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Mini-Experiment: Using Vibrations to Intensify Your Workout

Posted Dec 20 2008 7:17pm
I have a disgusting confession to make. I went 54 hours without a shower. But wait, it gets worse - I did five workouts during that time period. So in addition to leg stubble that could cut a brotha and armpit hair that would have made me the envy of the Lillith Fair, I had the stank of five sweaty workouts slicked and then dried onto my skin. Normally I'm not this hygiene challenged but circumstances and a packed workout schedule ( concerns about over exercising duly noted ) produced a confluence of nastiness hitherto unprecedented. Which is how I came to be introducing myself thusly:

Man at Power Plate Gym: Hi, I'm James and I'll be your personal trainer today!

Me: Hi, I'm Charlotte from The Great Fitness Experiment and I stink!

James: Oh, well, um, really? I can't smell you.

Me: And you seem too nice to tell me if you did. But seriously, I reek. So, I'll just apologize in advance.

James: Ah, okay. No worries. We always wipe down the equipment after each client.

After that inauspicious beginning, I began my first workout on the Power Plate, a large-ish machine with handles and a rubber padded platform that you stand on. It's all very beam-me-up-Scotty minus the pointy ears. So I did my best William Shatner and stood confidently on the machine. Well, as confident as I could be standing on a very big, very expensive piece of equipment that I had absolutely no idea what to do with.

James stepped in to rescue me from myself. After pointing out all the buttons on the Power Plate and saying a lot of science-y things about megahertz and g-forces and actually using the formula Force = mass X acceleration properly in a sentence, he got to the point. "What makes the Power Plate unique is the vibrating platform. The vibrations engage 30% more muscle fibers."

I tried to nod but by that point the machine was quietly humming while I held a static 90-degree squat. Normally I can talk during a squat (heck, normally not much can stop me from talking as the Gym Buddies will attest) but the vibrations went from my toes to my head, causing a not unpleasant tingly feeling. The best I could manage without my teeth chattering was a "hummmooooooowwwwwaaaaa" that sounded exactly like when you talk into an oscillating fan. Which of course made me giggle. Which made me notice that even my cheeks were vibrating. Which made me giggle even harder.

James was a very good sport through all of this, pausing to let me say silly things like "Luke, I am your faaaattthhhhhaaaaaa" and even laughing good naturedly despite the fact that I'm sure I'm not his first client to pull such shenanigans. He patientely explained that the thing that makes the Power Plate unique among fitness gadgetry is that due to the vibrations you "feel like you are working less but your muscles are actually working harder."

"So you perceive your exertion to be less but you are really getting a better workout?"

"Yes, and in a shorter amount of time." The typical Power Plate workout lasts about 30 minutes.

More for less. Which, correct me if I'm wrong, is the holy grail of exercisers everywhere. But the question was, would the Power Plate deliver on that promise or would it end up like those vibrating exercisers of yore?

James led me through an entire workout focusing mainly on lower body and core. I did squats, weighted lunges, rows, bridges and even a plank all while vibrating at approximately 35 times a second. Other than making my fatty bits jiggle embarrassingly, it felt a lot like a traditional body-weight workout. It was hard to compare my rate of perceived exertion due to the fact that I was so entranced by the vibrating that I kept forgetting to focus on my body but I'm pretty sure I didn't work out as hard as I normally would have. It's also hard to measure something like "30% more muscle activation" but I did feel like I was using muscles to stabilize myself that rarely got used.

At one point James instructed, "Stop moving your foot."

"I'm not," I answered, trying to keep my teeth from knocking together.

"You are," he replied, pointing at my toes.

I looked down. Sure enough my foot was dancing around all of its own accord. How embarrassing. I tried to put a stop to it but I couldn't really feel it moving, leaving me with the dilemma of launching into a full-on softshoe or using my other foot to hold it down. Thankfully the machine stopped vibrating saving me from what could only end in further giggling.

James then instructed me to drink water telling me that the vibrations would cause a lympatic "cleansing." I had no idea that the lymph system could "cleanse" or what that would mean (more peeing?) but apparently you helped the process along by drinking lots of water.

"So how do you feel?" he asked solicitously when I was all done getting smellier.

"Tingly."

"And...?"

The owner of the studio interjected, "You might not feel sore tomorrow; we always go pretty conservative on the first workout."

But the thing was, I was starting to feel a little tight in my legs which from previous experience usually indicates that I will be sore the next day. In addition, I sweated (swote? swotted?) plenty so I know I was working something.

My Conclusions
Does the Power Plate provide a more intense workout than traditional weight training exercises? Perhaps, but I think you could achieve the same level of exertion without the fancy machinery, it might just take you longer. The real selling point for me about the workout was not that it offered the fitness equivalent of a proceed-directly-to-go-and-collect-200$ card but rather all the attention that came with it. Every time you use the thing, you get a personal trainer. The monthly fee was about what you'd pay for a membership at a nicer gym but when you consider that you are getting a personal training session every time you go in (and they do have other equipment like cardio machines to round out your workout), then the fee becomes a screaming deal.

So my recommendation is that if you have a Power Plate in your gym already, it's definitely worth checking out. It was one of the most unique workouts I've ever tried and definitely ranked high on the entertainment factor. Also, if you are interested in hiring a personal trainer long term then a gym like Fit U is a great deal. (Thanks to Dennis for the tip! And to Candice, Keith and James for the great experience!)

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