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November 21, 2011

New Workout: Shaking Things Up

Can a buzzy new 30-minute workout be the key to a lean, sculpted physique?

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I'm no exercise junkie, but as a former ballet dancer, I've been fit most of my life. Today, as an office 9-to-7'er, I get it: Who has time to work out?

Enter the Power Plate, an accelerated (read: torturous) fitness method where an oscillating platform amps up ordinary exercises (like calf raises and bicep curls) for a full-body workout that lasts just 30 minutes. Think this is some wussy remake of those retro fat-jiggling contraptions? Think again. Russian scientist Vladimir Nazarov introduced vibrational resistance training to astronauts in the '60s to help rebuild bone mass depleted in space. In 1999, Dutch Olympic trainer Guus van der Meer started marketing the concept as Power Plate throughout Europe. Now it's making ripples stateside.

The theory is simple: A strong current is sent through the muscles, causing reflexive contractions between 25 and 50 times per second. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recently reported that muscle activity is boosted by up to 300 percent on the Power Plate compared with doing the same exercises on the floor. The purported result? Long, lean muscles like Elle Macpherson's (she's a devotee, along with Hilary Swank and Rachel Weisz) in no time.

That's all the evidence I need to hightail it to Station Fitness in NYC, Manhattan's first Power Plate studio, where five high-tech machines have replaced the usual gym equipment. Dennis Brabham, who credits Power Plate for his 3 percent body fat, sets my machine for 45-second increments and tells me to hop on. "Keeping your knees slightly bent allows you to absorb the maximum vibrations, which make your muscles work up to four times harder," he explains. I hit the start button (which I press again before each exercise) and find my muscles immediately firing. When I straighten my knees, the vibrations even hit my face, causing my teeth to chatter. (Thankfully, this stops when I unlock my knees.) I'm convinced it's working already.

Just as I'm getting used to the shaking sensation, the real workout begins with a series of squats. "Cheating is for slackers," barks Brabham, as I attempt to micro-bend my knees. Wait. Did he just call me a slacker? Never one to resist a challenge (did you see Black Swan?), I muster up enough quad strength to dip down and back up just once before my machine shuts off. Success! But my sheer joy is cut short as I'm ordered to perform another excruciating round — this time, squatting on tempo to The Black Eyed Peas blaring over the speakers. I barely manage nine reps. Great. I'm only minutes into the workout, and my legs feel like they're about to blow.

Ten minutes later, we transition to an upper-body series of agonizing tricep dips and push-ups. I stare at the clock as it counts down while my arms shake from sheer exhaustion. Five, four, three, two, one ... hallelujah! At the 20-minute mark, I'm drained, which is apparently a good sign. "To build lean muscle mass, the muscles have to become completely fatigued, which takes about a minute per move on the Power Plate," says Brabham.

As we wrap up with a few stretches, I'm reminded of how I used to feel after a ballet performance: strong, accomplished, and physically depleted — in a good way.

After I return for my fourth workout, I notice tone in my arms (is that a tricep?) and a lower-ab tightness I haven't felt in years. While it's not my job, Power Plate might just be the way to keep in shape given my new cube-jockey schedule.

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