Saturday, September 23, 2006

Debunking the Myth of Whole Body Vibration Training and the Hypergravity Platform

Whole Body Vibration (WBV) training is a recent fad that has been foisted upon the public by fitness marketing types. In recent years several different types of these vibrating platform contraptions have hit the market.

About a month ago I wrote a critical review of something called the Power Plate that was getting press because the aging pop star Madonna had purchased one and was supposedly singing its praises. I kicked off a firestorm among the WBV crowd because I actually read the studies used by the Power Plate people, and pointed out that the emperor had no clothes.

In my research on the Power Plate I came across the Hypergravity website, a manufacturer of another of these WBV platforms.

Over several installments over the next month or so I will provide a detailed look at each study that the marketers of the Hypergravity platform use to support the claims that they make about their product, and show how the data from these studies is severely lacking.

It bears mentioning that the numerous spelling and grammatical errors that are present on almost every page of the site are indicative of an intellectual laziness that permeates the Hypergravity people's approach to everything, including the science that they allege backs up their claims. This lack of attention to detail speaks volumes about how these people act in their efforts to try and sell their ersatz, high-tech snake oil.

To kick this whole thing off I’ll address the claims coming from the WBV hucksters that NASA has studied this mode of training, and as a result has determined that WBV is valid and its benefits can be derived by astronauts and earth-lubbers alike.

On the home page of the Hypergravity site we’re told that “Vibration technology is based on Russian research and development. It reached its peak when Russian cosmonauts were able to regain bone mass (which was lost due to lack of gravity in space) using advanced vibration technology. Today NASA is working with similar technology: Whole Body Vibration (WBV) to stop and possibly reverse the loss of bone density.”

The Hypergravity people do not provide us with any details in regard to this “Russian research.” There are no mentions of any specific studies, no passages from studies, no dates to give us an idea as to when this research and development was performed. There is nothing about this “Russian research” anywhere on the Hypergravity site.

Was this data culled back in the days of Sputnik or during the time when Rocky IV was being made? Your guess is as good as mine.

The fallacy of Whole Body Vibration training’s suitability for the general public is revealed by the nature of NASA’s research on the subject. For as much as the purveyors of these vibration platforms want to convince you that this method of training is equal to - or even superior to - conventional training, the research being done by NASA in no way supports this position.

According to the WBV industry, NASA is studying the effects of WBV training as a way to combat bone loss that results from astronauts existing in a zero gravity environment for long periods of time. A zero gravity environment is an extreme condition that no person on earth will ever deal with no matter how couch potato-ish they are, so to apply these theories or the results of these very preliminary studies to any members of our earth-bound population is ridiculous.

Even the most sedentary and/or infirm individuals are subjected to the forces of gravity. Standing, walking, climbing stairs or getting up from a seated position place demands on the body’s muscular-skeletal and nervous systems that don’t occur in a weightless environment.

To study the response of a person who is either in a weightless environment or who has been subjected to a weightless environment is meaningless when applying the data from these studies to people who will never be exposed to a weightless environment.

Walking can load the hip and knee joints with forces anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 times body weight ("Hip Contact Forces and Gait Patterns From Routine Activities", Bergmann, Deurerzbacher, et. al.) and these loads are even greater when a person runs, climbs stairs or gets up out of a chair.

Wolff’s Law basically states that a bone gets stronger when a sufficient load is placed upon it, and this same bone will lose strength in the absence of this load. Without the force of gravity no load is applied to bone, and bone loses strength much quicker and doesn’t respond to any exercises that can be performed in this weightless environment. This is why NASA has been trying to find a form of exercise that can combat the detrimental effects of weightlessness while astronauts are in this environment.

There are links to two stories on the Hypergravity site under the heading of “What NASA Has to Say About Good Vibrations?” [sic]. Ostensibly these stories are supposed to prove that since NASA is studying WBV as a possible aid to astronauts, that this method is somehow useful to the rest of us.

The first link, titled A new treatment under study by NASA-funded doctors could reverse bone loss experienced by astronauts in space, takes you to an article that was written in 2001.

Here is a passage from this article: “Whether astronauts would benefit from a vibration-plate regimen is a question that can only be fully answered by conducting experiments in space. Such tests have been proposed, but none are scheduled yet [my emphasis].”

Here’s another interesting passage: “According to this thinking, the remedy for bone loss in space should be exercises that duplicate stresses on our muscles and skeletons experienced during a daily and active life on Earth. Unfortunately, without the pull of gravity it is very difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate loads routinely experienced by our muscles and bones on Earth.”

And finally, Dr. Clinton Rubin, a professor of biomedical engineering at SUNY-Stony Brook, “hopes that future experiments will reveal not only whether vibration therapy works, but also why [my emphasis].”

Since this article first appeared in 2001 and the Hypergravity people don’t provide us with any additional updates from this story, we can conclude that the jury is still VERY much out on whether or not WBV works for astronauts. And there is no way anyone can conclude that WBV will do anything for us non-astronauts. The head researcher himself doesn’t even assert that WBV works.

The second link is titled Shaken Not Stirred: Mixing Vibrations With Genetics May Help Reduce Bone Loss for Astronauts, and takes you to a NASA site and an article very similar to the first article. This item was posted in 2002 and features the research being performed by SUNY-Stony Brook’s Dr. Rubin.

Here’s the most interesting passage of this article: “These results (animal and preliminary studies featuring postmenopausal women and children with cerebral palsy), while still preliminary, show that the platform may be an effective counter-measure in space. Astronauts could stand on the platform a few minutes a day, even performing other tasks at the same time because the stimulus is so minimal [my emphasis].”

What this means is that researchers proposed in 2002 that the astronauts would use WBV in a weightless environment to combat the effects of weightlessness. Even these researchers weren’t proposing that the astronauts would use WBV once they arrived back on Earth as part of a rehabilitation program. And these studies were not conducted, they were just proposed.

Just like in the first article highlighted by the Hypergravity people, there is no recent update to this story. There is no reason to believe that any of this has ever gotten off the drawing board.

What all of this means is that there is no data from NASA that indicates that Whole Body Vibration is a valid method of exercise or treatment for astronauts or members of the general population.

In the next installment of debunking the myth of WBV training I will review the first six studies on the Hypergravity website’s “Researches [sic]” page that are provided to somehow prove the efficacy of WBV.