“SHAKE YOUR BOOTY: the new vibrating Power Plate builds strength, control, flexibility—and much more”

by Amanda Altman, published in the December 2009 issue of Pilates Style magazine

Have you ever left the studio or gym after a great workout feeling like your body has just turned to jello? Multiply that sensation by 10, and you’ll begin to understand how I felt after my first Power Plate experience.

I’m always looking for ways to up my game, so when I first heard about this new vibrating plate that all the big celebs have been using to sculpt their perfect Hollywood bodies, I had to give it a whirl. I called the folks at Power Plate, and they assured me that I’d notice results after working out for three days a week for a month, so I made a 12-session commitment. Though the phenomenon is spreading, only a few studios currently offer Power Plate…I was totally psyched—until my first class, which I left thinking, Is it too late to back out?

On my way home, I had trouble walking to the subway and couldn’t even lift my phone to my ear, let alone a pencil to jot down some notes. I’m no slouch: I run, lift weights and do Pilates, yet I couldn’t believe that my body could feel so weak and vulnerable. That was the first thing I learned from Power Plate: You might think you’re in shape, but there’s a whole other level yet to reach.

Introduced to the United States in 2002 by Dutch inventor and Olympic trainer Guus van der Meer, the Power Plate is an apparatus that provides whole-body vibration training—a form of neuromuscular training. The equipment gives off vibrations that transmit waves of energy throughout the body, increasing muscle contractions and enhancing overall performance.

A far cry from the scary vibrating device we saw on I Love Lucy, Power Plate has a lot of science behind it. In fact, over the past 40 years researchers have the Plate—which resembles a large scale, with a platform and U-shaped handles to grasp for balance—to be more effective than any other form of athletic training. In that time, Power Plate has become a worldwide sensation, used in such fields as the fitness industry, rehabilitation, medical therapy and professional sports—not to mention by the likes of Brad Pitt, Heidi Klum and Jessica Alba.

The precise origin of whole-body vibration training (WBV) is unknown, but some of the earliest documented users were the Russians, specifically with their Olympic athletic training and in their space program. The technology appeared successful in developing muscle mass at a quicker and more efficient rate because the vibrations (or oscillatory motions) stimulated more muscle fibers than weight lifting or resistance-based training. Scientists further hypothesized that WBV would help prevent bone and muscle loss in cosmonauts while they were living in a gravity-free environment. Their theory proved correct. In 1998 Guus van der Meer heard the buzz about WBV from a fellow Olympic trainer and decided to develop a piece of equipment that would benefit the general public. Five years later Van der Meer found a manufacturer to build the Power Plate and, that same year, he found himself training Clint Eastwood and Shaquille O’Neal.

Here’s how the system works: Every entity, including the human body, has a natural vibration frequency, which is measured in hertz (cycles per second). The human body emits a frequency of 15-20 hertz. The Power Plate, after years of high-level research, was created to vibrate at a low to moderate frequency (30-60 hertz). Its constant vibration creates an unstable surface, and when we stand on its surface, we are forced to recruit up to 98 percent of our muscle fibers at a time to maintain balance. By contrast, we use just 40 to 60 percent of our fibers for weight-or resistance-training.

“Essentially, WBV stimulates your central and local nervous systems, neuromuscular junction and direct muscles involved in your particular movement,” explains Kvein D. Steele, PhD, chairman of Power Plate’s medical sand scientific advisory board. “Power Plate ahs introduced a whole new level of strength development. It can also enhance flexibility and be used for massage because it stimulates the lymphatic system.”

Andrew Luke Barile, PT, DPT, owner of Station Fitness, puts it more simply: “Vibration training is the most effective way to activate any particular muscle group or the entire body. It causes muscles to contract at a rapid rate. When you do a bicep curl [on the Power Plate], you’re working 99 percent of your muscles, compared with just 44 percent in regular strength training. Nothing else can accomplish that.”

Over the years extensive international studies have highlighted the benefits of working out on the Power Plate. And they’re not just related to increased strength and performance. In 2000 researchers observed that after just 10 one-minute sessions of the Plate, men experienced a decrease in cortisol levels and an increase in the concentration of growth hormones. Four years later a six-month study found that Power Plate substantially increases bone-mineral density, potentially helping prevent osteoporosis. Perhaps even more exciting: Subjects’ cellulite nearly disappeared in another ’04 study.

A 2009 study at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, discovered that overweight or obese individuals who worked out regularly on the Plate were more successful at long-term weight loss, especially belly fat, than those who dieted and engaged in conventional fitness method or those who only dieted. “Subjects that used the Power Plate lost 50 percent more adipose visceral fat, and the fat stayed away even after six months of doing nothing,” Van der Meer proudly reports.

As evidenced by Power Plate’s research, all ages, shapes and sizes can reap its benefits, says Kevin Steele. “I’ve worked with kids and patients in their 70s and 80s. Unless there are some really serious contraindications, anyone can improve their body from vibration training.”

And users report quick results. “In the first week or two, clients experience generalized euphoria, and the feel better and have increased levels of serotonin in their blood,” says Barile, whose studio has a 90 percent retention rate. “In weeks 2, 3, and 4, people feel physically stronger and have increased amounts of collagen in their skin. After six weeks, the average person starts to see real change.” And yet I was a bit skeptical when I began my vibration training. Just 30 minutes a day, three days a week will give me tauter thighs? We’ll see about that.

While the Plate continuously vibrates for either 30, 45 or 60 seconds (or, when you’re really good, constantly), you’ll be expected to complete sets of squats, lunges, push-ups, tricep dips, Bridges, Side Planks and ab work galore. Sessions also integrate straps, fitness balls, yoga blocks and light hand weights to make it increasingly difficult to balance. The best part is always the last five minutes, in which you stretch and massage your muscles on the Plate. (My hamstrings have finally met their match.) One thing I learned immediately: When the instructor tells you to keep knees bent, he means it! If you straighten them, the vibrations will go straight to your head and your teeth will chatter uncontrollably.

Although Power Plate doesn’t claim to be a cardio workout, I find that I’ve hardly stopped moving throughout each class—and about 15 minutes into them, my body is covered in sweat. Plank is still difficult to maintain for a full 45 seconds, and Side Plank is even more challenging because it forces you to stabilize yourself with just one forearm. I feel like I’ve been getting the hang of working on the Plate, but my body is still sore after each and every class—though I no longer wobble home. As a way-buffer classmate puts it, “It gets easier, but it’s never easy.”

My whining aside, I can’t get over how energized I’ve been feeling throughout each day. It’s like someone put a caffeine drip in my arm. Even better, my body, especially my legs, arms and abs, has become noticeably more toned and taut. I just love the newfound (microscopic) cut in my biceps.

Here’s the coolest part about Power Plate: My Pilates instructor, Allison Black at True Pilates New York, is amazed at my progress since I’ve started “vibrating.” She says I’m more flexible and have more all-around strength. Which brings me to why you should try the Plate—it will do wonders for your practice. “Pilates and Power Plate are both about body awareness,” notes Barile. “Vibration training allows you to target specific areas and helps with your proprioception. It’s keen on making your body more conscious and subconsciously more aware.”

Jolene Dille, owner of Pacific Pilates in Palm Desert, CA, an authorized Power Plate training facility and dealership, has added three Power Paltes to her 2,000-square-foot studio…Five years ago Dille learned about the Plate after reading that none other than Madonna loved it and convinced a private client to purchase a machine. “Power Plate helps my clients discover what’s weak in terms of alignment,” says Dille. “It’s great for proprioception, balance, control, movement repatterning and myofascial release. It helps to close the gaps so you can start to feel and really connect. We use it a lot for movement prep and for cool down. If a client has a cramp, for example, we’ll do Bridging on the Power Plate.”

I just completed my month…and here’s my verdict: I’m obsessed with the Power Plate. I am amazed at how quickly I’ve built serious strength, and the cuts in my biceps are becoming visible. (Even my usually oblivious husband noticed them.) I can now easily hold Plank for 45 seconds and can even do some real push-ups—a first. I’ve made noticeable strides in my Pilates training: I have more control and flexibility than ever before.

Although weight loss doesn’t register on the scale, my clothes feel looser. Also, I recently had my (usually low) blood pressure taken, and my doc informed me that my blood is now pumping at an “athletic rate.”

I can’t wait to see what another four weeks will do for my body…Looking back, I can’t believe I wanted to bail after that first session. These days I look forward to each and every class. That’s the power of the Power Plate.