So much of our Western training has evolved from Soviet Research, a time of intense competition from the Cold War that sparked some great research and innovation. One of these competitive areas was the Russian space program’s use of vibration. Russian scientists discovered that cosmonauts that spent extended time in space lost significant bone density and muscle from the lack of gravity. So researchers used vibrational equipment to actually increase bone density and strengthen bone density. The result allowed the Russians to set a record of more than 420 days in outer space versus American astronauts who were forced to return after just 120 days due to bone and muscle degeneration. In addition to these benefits, we use vibrational training to also improve flexibility and nervous system stimulation.
Vibration can be defined as mechanical impulses directed along muscle fibers. We use whole body vibration (WBV) where the entire body is exposed to vibration, as opposed to local vibration, where an isolated muscle or muscle group is stimulated by the use of a vibration device. Whole body vibration is implemented through the use of a platform, where vibrations are generated by motors underneath and transmitted to the person on the machine. However not all of these machines provide the same vibrational stimulus, or intensity.
The intensity, is defined by 3 main characteristics
Frequency – how often the vibration goes up and down (1 cycle)
Amplitude – how much the platform oscillates during a vibrational cycle
Direction – Vibration can be applied across and along muscle fibers, the latter being the most effective
We use the Exervibe, a machine made by and in the image of Versaclimber, due to their work with the world’s authority on vibration; Alex Mikheev, a double PhD in Minsk, Belarus. Because the most effective frequencies of vibration are very narrow, 28Hz-30Hz (vibrations per second) and amplitude (size of vibration) 4mm-5mm, Alex has helped design the most scientifically correct stimulus.
But the use of vibration depends on your goals. We use the Exervibe for warm-ups as a way to improve coordination and neuromuscular efficiency. Dr. Mikheev has found this activation occurs due to increased synchronization of motor units that allow greater levels of GRF to be produced. A December 2001 study out of the Andalusia Center of Sports Medicine, Cordoba, Spain, has shown 6 sets of 60 seconds in a 100 degree squat position was optimal for optimizing nervous system performance.
For range of motion benefits, the above protocol can also be used. The benefits generally occur due to the vibrational reflex, receptors in the muscle that cause a delay in the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) being triggered. So the muscle can be lengthened for a longer period before a signal is sent to contract and cause shortening.
There is no substitute for hard work; maximum strength training, skill work to improve speed, and plyometrics. However, you can only handle so much intensity before regeneration methods must be employed to enhance workout preparation and recovery.
If flexibility and power are not important to you, just skip the vibration.