It’s 1:12 PM, and I’m still on the road. My appointment at Bethesda’s Equinox Gym was supposed to begin at 1, but I’m still inching up Wisconsin Avenue (It’s a Wednesday, people—aren’t you supposed to be at work?!) and in a pretty awful mood. My muscles ache with dull pain from sitting in an office chair for nine hours a day (and in traffic for the past hour and a half), and now my only workout for the week has been cut down by almost a full 15 minutes.
After screeching into a nearby parking garage, I frantically change in the front seat (please tell me after-the-fact confessions can’t get you arrested for public nudity) and sprint over to the facility. Equinox’s smiling Joe Sigismondo whisks me upstairs. At 1:21, I finally come face to face with the reason I volunteered for this trek in the first place: the Power Plate.
The Power Plate, originally developed to help astronauts rapidly gain muscle, is a vibrating platform large enough to accommodate the average person performing a deep squat. Since it was developed for commercial use in 1999, celebs such as Madonna, Kelly Osbourne, and Courtney Cox have gushed about it being a quick way to get in an intense workout—and I’ve been dying to try it.
As you perform basic exercises such as pushups, stretches, and squats on the plate, the targeted muscles involuntary contract at a rate of 25 to 50 times per second. This helps maintain balance in reaction to the vibration, thereby causing increased blood flow and deeper stimulation.
If you’ve ever been victim to electroshock therapy while recovering from a knee injury, the sensation of the Power Plate is similar, but much less intense. Plus it spreads past the area being targeted into muscles you wouldn’t normally work when performing standing calisthenics.
There are three different settings on the machine: hertz (vibrations per second), amplitude (height of vibration), and time. As a first-timer, Joe recommends I start off on 30-30-low—that’s 30 vibrations per second, with the platform moving mere millimeters up and down. We begin with basic stretches like lunges and a position similar to child’s pose to stretch my shoulders, holding for 30 seconds at a time.
After these short bursts, my hamstrings are already tingling the way they would after 15 minutes on a treadmill. Joe mentions the Power Plate is a great way to warm up before a cardio session, since it loosens muscles and increases blood flow far more effectively than traditional standing stretches.
Next, we work through two sets of step-ups, squats, planks, and modified V-sits. Once my body realizes that the key to feeling the full effects of the vibrations is to perform slow, controlled movements, and to hold my position—no matter how hard my muscles are moving—I begin to understand why one Marie Claire staffer wrote that she felt “completely drained” after just 20 minutes on the thing. I’m not quite there yet, though, so Joe turns my timer up to 45 seconds, and we start on pushups and cable rows for my arms. After the second set of pushups, I’m almost ready to collapse; it’s only been a minute and a half, and my arms feel more engaged than after a half-hour session on the weight machines.
Lastly, Joe walks me through two “massages.” My favorite is for the trapezius muscle. For this massage, Joe tells me to sit on the floor with my back against the base of the plate and hold the cable rows attached to the machine tightly across my body. I feel the vibration deep in my shoulders, and the ache of hunching over a keyboard all day seems to melt away.
Experts recommend you spend no more than 30 minutes at a time on the machine, so we end at our scheduled 2 PM finish time, even though I was 20 minutes late. My whole body feels slightly shaky but very awake and energized, just like it would after a long run. Euphoric, I ask Joe if he’s just walked me through an honest-to-God get-slim-quick secret. He shakes his head and laughs. The Power Plate is most effective when incorporated into a balanced workout routine, he explains. If you’ve only got half an hour to spare, calisthentics on the machine will feel more effective than they will on the floor, but you still need a mix of cardio and weight training to stay healthy.
Other tips from Joe: Stay off the machine if you’ve got a pacemaker or have had retinal surgery, but consider it your best friend if you’re looking to safely increase muscle tone after an injury. Move through your exercises at a brisk pace (you can view a series of options here), and you’ll have the added benefit of a cardio workout.
I walk out of Equinox feeling happier and more awake than I have all week. After lunch and a little e-mail catch-up, I make it back to my car . . . only to remember the right-at-the-beginning-of-rush-hour trip to Arlington I have in front of me. Oh, well. Here’s hoping this faux runner’s high lasts me the entire journey.