A renaissance for a space age relic

Rebecca R. Ruiz / New York Times News Service /

Published Oct 4, 2012 at 05:00AM

NEW YORK — On a recent evening, I struggled to hold a squat during what felt like a wildly electric earthquake. Forget the burn of the pose; my chief discomfort was the way my brain seemed to rattle, my ears buzzing.

I was standing on a Power Plate machine, a type of vibrating exercise platform developed in the 1960s for the Soviet space program as a way to preserve bone density and muscle mass in astronauts. The machine, which resembles a doctor’s scale on steroids, has had a recent renaissance, marketed as a way to intensify workouts and glamorized by stars like Madonna and Mark Wahlberg.

Andrew Barile, a physical therapist who had encountered the technology in rehabilitation centers and European beauty salons, brought the machines to New York in 2007. Barile opened Station Fitness, a so-called vibration studio, in Manhattan. Each exercise class there is centered on the Power Plate and often incorporates free weights. The sessions are only 25 minutes long and limited to four participants with a personal trainer.

My group was directed by Suszannah Warner, a professional boxer. After a round of squats, we performed calf raises, push-ups and plank-position holds at 45-second intervals, our miniature black-and-silver platforms wriggling furiously beneath us.

“Be proud!” Warner shouted, alternately correcting our postures with a stern expression and bopping to TLC’s “Waterfalls” with a smile. “I don’t know what that means, but be proud. Stay with it, ladies.”

After the session, alas, I felt not so much proud as that I had undergone electroshock therapy. I traveled the short three blocks home in more time than the class had taken, pausing to rest on every other stoop.

Jeffrey McBride, an exercise physiologist, called my reaction neither alarming nor uncommon. He likened using the machine to running a jackhammer.

“High-frequency vibration affects your nervous system, and it definitely takes getting used to,” he said.

Both he and Barile cautioned that the technology is best used to supplement existing exercise regimens and should not exceed 30 minutes a few days a week.

According to McBride, overuse of such machines has the potential to harm the body’s internal organs.

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