Unique form of exercise gains traction in Bay Area


There's no argument that things are humming at the ZAAZ Studio in San Rafael. Members filter through by the hour for what's billed as a 10-minute workout, all accomplished with the help of "whole body vibration."

"I can actually feel it strengthening as I'm doing it, ZAAZ member Erin Lafferty said. "Feels like it's waking up and strengthening."

The machines are a refined version of a technology originally studied during the days of the space program, to combat atrophy from weightless space flight. In ten minute sessions members stand, stretch, and sometimes do light exercises on the moving platforms.

ZAAZ founder Lee Novack says the high-speed vibration forces muscles throughout the body to compensate for the mechanical movement, creating an accelerated work-out, "What it does, because it vibrates and oscillates creating 1800 contractions of the muscles a minute and activates 97 percent of muscle in the body at the same time."

Supporters report benefits ranging from an increase in muscle strength and bone density to increased flexibility and even weight loss. Commercial real estate agent, Brian Eisberg has mixed the vibration sessions with light weight training over the last four months, "I can't tell you how many pounds, but I've lost four pants sizes. I went from a 42 to 38 in four weeks."

But documenting the true benefits of whole body vibration training can be something of a challenge. Search the internet and you'll find dozens of published studies and often conflicting results. While a European study in 2003 found an increase in hip bone density in older women, a Canadian study last year found no benefit in its trial. And there are similar debates over muscle toning and sports performance.

"It's very controversial," Dr. Susan Lewis said. Lewis, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Francis Hospital for sports medicine in San Francisco, says that while resistance training can build both muscle and bone density, she's skeptical that the vibration alone has much effect on the body, "There's really no good data at all in the scientific community that these machines will do what they claim to do. If anything, at these clinics you see people lifting weights on these machines; it's the lifting weights that's probably doing more than the actual shaking up."

Even so, interest in whole body vibration is building. ZAAZ has recently opened three new studios in the Bay Area. And members like Claire Morency believe the 10 minute workout offers multiple benefits for a small investment of time. Including, just being fun, "I feel the machine assisting me in my enthusiasm, my vigor, my internal life force," Morency said.

One note, the ZAAZ machine is FDA approved for medical rehabilitation, as well as exercise.

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