russia in the 1980s.

Since then, vibration training has been on a massive rise in the sports world (but don’t be fooled by this because some people can’t use a vibration plate). Numerous devices have come available on the market, found in the wide range of vibration plates.

There are several types of vibration techniques:

Direct vibration

The vibrations are applied directly to the muscle belly or tendon in this process.

Indirect vibration

Here, vibrations are transferred from a vibration source through a part of the body to the intended muscles.

However, this indirect vibration does have two significant limitations:

  • It is challenging to use vibration for a specific muscle group in various exercises. Then, when the vibrations do reach the target, their amplitude may be very low due to the attenuation of the vibrations by the body. A small amplitude may result in the desired training effect not being achieved.
  • In addition, both agonists and antagonists are stimulated by indirect vibration, which may reduce the net strength of the muscles in practice rather than increasing it.

These limitations may explain why some studies that relied on indirect vibration could not demonstrate a neuromuscular increase.

Indirect vibration training: 2 types

In vibration training, one is more likely to use indirect vibration for ease and simplicity.

In this, we can still distinguish between 2 types:

Whole-body vibration

This indirect form of vibration training is an approach where the person stands on a vibrating platform.

In practice, whole-body vibration training consists of different mechanisms, depending on the device being used.

Here, vibrations can occur that are horizontal, vertical, or alternating left and right vertical.

In addition, each device has its own settings regarding the amplitude and frequency of the vibrations.

Whether all of these different mechanisms produce the same physiological/performance changes is still unclear.

Related: Whole-body vibration can form part of an arteriosclerosis treatment, as explained in our other post Arteriosclerosis treatment with vibration platform: Great insights

Segmental vibration

This indirect vibration training is a form of exercise where the person places or grasps a part of their body on a vibrating mechanism.

Segmental vibration either involves a specifically designed vibration mechanism, or the person simply places part of their body on the whole-body vibration platform.

How does vibration training work?

In resistance training, it is believed that the first adaptive mechanism of skeletal muscle is a neural change.

This hypothesis came about after an almost immediate increase in strength was seen at the start of training without measurable hypertrophy.

Good to know: Muscle hypertrophy through exercise relates to increasing and growing the muscle cells, leading to an increased muscle size.

The exact mechanism by which resistance training can enhance neuromuscular activation is not well known.

But several explanations can account for this increase in strength:

  • Increased synchronization of motor units
  • Co-contraction of synergistic muscles
  • Inhibition of antagonists

Strength and explosiveness gains via vibration training

Below are the various mechanisms that can produce explosiveness and strength gains in vibration training.

Morphological effect of vibration training

Hypertrophy of the muscles is one way to increase strength.

Several methods can induce muscle hypertrophy, such as subjecting the muscles to heavy weights.

One is subjected to increased acceleration when standing on a vibration plate, and muscle activation will increase.

In addition, if one performs squats on the vibration plate, in theory, one should achieve even greater muscular and skeletal adaptation.

There could be a possibility of muscle hypertrophy as some studies have observed increased electromyographic activity.

Neuromuscular effect of vibration training

During vibration training, there appears to be an increase in electromyographic activity. This increase is not sustained when the vibration subsides and even decreases to values lower than 5 in a nonvibrating muscle.

However, these acute changes do not seem to translate into long-term changes in electromyographic activity.

It is generally accepted that a mechanical vibration on a muscle can elicit a muscle reflex called the tonic vibration reflex. One of the leading hypotheses is that vibration training leads to neuromuscular improvement.

The length changes induced in the muscle by the vibrations activate the muscle spindles. These activate the alpha motor neurons via the “IA afferents” and the dorsal horn.

This leads to increased motor unit recruitment, increased “firing frequency,” and improved synchronization.

This creates a faster and more powerful muscle contraction. When applied, this system will improve mainly the physical performance using the stretch-shortening cycle.

Several scientists suggested that maximal force production depends on the neuromuscular capacity to resist the Golgi organs, which exert a negative effect on muscle contraction.

The increase in strength with vibration may be based on the decreased activity of these organs.

Suppose muscle movement is a feedback system based on the coil reflex, the tendon reflex, and other complex mechanisms.

In that case, it may be that the delay in the response of the Golgi organs is a kind of adaptation mechanism to the vibration.

Further research is required to support this hypothesis.

Hormonal effect of vibration training

About two hormones have already been studied in the context of vibration training:

  • Growth hormone
  • Testosterone

Growth hormone increases protein synthesis and decreases carbohydrate breakdown by stimulating fat consumption.

Testosterone also increases muscle gain, reduces body fat, and increases red blood cell production.

Scientific studies and results

Di Loreto et al.,  2004

These researchers saw no significant changes in growth hormone and testosterone concentrations in 10 men who stood on a vibrating plate (f = 30 Hz) for 25 minutes.

Bosco et al.,  2000

These researchers saw a massive increase in growth hormone (over 300%), a slight increase in testosterone, and a decrease in cortisol in participants who did isometric squats on a vibration plate (a = 4 mm, f = 26 Hz) for 10 minutes.

These researchers concluded that the mechanical characteristics of whole-body vibration elicited an adequate stimulus for the secretion of both growth hormone and testosterone.

Kvornig et al., 2006

These researchers conducted a study for 9 weeks on 28 untrained participants who were divided into 3 groups:

  • Group 1: Vibration
  • Group 2: Squats
  • Group 3: Vibration + squats

The vibration had an amplitude of 4 mm and a 20-25 Hz frequency.

Growth hormone determinations

Growth hormone levels’ acute response was significantly increased immediately after vibration + squats and 15 minutes after, by 20 and 23%, respectively.

The squat group achieved 4% and 5% gains immediately after squats and 15 minutes after, respectively.

The vibration group achieved 7% and 12% gains immediately after squats and 15 minutes after, respectively.

Determinations regarding testosterone

Testosterone levels were also significantly increased in the group that did both squats and vibration. Still, testosterone levels were equivalent to the group that performed only squats.

This led the researchers to suspect that heavy weights are necessary to stimulate the release of testosterone.

In contrast, the vibration group showed no significant changes. Here we must consider that the volume of training may be insufficient to note increases in testosterone.

Effects of whole-body vibration therapy on muscle & explosive strength: Conclusion

When combined with vibration training, resistance training can increase the concentration of testosterone and growth hormone after exercise.

This, along with an appropriate diet, can lead to muscle hypertrophy (increase and growth of muscle cells), which is the basis for strength and explosiveness gains.

About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More