While the phrase "vibration training" might stir up long-ago visions of plump women with shimmying belts circling their rear ends, it actually refers to a legit way to get fit. Credible, journal-worthy research has been done on these shake-you-up platforms, showing that by causing your muscle fibers to contract at a super-high rate, not only can they help build strength (whether you're doing exercises or just standing there), but also increase bone density (and, my fellow women over 30, it's never too early to start doing that).
Until very recently, to use one you'd have to head to a gym or rehab center, or expect to shell out four figures for a home version. Slowly but surely, though, more affordable models—like the Gaiam Vibe-Fit Trainer—are making their way onto the market.
The Vibe-Fit looks a lot like a fancy doctor's scale, with a platform about the size of a newspaper folded in half. While it lacks the sturdiness of a higher-priced model (it's a bit noisy when turned on, as I expected, but also a bit clackety-sounding), it's a decently built machine. The handles adjust to different heights, it comes with attachable resistance bands, and the display is bright and clear. There are 12 speeds and four vibration modes to choose from, though it's not clear from the accompanying booklet what the different modes are for or how they should be used (I stuck mostly with the first, steady mode).
A lot isn't clear from the booklet, actually. Assembling the unit would've taken five minutes (instead of 25) if there had been instructions instead of just vague drawings. And while the booklet contains a selection of exercises with how-to descriptions, they're not fashioned into a particular routine and there are no guidelines regarding sets and reps.
But I digress.
The first time I stood on the machine, it felt really odd and somewhat unsettling—like what I imagine it would be like to hold onto a low-speed jackhammer. With time, though, my body got used to being shaken like a martini, and I could definitely feel its effects. The moves I tried—squats, lunges, push-ups, triceps dips—were all noticeably more challenging. (The platform, with its hard plastic massage nubs, can be tough on your hands, though, so put a towel down for cushioning.)
While the booklet suggests limiting your use of the Vibe-Fit to no more than 20 minutes, you may want to aim for even less—say, 10 minutes max, and not every day—and stick to the lower speeds. In the science world, the jury's still out on how much vibrating is too much, so it's best to play it safe. (Important note: If you're pregnant, this is not the machine for you.)
The bottom line: While a vibration trainer is far from being a necessary addition to your home gym, doing strength workouts on the platform can help build muscle faster and therefore cut down on your workout time (and if you can't work out for some reason, just standing on it can help you get stronger). And even though the Vibe-Fit isn't perfect, it's worth the price if you're in the market.
Product: Gaiam Vibe-Fit Trainer
Pros: Vibration platforms can help increase strength and bone density—and this home model is both affordable and versatile.
Cons: It's noticeably less sturdy than higher-priced models, plus the instruction booklet is in serious need of revision.
Cost: $299 at Gaiam.com
Extra tip: Ignore the suggested warm-up moves in the booklet—they're actually stretches, and you need to warm up before you stretch.