Although these rather bland-looking platforms are only recently popping up in gyms and spas, whole-body vibration training (WBVT) has been around for quite a long time. According to the BioMedical Journal, the ancient Greeks were the first to think that shaking the human body would elicit faster healing.
The history of whole-body vibration training
Ancient Grecian doctors used body vibration machines as a “therapeutic methodology” to help soldiers recover from their injuries. Their version was a bow-like wooden instrument that they would pluck strings on to create vibrations over cuts and wounds. The Greek docs observed that the vibrations allowed pus to drain from wounds more freely (yuck) while also healing the wounds faster.
In the 1860s, Swedish medical student Jonas Gustav Zander explored the connection between mechanics of the body and muscle building. He went on to establish the Therapeutic Zander Institute in Stockholm, which used his machines to help workers correct physical impairments. Zander believed vibration therapy could be a way to increase weight loss and muscle gain in his patients.
In the 1960s, Russian scientists embraced vibration therapy, dubbing it rhythmic neuromuscular stimulation. They believed that they had discovered a way to support not only muscle building but also a way to help stimulate bone regeneration. Then in 1995, the cosmonaut Valery Polyakov (the Ironman of Space Flight) lived in space for 438 days without losing (much) bone density thanks to WBVT. In fact, instead of being carried from the Soyuz spacecraft to a nearby chair, as is customary, Valery walked. Not too shabby for having been in zero gravity for nearly 15 months.
The following year, Russian athletes also started using whole-body vibration machines to speed up their recovery after Olympic events. Since then, many studies have been done on the use of WBVT. And many entrepreneurs have created devices—available at lower and lower costs—for both gym and home settings.
The big question is, just because it helped one dude in space—where gravity is lower and bones lose their density quickly—does it do anything valuable for us earthbound exercisers? Well, let’s see what some of the studies say.