Cut the Weight, Add the Vibe: Squatting on Vibration Plates - A Valuable Tool in Your HIIT & Conditioning Repertoire or Just Plain Out Embarrassing?

Disclaimer: This article contains prejudiced references to the way women train. Please don't take it personally, ladies; take it as a challenge to show us guys that you know better than that ;-)
I know, it is embarrassing to even think of joining the mostly older ladies on the whole body vibrators in your gym. According to a recent study from the Florida International University (Serravite. 2013), it may yet really be worth to grab the Olympic Bar, load it with ~50% of your usual squatting weight, check if no trainer is there to freak out that you + the weight on your back may damage the expensive workout equipment and hop right onto the Whole Body Vibration Plate next to the nice older lady who is staring at you (a heretic) with awe.

Now, aside from being talked about at the gym, the main reason to actually take my advice and relocate your squat workouts to the the whole body vibration plates is the increased energy expenditure you can achieve, when you're performing your squats on shaky grounds.

Good vibrations, bad vibrations?

In fact, according to the data, Daniel H. Serravite, David Edwards, Elizabeth S. Edwards, Sara E. Gallo and Joseph F. Signorile recorded, while their 10 active male graduate and undergraduate students (26.50 ± 5.06 years old, weight 83.18 ± 9.46 kg, height 184.0 ± 8.95 cm) without prior lifting experience were fidgeting on the vibration plates, clearly shows that the added "resistance" due to the constant vibrations decreases the energy efficacy and doubles the energetic demands of the exercise.

Now, while this will certainly not give you the bragging rights, a new PR on the bench or in the squatting rack would give you, the combination of light-weigh squats and full-body vibration could in fact be turned into a highly effective, compared to regular squats less injury prone (you will need much less weight) staple exercise in a HIIT-esque cardiovascular and fat burning workout.

How exactly did that work?

In the study at hand, the subjects performed 30 s sets of active squatting, using a range of motion from slightly below full extension to 1.57 rad, were performed at a speed of one squat per 3 s (controlled by a metronome).

No you don't have to wear a mask, as well - that was just necessary to ensure that the researchers would be able to measure energy expenditure and substrate utilization correctly.
The angle was controlled by setting a horizontal stick as a limit at the lower end of the motion for subject reference. A one  min period of passive recovery was provided between sets.
The nine training protocols represented different combinations of external load applied at shoulder level  using a backpack (0%, 20%, and 40%BW) and vibratory condition (see Figure 1). Vibratory conditions ranged from no vibration (NV) to 35Hz at 2–3 mm (35L; 1.89g) and 50Hz at 5–6 mm (50H; 7.7g) (Pel. 2009). The vibratory conditions reflect the frequency–displacement relationships found to maximize neuromuscular performance in our earlier study (Adams. 2009).
The equipment the scientists used was a synchronous WBV plate (Model Pro-5, Power Plate North America, Northbrook, IL).

And if you take a peak at the picture above (no not the in the head of the article, guys!) you'll notice that the external load was not, as I humorously implied in the introduction loaded an Olympic bar with 2x 25kg and 2x12.5kg weights on both sides, but rather put into sandbag containing backpack.

So how exactly would that look like in practice?

Let's take an example. If your 1-RM max on the squat were 200kg and you were usually squatting 40% (=80kg) of those for 10x10 with minimal rest in-between sets to turn your leg training into a fat burning, mitochondrial burning HIIT workout, you'd expend the "exact" same amount of energy if you performed those squats with only 20% of your 1-RM max on a vibration plate.
Figure 1: Oxygen consumption during squats with different loads (0%, 20% and 40% of the body weight) at different  frequencies and amplitudes (NV - no vibration; 35L - 35Hz at 2-3 mm, 1.89g; 50H 50Hz at 5-6 mm, 7.7g; Serravite. 2013)
Ok, in essence, it would warrant further investigation, whether the results of the study at hand, in the course of which the subject squatted with only 16kg / 32kg on their backs would translate to a situation in which you are squatting with 40kg or 80kg, respectively.

Figure 2: Oxygen consumption during recovery; * indicates sign. diff. from no vibration (Serravite. 2013)
If you take a closer look at the data in figure 1 & figure 2 you will yet notice that squatting on the full body vibrator without additional weight, as the previously mentioned older ladies and the "I hope there is no fat in that salad dressing"-gals who don't want to risk breaking their freshly manicured fingernails love to do it, is not going to yield any significant benefits over regular squats. It would therefore appear likely that you are going to benefit from using even higher loads, as well. Whether the effect size will be significantly greater is yet another question; a question that cannot be answered based on the study at hand, only.

This does not mean that it won't benefit the activation of stabilizer muscles that would not be activated to the same extend during the regular squat on stable ground).

If the rowing machine is not already part of your personal repertoire of HIIT compatible workout equipment, I highly suggest you go back to the "Eight HIIT Sessions on the Rowing Ergometer Cut Body Fat, Increase Adiponectin, VO2Max & Performanc"-post from December 2012 (read more)
So what? In view of the fact that neither the respiratory exchange ratio, nor the heart rate did vary significantly between the testing conditions, the use of one of the often sneered at vibration plates could actually make a viable addition to a HIIT-esque squatting workout. You'd get the same metabolic bang for your buck, but could use significantly lower weights. The latter entails a lower risk of injury and could shorten the recovery times.

And as an added bonus you will be activation muscles, of which many of you may not even have been aware that you had them.

This does not mean that you should forget about your previous HIIT workout regimen all-together. For those who don't care about being stared at at the gym the proposed combination of a high(er) rep, short rest squatting workout could yet become a new tool in their (hopefully already versatile) cardiovascular exercise repertoire.

  • Adams JB, Edwards D, Serravite DH, Bedient AM, Huntsman E, Jacobs KA, Del Rossi G, Roos BA, Signorile JF. Optimal frequency, displacement, duration, and recovery patterns to maximize power output following acute whole-body vibration. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):237-45.
  • Pel JJ, Bagheri J, van Dam LM, van den Berg-Emons HJ, Horemans HL, Stam HJ, van der Steen J. Platform accelerations of three different whole-body vibration devices and the transmission of vertical vibrations to the lower limbs. Med Eng Phys. 2009 Oct;31(8):937-44.
  • Serravite et al. Loading and Concurrent Synchronous Whole-Body Vibration Interaction
    Increases Oxygen Consumption during Resistance Exercise. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 2013 [epub ahead of print].
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