From the outside, the little building in Sandy Springs doesn’t seem all that different from its neighbors. It’s just another former suburban home off Roswell Road that has been converted to an office or shop.
But inside, things look a bit different. Although most of the rooms in this Cliftwood Drive business are sparely furnished, a single, large room that runs along one end of the building is filled with rows of equipment. It’s a very specialized gym.
The clients training in this gym work out with weights. They don’t lift weights in the familiar way, with arm curls or clean-and-jerks, but instead follow a training program developed by a Russian physiologist named Anotoly Samodumov. They’re not here to build muscles, but to improve their health.
“There’s one place in the world, other than Moscow, where this is done, and it’s Sandy Springs,” said Dr. David Burke, who chairs the department of rehabilitation medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine and has been studying the program.
Under the watchful eye of trainer Vladimir Chubinsky, a Ukrainian-born physical therapist and wrestler who brought the “gravitational wellness” program to the U.S in 1997, the people working out in the Cliftwood Drive gym lift weights loaded with metal disks weighing hundreds of pounds.
Hundreds and hundreds of pounds, in fact. More than 1,000 pounds, at times. Even participants admit the numbers can be eye-popping. “Saturday I was there, and I lifted 1,500 pounds,” Burke said.
Chubinsky charges $100 a session. Each workout takes about 30 minutes and the program includes workouts once a week for 10 to 12 weeks or so. Clients say the program makes them feel better and improves their health, Burke said.
“I’m a big advocate…,” Sandy Springs developer Jim Jacoby said. “I’m going to be 72 and I’ve still got a lot of energy and it gives me more. … My wife did it, too, and my daughter.”
Chubinsky says he doesn’t know why the program improves his clients’ health, just that they tell him it does. “It’s not about [how much] weight [one lifts],” he said. “It’s about how you feel.”
Participants are able to lift large amounts of weight because the lifts are done with their central bodies. For the floor lift, Chubinsky places a wide belt across the lifter’s lower back, spreading the weight across their bodies. Altogether, there are four weight stations that stress different areas of the body. Over time, “this program gives you additional strength, which you cannot get by any other workout,” Chubinsky said.
“Whatever you’re doing, you will be better,” he said. “It’s like a catalyst for anything you do.”
Chubinsky said he moved to Sandy Springs in the 1990s because he wanted to operate his business in metro Atlanta. “People say if you can succeed in Atlanta, you can succeed anywhere,” he said.
His gym has attracted celebrities, athletes and local business leaders. Some clients fly in from New York, Canada or Europe just for the workout, Chubinsky said. “It’s got a cult following,” Burke said.
Word of the program spreads primarily through word of mouth. Some local and national sports publications have written about Chubinsky, but most of his clients are referred by other clients.
Chubinsky believes the program won’t stay small forever. He’s convinced that “gravitation wellness” will spread and become something many people do as part of their regular fitness programs. He imagines it being used in high schools. When? “I don’t know,” he said. “But it will happen.”
Burke, who also lives in Sandy Springs, started studying the “gravitational wellness” program several years ago after he overheard someone at a conference talking about lifting extraordinary amounts of weight at Chubinsky’s gym. Burke has produced scientific papers on the program, including one he presented in July at an international medical conference in Berlin. His colleagues’ reactions? “This is such stunning stuff, they don’t know what to make of it,” he said.
But Burke seems convinced that something extraordinary takes place on Cliftwood Drive. He considers it alternative medicine. “It seems to me this is something unique,” he said. “People feel better … and it doesn’t require a lot of effort.”
Burke holds a third-degree black belt in the martial art of Tae Kwon Do. He thinks Chubinsky’s clients may feel stronger and healthier because they stimulate primarily the core of their bodies.
That area is associated in martial arts with “chi,” or life force, he said, and the people he interviewed for his study said the program made them feel better. “Everybody said, ‘I’ve got so much more energy. I think more clearly.’ It was just a sense of well-being,” he said.
“Here’s the bullet item that intrigued me: You [work out] a maximum of 30 minutes a week for two months, and you’re able to double your strength and increase you sense of health, well-being and vitality, with no injuries. That is just shy of taking a pill.”