I have flitted in and out of gyms for two decades. Stayed loyal to the treadmill for a couple of years, 45 minutes at a clip, five days a week. Took pilates for about a year, weight training for 18 months and bought a fancy spinning bike that I use when the mood strikes, which is rarely. I have stuck with Iyengar yoga for three years because my teacher, Adam Vittolo, imbues his students with his passion.
But I know I should do some kind of weight bearing exercise for my bone health and to build lean muscle, which I desperately need. I can no longer rise from a low sitting position (the side of the tub, for example) without using my hands to hoist myself up. I have no intention of being a 90-year-old weakling.
When I heard from a friend about Vibration Training, a new 18-minute exercise routine that supposedly puts a minimal amount of stress on the body, yet increases muscle strength and tone—as well as bone density—I was game. Sounded too good to be true.
Gabriel Ettenson, physical therapist and co-founder of Amplitude Vibration Studio on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, explained the principle as he took me through the practice.
FOF: What is Vibration Training?
Gabriel Ettenson: When the doctor hits your knee or elbow with a reflex hammer, it causes the muscle to rapidly stretch and then contract. Science is now finding that this “stretch reflex”, when done in response to heavier forces, can be used to improve balance, develop strength and tone, and combat bone density loss. In Vibration Training, you do exercises--such as squats, lunges and pushups—on a vibrating platform. That fast movement of the vibrating platform recreates the “stretch reflex,” and makes it possible to exercise quickly, with little or no stress on the body.
Thinking about it another way, when we walk or run, the force of the ground is absorbed into our muscles, strengthening them. The vibrating platform moves up and down like a see saw, accelerates into your legs, and creates thousands of muscle contractions in minutes. It’s bringing the ground up to your legs at levels equal to and greater than those experienced with walking.
FOF: Are there different levels of difficulty? Like on a treadmill?
GE: The machine can be programmed for vibration amplitude, frequency and time, depending on the muscles being worked and the client’s experience level.
Is this better than traditional weight bearing exercise?
When you do lunges or squats on the vibrating platform, the contractions occur in nearly 100 percent of the muscle, compared to 40 or 50 percent with traditional exercise.
Geri’s note: I broke out into a bit of a sweat when I did two minutes each of squats and lunges on the platform. I also could tell my muscles were being worked.
How does VT affect bone density?
When a woman’s DEXA score indicates a loss of bone density, doctors recommend drugs and tell her to do weight-bearing exercises. But, many people don’t understand which exercises are truly “weight bearing.” True weight-bearing exercises (walking, running, squats) enlist the muscles to contract hard enough to stimulate bone growth. A woman might take up Pilates and ask her instructor, ‘Is this weight-bearing?’ and he answers ‘Yeah,’ when, in fact she’s hardly putting any weight on her foot. When we’re sitting or lying downour muscles aren’t generally working hard enough to “tell” the bone to respond When a strong enough tension is created between the bone and the muscle, they both get stronger, but they should not be overly stressed or they could be damaged. VT lets you replicate walking, jumping side-to-side and other weight-bearing exercises, such as push-ups, with limited stress.
Can I lose weight with VT?
You will always lose weight if you use energy for exercise purposes, as long as you also eat properly. On that note, several studies have pointed to the advantages of VT for positive changes in body composition. One study even demonstrated a better effect with VT than traditional resistance exercise.
Does the platform do anything else besides work the muscles and bones?
Yes, it can stimulate general circulation, increase muscle flexibility, reduce low back pain and other chronic pain conditions, improve athletic performance, and increase blood flow to a specific problem area, the hip, for instance. It can also improve balance and reduce the risk of falling.
Do I need to do more than VT?
We would never claim that VT is the only thing you should do and we advocate doing cardio in addition, but it’s excellent for replacing basic resistance exercises, like squats.
Tell me about the machine.
It was created for osteoporosis in 1995, but the concept goes back to the '60s, when it was used to preserve the muscle and bone density of the Russian cosmonauts in zero gravity environments. The European Space Agency and NASA use it now.
How often should I do VT?
If you’re using it for full-body fitness and improving bone density, you should do it two or three times a week. However, if you have other issues, such as a back problem, we can customize the program. I spent many years using this in rehab.
Can you do VT more than three times a week?
Not really, since you need to give your muscles a rest, but you can alternate between training and circulation, massage and stretching.
And it’s only 18 minutes?
Yes, it’s eight exercises for one to two minutes each.
Do you have to wear special clothes?
No, that’s why it’s so appealing to women who work. They can even wear working clothes. You need to take off your shoes, however. We don't want anything that could absorb the vibration other than your body.
What is the cost of these machines and can they be purchased to use at home?
Commercial platforms are about $10,000 and a small home unit is $6,000.
What do you charge to come to the studio?
If you’re 65 or older, it’s $79 a month. Otherwise, it's $99 a month or $25 per session.
Are there people who can’t do VT?
Yes, those who have serious cardiovascular disease, bone tumors, fresh fractures, new implants (within 1 year), gallstones, acute thrombosis, kidney or bladder stones, and certain diseases of the spine. Pregnant women can’t use it, either.
Is VT safe and do you need supervision?
It’s totally safe when done with proper form. We have qualified instructors here at all times to ensure your safety and monitor your progress. Once you are familiar with your program, you are free to do it on your own.
What if you have bad knees?
The beauty of this is that even the slightest bend of the knee will get your thigh muscles active, so it's very safe for people with knee problems. We have quite a few people with arthritis who are doing well on the platform.
Do you feel sore the day after using the platform?
You may get sore after the first time, if you’ve pushed your body beyond what it’s used to doing. As you get used to a level, the soreness disappears, until you progress to a new level.
Will VT help you gain back some of the height you lose if your muscles and bones are inactive as you age?
Yes, because it stimulates postural muscle function, while relaxing tight connective tissue. If you do yoga, VT will enhance your stability and balance and improve your overall yoga practice.