Passive Exercise: Whole-Body Vibration and More
Working out while not really working is the concept behind a trend known as passive exercise. But does it really work?
You're lying on the sofa, maybe munching a bag of chips, and watching your
favorite movie on DVD. And ... you're toning your abs? That's the picture
painted by some proponents of passive exercise, a fitness trend based on the
idea that you can pretty much do nothing and still work out, if you have
the right equipment doing the work for you.
But could this really work? WebMD asked three experts to offer up their
opinions on four of the top passive exercise trends: whole-body vibration, chi
machines, electronic ab stimulators, and inversion boots. So grab that bag of
veggie chips, prop up your feet, and read on -- their answers might surprise
By far the most popular new addition to the passive exercise category is
whole-body vibration or WBV -- also known as "Power Plate"
exercise. An outgrowth of a program used to train Russian cosmonauts, it
quickly spread through Europe and Japan, then hit U.S. shores -- with whole
centers now devoted to this workout.
How It Works: According to physical therapist and personal
trainer Ben Quist, DPT, most people stand on the platform with knees bent at
about a 30-degree angle, while the surface beneath their feet vibrates an
astounding 30 times per second.
That vibration, says Quist, tricks the body into thinking you're falling.
"This, in turn, activates the 'stress reflex' -- an extremely rapid muscle
contraction," says Quist, owner of Form and Fitness, a Milwaukee health
club and rehabilitation center, where he has been training patients on the
Power Plate for over a year. These muscle contractions, says Quist, are
responsible for most of the benefits attributed to this type of
The Promise: According to manufacturers, those benefits
include increased circulation, muscle strength, and flexibility; better range
of motion; core conditioning and stability; and faster muscle recovery after
working out. They say the health benefits also include enhanced metabolism,
increased bone mineral density, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol,
elevation of human growth hormone levels, and improved lymphatic flow.
Whole-body vibration is also said to reduce cellulite and stimulate collagen
production for smoother skin. Manufacturers also say MBV can provide muscle
toning and conditioning for those who have health restrictions that keep them
from exercising, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and some
forms of arthritis.
What the Experts Say: While the experts who spoke with WebMD
all agreed that WBV does offer some benefits, all cautioned that the level is
nowhere near the claims being made.
"I've seen some remarkable results in terms of bone density -- working
better than conventional exercise -- plus good effects on circulation and
muscle stimulation for those who can't do conventional exercise," says
Quist. "But I don't think it can help you lose weight or impact cellulite.
There is really no solid medical evidence backing up these or other health