Sunday, October 29, 2006

The "Research" Behind the Hypergravity Whole Body Vibration Platform

The Power Plate people aren’t the only crew out there trying to bamboozle the public into thinking that Whole Body Vibration (WBV) training offers a viable alternative to real exercise, as the folks at Hypergravity are hyperventilating over their vibrating platform.

Here’s a look at the Hypergravity website and the studies they offer as proof that their product does what they say it does.

As I mentioned in my previous piece on this gadget, the home page of the Hypergravity site tells us “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.”

But we’re never given any details about this “research.”

The “research” the Hypergravity people provide that is supposed to show us that NASA has unlocked the secrets of WBV is nothing but some old articles about proposed WBV studies.

The Hypergravity website has a “Researches” (sic) section that provides us with links to studies that – in the Hypergravity people’s world – are supposed to prove WBV training works.

Let’s go right to the “Researches” section of the Hypergravity website to see what kind of “researches” there is to support the claims of the Hypergravity folks.

When clicking on the link titled, Acute whole body vibration training increases vertical jump and flexibility performance in elite female field hockey players, we’re taken to a summary of a study on the site. This summary tells us that 18 female field hockey players were studied and those who trained with a protocol that included WBV were able to increase their vertical jump and flexibility.

This summary doesn’t use precise language to quantify these increases, but employs the phrase, “there was a positive interaction effect on vertical jump and flexibility parameters following WBV.” This statement is just nonsense as we aren’t told exactly what these “increases” are and what the “parameters” are. This summary concludes with the statement that says muscles that are less exposed to this vibration don’t receive any performance enhancing benefits. So much for a person’s upper body.

And perhaps the Hypergravity people don’t want you to know a study done at Appalachian State titled Acute Effects of Whole Body Vibration on Muscle Activity, Strength and Power and published in the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, found WBV training only increased vertical jump by a paltry .7%. That’s point-seven percent, not seven percent. That’s like buying something for $100 and someone saying, “Hey, let me knock seventy cents off for you.” Gee thanks, Dude!

In this study, the researchers posited this minute improvement in vertical jump could have been due to other, non-WBV training related factors.

Also, the Appalachian State study found that WBV training did not increase any other performance variable. And while the Hypergravity folks didn't site this study, this lukewarm-at-best news didn’t prevent the Power Plate people from using this Appalachian State Study as “proof” that WBV can improve athletic performance.

Let’s move on to the next piece of “research” provided for us on the Hypergravity site, a little piece titled Vibrations and their applications in sport. A review. This is nothing more than a paragraph that summarizes the concept of WBV, makes no mention at all about any sports applications of WBV, and the summary is authored by the person who conducted most of the research he was summarizing.

The best line in this summary is the conclusion, in which the author writes, “The intensity and duration of vibration used in Vibration Training dramatically exceed the standards for occupational vibration established by the International Organization for Standardization.” The IOS is the world’s largest developer of standards.

This means the intensity of the vibrations used in this kind of “training” would not be recommended in the workplace. So one could make the case that even if WBV training did do something, to get these purported benefits a person would have to be exposed to potentially dangerous/injurious levels of vibration. Sounds great to me!

Now onto the link titled, Will WBV training help increase the range of motion of the hamstring? Of course, the author of this study concludes WBV should be recommended to athletes who want to increase their range of motion, but if you look at the study there are some glaring inconsistencies.

Question: What is a WBV training study that includes glaring inconsistencies and design flaws? If you’re a WBV huckster, the answer is “Part of our marketing materials!” Anyway, back to our show.

The problem with this study is that while both groups studied engaged in an active form of flexibility training -- the contract-release method -- the WBV training group, immediately before performing each stretching exercise, assumed a 90 degree squat on the vibration platform for 30 seconds while the control group did nothing.

A properly designed study would have four groups -- a group that squats on the platform prior to each stretch, a group that does nothing prior to each stretch, a group that assumes a static 90 degree squat on a non-vibrating surface, and a group that performs some type of low-intensity dynamic movement such as jumping jacks or body weight squats on a non-vibrating surface for 30 seconds.

Without including some kind of active movement for at least one group in this study, the conclusion can’t be made that WBV training itself is responsible for any improvements in ROM. A group active while stretching is always going to show greater gains in flexibility when compared to a group performing only flexibility exercises.

The giveaway that this study is a set up from the design standpoint is the author concludes “on the basis of the findings from this study, athletes who want to gain ROM in the hamstrings should use WBV training in combination with contract-release stretching.” The author of this study never discusses the possibility of increased ROM in the WBV group could be attributed to the fact that this group was placed in a position where the hamstrings were engaged/working and as a result would be more receptive to the flexibility exercise.

In light of the exorbitant price of these vibration platforms, you would think a responsible researcher would have conducted a more thorough investigation before making the leap that WBV alone can increase hamstring ROM better than other more traditional and “cost less” options.

This study -- and the conclusion reached by the researcher -- serves as a great example of studies designed so a positive outcome is guaranteed.

The fourth study served up on the “Researches” page is titled Effect of whole-body vibration exercise on lumbar bone mineral density, bone turnover, and chronic back pain in post-menopausal osteoporotic women treated with alendronate. This is yet another great example of how a study is designed to arrive at a predetermined, and positive, outcome.

This study involved fifty post-menopausal women suffering from osteoporosis and lower back pain, between the ages of 55-88. These women were all taking the drug alendronate, also known as Fosomax, which is used to treat and prevent osteoporosis. Right here you have the classic ploys of studying the elderly – sorry all of you 50 and 60 year olds! – and the chronically impaired. This kind of data just doesn’t translate to the rest of the population.

The fifty women were split into two groups, both of which were taking alendronate; one group did nothing and the other group stood on a vibration platform once a week for 4 minutes, for a year. The study found the only difference between the two groups after the 12 months was that the group using the platform experienced less back pain. There are no details as to how this “less back pain” was defined or quantified.

Most noticeably, there was no difference in the bone density measurements between the two groups.

The flaws in the design of this study are obvious, including how these 50 women were grouped, and what these groups did. Actually, what they DIDN’T do. Just as in the above mentioned hamstring study, there aren’t enough groups in this study. In addition to the women taking the drug and the women taking the drug and standing on the vibration platform, there needed to be a group performing some other type of low-intensity exercise. The inclusion of this third group would have allowed the researchers to determine if WBV training alone could be responsible for reducing back pain and/or how WBV compared to traditional modes of exercise in reducing back pain.

Additionally, since this study didn’t see any WBV-induced increases in bone mass, if my proposed third group were included in this study the researchers also could have looked at how medicated exercise compared to medicated inactivity and medicated WBV training with regard to developing bone mass. But then again, this detail would have forced the WBV industry to come to grips with the fact WBV doesn’t offer anything special.

Incredibly, these studies are being offered up as proof WBV training offers benefits. The only reason I can think of as to why this research is even being done is these WBV platform makers are trying to make the case to the rehabilitation industry that these gadgets somehow have a place in legit settings.

The Hypergravity site offers up this dreck as their top 5 reasons to buy their equipment, so how can we hope that any of these other studies will offer up anything better?


Ian said...

It is nice to find a site that debunks rather than adds to the confusion caused by those who abuse research material for their own ends. In theory WBV may work due to the extra loading on muscles, however there is a paucity of long-term studiess that have been conducted in this area. Many of the claims by those selling vibration services or products are based on acute studies. Acute effects do not infer any long term benefits. Keep up the good work!

PS. one good review on WBV is Luo J, McNamara B, Moran K. The use of vibration training to enhance muscle strength and power. Sports Med. 2006;35(1):23-41.

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