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  1. Wealth
October 7, 2009

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On

By Spear's

Sophie Walker, stepping onto the Power Plate, finds that she can vibrate her way through the myths and into fitness

Sophie Walker, stepping onto the Power Plate, finds that she can vibrate her way through the myths and into fitness
THE PROMISES MADE by the makers of this elegant exercise machine are wild, and to any time-poor, cash-rich, possibly fitness-phobic listener, wildly seductive. The ‘miracle’ machine enables a super-speed, technologically enhanced workout that melts the fat, firms the muscle and strengthens the bones of your whole body with what they describe as the ‘bare minimum’ of effort.

Indeed, the marketing material indulgently claims, in the 25 minutes in which you complete your session, you need not even break a sweat. Lo, we cry, what is this new machine of such mythical power, that it can transform the irksome notion of exercise into something so fragrant, so expedient, so modern?

The truth is you have probably already heard of it. The Power Plate has been big news since its arrival on the mass market in 2005 as a vibrating platform that, once mounted, provides accelerated training via the effects of WBV or Whole Body Vibration. The WBV principle is relatively simple: when you exercise gently on the rapidly juddering machine, your muscles contract to stabilize you.

Thus for every motion you make, you work each muscle to the power of the number of vibrations emanating per second. It tests your ability to stay on the thing, a bit like doing a stand up trick on an insidiously tenacious Bucking Bronco. But, the theory is, you’ll barely feel the challenge.

In the few short years that it has been around, Power Plate has been paid the attention due to some revolutionary technological innovation and breathlessly dubbed a ‘miracle machine’ by the press but WBV is not actually new in itself. Exercise scientists have been researching its possible benefits since the 1970s, when the space race was at its most feverish, and Russian scientists stumbled across the technique while trying to counter the physically degenerating effects that long periods of weightlessness had on astronauts.

Space, as it were, was tight and they found that simply by standing on a vibrating platform muscle and bone development was stimulated. Objective scientific opinion on the extent of WBV’s effectiveness is divided, but one thing is for certain: it’s a fabulously appealing concept to those for whom exercise is a more favourable theory than a practice.

Power Plate’s hard sell is firmly lodged at the modern young, urban, affluent woman who lacks the time or the inclination to do the gym thing. This has resulted in a massive following alongside a reputation dogged by faddy accusations. The expense, which is prohibitive to the masses (£25 per session with three sessions a week recommended to see ‘real results’) has laid it open to detractors who denounce it as nothing but a gratuitously glamorous gimmick.

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PURISTS ARE FURTHER inflamed by the naked ambition of the maker’s claims and the raft of high profile celebrity endorsements it uses to back them up, including the praise of enviably toned types such as Elle Macpherson and the grand dame of transformative exercise, Madonna, who is said to take all her phone call standing on hers.

As a result, PP was deemed both ‘girly’ and ‘ineffective’ by the majority of the fitness fans that I spoke to of either sex. It was pointed out to me repeatedly that if you do any exercise three times a week you are likely to see ‘results’ so the marketing was probably misleading. But, as to those curious as to whether it would actually work, the conspiratorial whispers for information were all coming from the women.

Perhaps this is because PP is essentially low impact weight training, which is perfect for the toning action so popular with females rather than the pumping iron that garners those big guns that men are so keen to achieve. Or, perhaps more likely, it was the essence of PP’s marketing strategy at work.

Women are preconditioned to swallow some pretty big lines when it comes to the commodification of their vanity, after all. Lotions infused with precious metals, potions with complexes dredged from the bottom of the sea, heartbreakingly expensive and promising to magically adjust the appearance of the figure without an ounce of the only liquid that will certainly make any difference at all: Sweat.

Exercise works on wobbly bits. Fact. And yet a large proportion of women are lured, siren-like, by the expensive creams that claim to reinvent the wheel while ignoring the failsafe route to improvement. Perhaps by avoiding these emollient myths, Power Plate’s marketers are onto something. It certainly drove me to exercise.

Casting a furtive glance at my fellow Power Platers in the mirrors of Harrod’s bijou specialist studio, I found my demographic suspicions confirmed. I was lined up amongst immaculately coiffed yuppies and yummy mummies lunging and squatting self-consciously in unison.

And yet, as I completed the work out, my skepticism gave way. The Power Plate had got me hooked in with its clever marketing, but the experience itself was in fact a challenge and not anything like as easy, breezy and benign as the literature had made out. I did sweat, and go red in the face, and I was exhausted afterwards barely able to hobble back to work rather than springing off as if nothing had happened. (All apparently a good thing as a beginner.)

After a month-long course of a couple of sessions a week I noticed a subtle toning, especially of the thighs and hips, and felt less tired, more invigorated by the end of the sessions. The PP may be ‘girly’ but it isn’t at all ineffective.
Trainer Jason Scott of Powertone Studio in Fulham explained that to me it isn’t just ladies that come to him to reap the benefits of the Power Plate.

He has trained a number of stressed city execs wanting to get a quick fitness fix, athletes seeking some support for their aerobic training and even a person recovering from a severe attack of multiple sclerosis. ‘Some of my clients with more remedial and less cosmetic needs have seen the best results of all,’ he said. ‘The low impact workout makes maximal impact while being gentle on stressed joints and builds strength in a shorter space of time than conventional weight training.’

IF YOU WANT to test the machine out for yourself then it is highly likely that you will be able to find one very close by as the Power Plates have been adopted everywhere, by many of the big gym chains who use them as
massive leverage against waning membership figures.

But for those for whom the average gym, with its cankerous scent of old rubber and the stale sweat of a hundred unknown bodies, chills the core, a Powertone Studio such as the ones springing up across West London, or Good Vibes in the West End, will be a deeply pleasant, less odiferous surprise. Bright, airy and with only three or four plates in a row, the feel is of a boutique, private gym, or of belonging to a spa.

If working out en masse really isn’t for you then the answer might be to purchase one to use at home. The new news is that the manufacturers have brought them out in a range of colours, and for those bling-inclined, entirely encrusted with Swarovski crystals. More practically, they come in different sizes – the my3 model would fit into the dinkiest HK apartment while at the other end of the scale you can haul in the pro5 AIRdaptive ($10,500) which is all bells and whistles and can be adjusted to suit a whole spectrum of different ability.

If you do push the boat out that far, don’t stop to stint on the cost of a trainer to supervise things, however, as you probably need tutoring to keep the workout fresh and correct and a stern voice to sustain your discipline.

After all, for all the thoroughly modern things the Power plate can do for you fitness-wise, it can’t actually make you step onto the thing three times a week. That requires a bit of good old-fashioned effort.

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