At the request of Ms. Rachel Nanez, we are tackling this question. Here was her text to me:
“Heard this on the radio this morning...'whole body vibrators, the new way to lose weight without exercising!’ Apparently there was a study done using rats, and they lost all this weight with body vibrators.”
Once I shook the visual of vibrating mice, I looked into it. The buzz was most likely related to this study that concludes, “Taken together, these observations indicate that whole-body vibration recapitulates the effects of exercise on metabolism in type 2 diabetes.”.7
The researchers used db/db mice, which have a specific genetic mutation in their leptin receptor that makes them a model for diabetic dislipidemia (high cholesterol) and obesity - especially when fed the good 'ol Western Diet.4
In the study, mice went through whole body vibration (WBV) for 20 minutes per day at 32 Hz for 12 weeks. Their weight change was compared to a group of sedentary mice and a group of mice who walked on the treadmill. All mice gained weight each week, but the mice with WBV did not gain quite as much.
I sent the study to a childhood friend of mine, Dr. Jonathan Hommel, who happens to also be an expert in animal models of obesity, food, addiction. He concludes,
"The authors have evaluated the effects of whole body vibration (WBV) in an animal model of obesity (db/db mice). They found that WBV increased the size of muscle fibers, decreased the size of fat cells, and improved other metabolic abnormalities, such as blood sugar and a fatty liver. Overall, the effects of WBV were positive and similar to the effects of treadmill exercise in reducing physiological problems associated with obesity."
I asked him for his advice if someone (a human) was considering replacing their treadmill with WBV machine, from the results of this single study.
"I would say that if someone is considering WBV, it seems to be an effective approach and that they should try it for themselves. It may be a good alternative to running or treadmill-type exercise."
This sounds promising, so far. Now, let's look at what happens when researchers vibrate humans.
We can buy whole body vibrating plates that vibrate at various frequencies. Here is an example of a squat exercise on the Power Plate® (image on right).
They are a bit reminiscent of the old vibrating belt massaging machines, that claimed to massage fat away. You can still buy these contraptions at Walmart or Target, but you might be wasting your money, as massaging fat away has been busted.
But, maybe the vibrating plate is a bit different, as you can do lower and upper body workouts on it. But, how could exercising while being vibrated lead to weight loss from body fat?
To date, three hypothesized pathways have been identified.1
- Inhibition of adipogenesis (formation of new fat cells or adipocytes), and subsequent reduction of fat mass.
- Increased energy expenditure - as measured by calories. The idea is that squatting while the ground is vibrating under you requires more energy than when squatting on a stable surface.
- Increase in muscle mass - this could also increase energy expenditure during rest.
However, the review of the evidence concluded, “After analysing the literature, none of the results for the proposed pathways are consistent, and indeed are often contradictory. We conclude that further in-depth research is required on this subject.”1
Energy Expenditure (Calories)
For instance, men doing a half squat during WBV were found to only expend about .66 calories/min more than a non-vibrating half squat.2 Another study found WBV plus aerobic exercise produced an average increase of 9 calories for the entire day, as opposed to just aerobic exercise alone.10
A recent study found that standing and being vibrated at 40 Hz expended somewhere between 1.7 to 2 calories per minute.3 We expend around 1 calorie per minute, sitting quietly, maybe 1.5 if you are fidgeter or hardcore gum chewer (especially Bazooka).
But, this study used 14 young, normal weight healthy volunteers. Since we are talking weight loss, we need to know how WBV would work in those with excess body weight? Also, what about studies that have actually examined WBV over time, in order to see the possible effect on fat loss?
I found three studies that were published after the aforementioned research review (in 2013), which only add to the contradictory results.
Two studies came from one research team with post-menopausal women doing WBV, 3 sessions a week for 12-weeks6 and 24 weeks.5 In both studies, they did a routine of holdng a half-squat without using the handles, toe raises, and heel raises.
On average, the fat loss in the WBV were:
- After 12 weeks = – 3.5 pounds
- After 24 weeks = – 2.2. pounds
However, in both studies the women in the WBV group, started out with 16 and 14 more pounds of fat, respectively, compared to the other groups in the study. This difference is important, because those who start with higher body fat tend to lose more fat than those with less.
Also, participants were asked to maintain their same diet, but it was not assessed to confirm they actually did (or did not) stick to it. In other words, the weight gain or lost could have been due to their diet fluctuation, or normal fluctuations in weight that can be seen with post-menopausal women.
What About Diet?
However, a third study did assess diet, specifically asking participants (middle-aged women, classified as 'obese') to follow a diet of about 1,400 calories per day for 9 months.8
There were three groups:
- Diet Only - Followed the 1,400 calorie per day diet only.
- Diet + Aerobic - Followed the same diet, plus did 33 minutes of aerobic exercise per day (5 days per week).
- Diet + WBV - Followed the same diet, plus 5 days per week of WBV (30 minutes per session) using a simple routine of standing, squatting, squatting with heels lifted off the ground, and upper body exercises.
After 9 months (see following figure), the Diet Only group lost 10 pounds, the Diet + WBV group lost 15 pounds, and the Diet + Aerobic group lost 25 pounds, on average.
So it appeared that women classified as ‘obese’ lost about 5 more pounds than the diet only group by doing WBV for 30-minutes, 5 days a week, consistently, for 9 months. This makes sense, as WBV is more physical activity than doing no activity.
Also, maybe we should not give up that treadmill so fast, as these results challenge the original mouse study. adding aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, 5 days per week nearly doubled the amount of weight loss after the 9 months.
Unlikely - This area research is interesting, and the study in mice showed some positive results in chronic disease management. However, the overall scientific support for WBV, at this time, for fat loss in humans is contradictory and weak.
Now, WBV appears to be safe, and if it could be a way to make exercise fun or more interesting, then vibrate away. The studies that found the greatest benefit were those where people actually exercised during vibration.
There could be some other benefits too, such as helping with joint strength/stability for rehabilitation and bone density, although a recent review found that WBV, alone (without exercising on it) might not be a strong enough stimulus to increase muscle mass in post-menopausal women.9
In the end, however, WBV does not appear to be the next weight loss miracle, unless some new research comes out that 'shakes things up'.
- Cristi-Montero, C., Cuevas, M. J., & Collado, P. S. (2013). Whole-body vibration training as complement to programs aimed at weight loss. Nutriticion Hospitalaria, 28(5), 1365-1371.
- Da Silva, M. E., Fernandez, J. M., Castillo, E., NuÑez, V. M., Vaamonde, D. M., Poblador, M. S., & Lancho, J. L. (2007). Influence of vibration training on energy expenditure in active men. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 21(2), 470-475.
- Fares, E. J., Charrière, N., Montani, J. P., Schutz, Y., Dulloo, A. G., & Miles-Chan, J. L. (2016). Energy expenditure and substrate oxidation in response to side-alternating whole body vibration across three commonly-used vibration frequencies. PloS one, 11(3), e0151552.
- Kobayashi, K., Forte, T. M., Taniguchi, S., Ishida, B. Y., Oka, K., & Chan, L. (2000). The db/db mouse, a model for diabetic dyslipidemia: molecular characterization and effects of Western diet feeding. Metabolism, 49(1), 22-31.
- Marín-Cascales, E., Alcaraz, P. E., & Rubio-Arias, J. A. (2017). Effects of 24 weeks of Whole Body Vibration vs. Multi-component training on Muscle Strength and Body Composition in Postmenopausal Women: a randomized controlled trial. Rejuvenation Research, (18), doi: 10.1089/rej.2015.1681.
- Marín-Cascales, E., Rubio-Arias, J. A., Romero-Arenas, S., & Alcaraz, P. E. (2015). Effect of 12 weeks of whole-body vibration versus multi-component training in post-menopausal women. Rejuvenation Research, 18(6), 508-516.
- McGee-Lawrence, M. E., Wenger, K. H., Misra, S., Davis, C. L., Pollock, N. K., Elsalanty, M., ... & Wosiski-Kuhn, M. (2017). Whole-body vibration mimics the metabolic effects of exercise in male leptin receptor deficient mice. Endocrinology, doi: 10.1210/en.2016-1250.
- Nam, S. S., Sunoo, S., Park, H. Y., & Moon, H. W. (2016). The effects of long-term whole-body vibration and aerobic exercise on body composition and bone mineral density in obese middle-aged women. Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, 20(2), 19-27.
- Rubio-Arias, J. Á., Marín-Cascales, E., Ramos-Campo, D. J., Martínez-Rodríguez, A., Chung, L. H., & Alcaraz, P. E. (2017). The effect of whole-body vibration training on lean mass in postmenopausal women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Menopause, 24(2), 225-231.
- Wilms, B., Frick, J., Ernst, B., Mueller, R., Wirth, B., & Schultes, B. (2012). Whole body vibration added to endurance training in obese women–a pilot study. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 33(09), 740-743.