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Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Gadget Gimmick or Good Exercise ???

If you ask Madonna, Sting, the Dallas Mavericks and a host of high-end fitness clubs, you’d think the Power Plate® is the best thing since sliced bread. And it certainly sounds attractive – 10 minutes on the space-age Power Plate is supposed to be equal to a 60 minute workout.

Space-age is appropriate in this case, and not only for the device’s Star Trek Next Generation looks: It was developed in the 1960s by Russian scientist Vladimir Nazarov for cosmonauts; whole vibration training was used to prevent muscles and bones wasting while in space. It seemed to work pretty darn well – the Russians still hold the world record for staying in space: 240 days. U.S. astronauts only lasted 120 days using conventional exercise machines.

After this, Russian ballet dancers soon discovered that low impact vibration could aid the healing of injuries by increasing muscular strength.

Olympic trainer Guus van der Meer then used this research to develop the machine for the health and fitness sector in 1999. Power Plate is a brand name, but there are now several copies that use the same technology – many are much cheaper as well.

The deluxe Power Plate that Madonna owns costs about $10,000, but the new Power Plate my3 (formally the Power Plate individual) only costs about $2,500. Reverse engineered Chinese units can be had for less than $300.

Gyms are starting to get onboard with these items, so you don’t have to shell out that kind of money without first checking if this machine is right for you.

As usual, many claims for the Power Plates are not backed by enough scientific study to really know for sure, but for ten minutes, three times per week, it might be worth making a leap of faith.

Here’s how it works: the device has a large plate that vibrates in a specific motion 30 to 50 times per second. This vibration forces muscle contractions like dynamic tension exercise but requires no concentration on your part. Your body feels the instability and strives to stabilize by tensing the muscles.

During the workout, the user changes positions repeatedly to work different muscle groups. A half squat stance while standing on the plate, for example, works the quads. A pushup position with your feet on the floor and arms on the plate works the arms and chest. Beginners start with 30 vibrations per second and work up to 50 for more advanced workouts. Time on the machine is generally only 10 to 30 minutes.

More advanced machines – like the Power Plate Next Generation – have stretching and messaging routines as well. Many are claiming that this machine will do it all, but it’s not for everyone and it does not improve your overall strength or aerobic exercise capacity. What it does do is tone, thanks to be able to contract more muscle fibers than regular exercises. This means no escape from your cardio routine to burn calories.

For many people, a toned and firm body is right up their street – especially one that they can get in just 3, ten minute sessions minutes per week.

But to burn fat or increase strength, the Power Plate is not the answer. Body builders have reported no specific strength gains and the amount of calories burned is similar to other resistance training – that is to say, negligible.

However, when coming back from an injury or wishing to tone those areas standard exercises don’t seem to reach, the plate may a valid part of your exercise program.

For wellness freaks and older fitness enthusiasts, the marketing hype is pretty heavy. According to the Power Plate web site:

Power Plate® machines provide a simple solution to preventing age-related muscle loss, bone density loss and skin wrinkles. Firstly, Acceleration Training™ exercise using Power Plate® machines contributes to a more youthful feeling due to an increase in the secretion of serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter. Secondly, not only can Power Plate® machines improve muscle strength, but they also help increase flexibility and range of motion while stimulating the production of collagen, creating tighter, more beautiful skin. And finally, Power Plate® machines help fight the effects of osteoporosis through aiding the body in increasing bone mineral density


The biomechanical applications of Acceleration Training™ exercise using Power Plate® machines are becoming accepted in the medical field for the prevention and treatment of different types of illnesses and injuries. Power Plate® machines allow people with osteoporosis, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's Disease to exercise while working within their personal physical limitations, while also aiding in the treatment of the symptoms from these debilitating conditions. We feel fortunate to be able to provide a device that has helped so many people face the many conditions of life. However, as with all medical applications, and to ensure your safety, you should consult your physician and address any contraindications before using any Power Plate® machine.

These are pretty incredible claims and not backed by enough good studies. Plus, many of the benefits mentioned come from ANY type exercise, including low-cost walking around the block a few times. Get rid of wrinkles? Please.

Reports from fitness enthusiasts have been mixed. Some like the way it works those hard to get at spots, while other report nausea because the vibration can affect the inner ear. Some report few results at all.

It’s been used in Europe and the UK for some time and is now beginning to become standard equipment in more upscale gyms.

The big question is will it go the way of the vibrating belts of the 1950s, or is it here to stay? Best guess: it will probably be around for some time thanks to its unique toning abilities combined with fast and easy workouts.

So don’t stop your regular exercise program and don’t forget that more than half of the battle to burn fat is a proper diet. Remember: it’s cardio that burns the calories – not vibrating.

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