Sweating is for pigs. This is the fundamental problem with exercise. Well, sweating, and also the fact that few people look good in pink Lycra cycling shorts. So I was rather excited to hear of the Power-Plate. The Power-Plate, you see, is doing exercise without doing exercise. A little like those weird pads you see advertised in the back of the colour supplements - the ones you attach to your face so you can exercise while watching Coronation Street.
The Power-Plate certainly makes some impressive claims, promising to treat cellulite, weight loss and muscle tone in 12-minute staccato bursts. "Not only will users see a reduction in the appearance of cellulite," Ian Beaumont, director of Power-Plate, says drum-rollingly, "but I will go out on a limb and say Power-Plate therapy reverses the ageing process. It improves circulation, stimulates the lymph glands, improves skin tone and breaks down cellulite all in just 12 minutes." The genius behind Power-Plate is vibration therapy, which was originally conceived by Soviet scientists in an effort to prevent loss of bone density in astronauts. And on top of all this, Ivana Trump is a fan. How could we possibly resist?
And so to Fitness First on Gracechurch Street, in the heart of the City of London. The air is heavy with the sweet scent of perspiration, as umpteen sturdy-calved gentlemen pound the treadmills. Sitting in the corner, like a naughty schoolchild, is the Power-Plate. It is an unassuming contraption, with a sort of footplate, handrail and control panel. On the Power-Plate a man resplendent in red shorts and a soggy T-shirt is standing one-legged as the machine vibrates gently.
"It's good, because it can help improve your strength," says Maritha Archer, the gym's personal training coordinator, as we watch the man jiggling softly. "But it won't give you any muscle-mass or cardiovascular exercise." Maritha uses the Power-Plate to train exercisers with limited movement - someone with arthritis, and those who have suffered injuries. She also uses it herself as a sort of mechanical masseuse after she has been on the treadmill. "It can work to get the lactic acid out after you've been exercising, so you're less sore the next day," she explains. "And it can improve circulation, which helps cellulite. It's an overall support system," she adds, "but it doesn't replace anything in the gym." She shrugs a little. "Coming from a personal training point of view, it just doesn't work that way. You need general cardiovascular exercise, training on a regular basis and to eat a good diet. There is no miracle cure. It's like you can't swallow a pill and be slim tomorrow."
Suddenly the Power-Plate seems less alluring. I was rather hoping that I might be slinking back into the office this afternoon a whole dress-size smaller. Undeterred, I clamber aboard, placing my flip-flopped feet tentatively on the platform, while Maritha sets the machine to a gentle vibrate. "Squat!" she tells me. "Bend your knees and squat!" There is a gentle whirring beneath my feet, and suddenly my legs feel fuzzy. The quaking crawls up my spine right to the top of my head, until my scalp feels prickly and I can feel my tongue trembling slightly. After about 15 seconds, I feel gut-wrenchingly nauseous. "T-H-i-s-s i-S H-O-R-r-r-r-i-B-L-e!" I say, my voice going weirdly hiccoughy.
Maritha lets me off the machine, and my legs turn to custard. The closest comparison I can find is that it is a bit like taking a bus from London to Edinburgh, sitting above the wheel for the entire length of the journey, with only a short toilet-break at Birmingham. We decide I should try out some of the special Power-Plate exercises which are depicted on a helpful wallchart in front of the machine. I plump for the intriguing semi-horizontal position, which involves sitting down on the plate, with my hands and feet on the floor. I lie back, think of England, and watch my thighs bob about like small boats on a particularly windy lake. My fellow exercisers giggle smuttily, and indeed one might hope this would, at the very least, transpire to be a rather pleasurable experience. Alas no. Ladies, I suggest you stick to the washing machine. LB