If you go down to the gym today…

….and compare working out with weights standing oppressed with standing elevated – then you’re sure of a big surprise! (Watch also “Power Ergonomics at the Gym” Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).

This is what Alex Grundberg and Magnus Alenesjö have been doing for the last seven weeks, after having first tried out the basics of Power Ergonomics at Axelsons Gymnastiska Institut (Scandinavias largest school of Complementary and Alternative Medicine). Both are studying to become Massage Therapists and both work out regularly at a gym. Alex is also a qualified Personal Trainer.

Last Saturday morning we met up again at the Friskis&Svettis gym in Huddinge to find out what they thought about it all. Both were quick to admit that they had initially been sceptical. After all, the promise of a 20-30% increase in performance really sounded too good to be true. But they were keen to give it a go and after around six weeks of practice and experimentation both of them had concluded independently that this increase in power was no exaggeration.

First Alex tried walking, jogging and running on a treadmill – oppressed and elevated. After that each of them tried a selection of exercises, comparing the first set done standing (or sitting) oppressed with a second set performed when elevated. For a couple of exercises we looked at what happened when performing standing elevated directly after performing to exhaustion while standing oppressed. Here are the results…

Walking (5 kph), jogging (15 kph), running (19 kph) (Alex): Oppressed: heavy throughout, feeling of moving backwards on the treadmill when running fast (very hard to maintain), Elevated: light, easy and fun at all speeds (read also Alex’s comments further on).

Squats (Alex): 1st set: oppressed (13 reps), 2nd set: elevated (17 reps), 3rd set: oppressed and then shift to elevated when exhausted (12 increasing to 17). Difference 4 and then 6. I.e. 31% increase in set 2 (compared with Set 1) and 42% increase in set 3 (compared with first 12 in Set 3). Expected outcome: decreased number of reps in both sets 2 and 3.

Shoulder lifts sideways (Alex): 1st set: oppressed (14 reps), 2nd set: elevated (16 reps). Difference 1 = 14% increase.

Biceps curls (Magnus): 1st set: oppressed (10 reps), 2nd set: elevated (15 reps). Difference 5 = 50% increase.

Standing rowing (Alex): 1st set: oppressed (13 reps), 2nd set: elevated (15 reps). Difference 2 = 15% increase.

Shrugs (Magnus): 1st set: oppressed (14 reps), 2nd set: elevated (19 reps), 3rd set: oppressed and then shift to elevated when exhausted (10 increasing to 15). Difference 5 and then another 5 = 36% increase in 2nd set and 50% in 3rd set).

Arm cycling (Alex): Oppressed sitting (leaning back against backrest): heavy, focus backwards while working forwards (divided effort), Elevated sitting: easy, light, focus forwards, Elevated ( ‘straight back’: weakened performance (like oppressed).

The increases in power/performance varied from 14% to 50% and so the promise of a 20-30% improvement is actually quite modest.

Alex commented afterwards that: “the biggest difference between oppressed and elevated was definitely during the jogging/running part and the squats. While running oppressed, it felt like my body wanted to run the opposite direction. My inward curve of the lower part of the back started to increase and this really just became more obvious as we increased the speed of the treadmill. By then I was really struggling to stay on it. I must have looked like a fat duck getting chased by some predator or something. Unlike during the elevated running, where I felt LIKE the predator: fast and extremely light. And also I felt like I didn’t have to meet the ground with my feet as many times as when jogging oppressed. During the squats the difference also became very obvious. While doing it oppressed my body felt like it was working not only downwards but also backwards, instead of just upwards – which was the feeling while doing it elevated. I think this is a recurring feeling when comparing oppressed and elevated posture during different activities.”

Magnus added that not only did he perform better, but he also now has no backache and experiences less muscle stiffness after training. Backache is otherwaise a common problem for gym goers, and one likely cause is to be found in the oppressed postures taught by trainers (in exercises that are supposed to help prevent backache!). Indeed, Alex made it very clear that he had always been taught to exercise in an oppressed manner (albeit unknowingly), both as a client when he first started training at his gym, and as a student then studying to become a Personal Trainer. He was completely tuned in to keeping his back straight, his shoulders back and stomach in as well as standing balanced on his heels in almost every exercise, and he had always passed this on to his own clients, believing just like everyone else, that this was a good recipe for ‘correct posture’.

With this in mind it is worth considering Alex’s closing remark: “In the very beginning I thought all this sounded like bull***t. But at the same time I wanted to believe it cause hey, who doesn’t want to lift more in the gym or find the regular jogging tour much easier run? So when I increased at the gym I really thought it was due to the result of the classic placebo effect. But then I started to experiment some more and it didn’t really matter if I tried the elevated posture in the beginning of the exercise or in the end when being fatigued, I always increased and found the weight easier to lift when standing elevated.”

So, if you go down to the gym today…

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