“Multiple planes of resistance” workout revealed to have been created as a joke.
New York, NY – In the weight room of the New York Sports Club on upper Broadway, 25 year-old Ashley “Ace” Judson stands before the mirror holding a kettlebell straight out in front of him. Feet apart, he drops to the floor in a squat while swinging the weight down between his knees, then abruptly snaps back to a standing position, swinging the weight up and over his head. Twisting left at the last minute, he then drops the weight down and pushes it out in front of his chest. Yes, it’s as complicated as it sounds.
As he flings the weight, Mr. Judson narrowly avoids cold cocking Morgan Levy-Almond as she passes by on her second lap of the weight room. Rather than walking, she marches in long lunging goose steps while also swinging a heavy medicine ball up and down and from side to side in a pattern so complex you’d need a smart board and John Madden to break it down. Both fitness fanatics are jacked into their iPods, effectively deaf to shouted hazard warnings about the heavy objects being flailed dangerously close to their heads and bodies.
Across the weight room, personal trainer Carlos Mandrake takes in the scene and shakes his head in regretful disbelief. Seven years ago, he now admits, in the final boozy hours of an Atlantic City bachelor party, he and two other personal trainers were joking about teaching their clients to work out incorrectly. He says, “One of the guys dug out this old Steve Martin routine about teaching kids to speak English wrong, you know that bit, May I mambo dogface on the banana patch? That’s how it started.”
They ended up betting on who could get a client to do the most ridiculous thing in the name of fitness. He shakes his head again. “It was getting boring just telling people to do set after set, so we thought we’d have a little fun. I mean it was just a joke. Before we knew it, people were asking for it, then there was an article in the Times about it…We never dreamed it would go viral, ya’ know?”
Viral is right. The workout, which has come to be called Multiple Planes of Resistance (or MPR), is so popular that weight rooms throughout the country have become virtual hazard areas. Interestingly, this has paid unforeseen dividends across the industry, particularly in the field of sports-related physical therapy.
According to Ellis Haight at Joint Relief Physical Therapy in New York City’s Financial District, “We treat maybe five or six people a day for MPR injuries – self-inflicted and due to contact with high speed objects wielded by others.” Mostly, he says, they see lower back injuries, contusions and neck strain, but Mr. Haight also treats people who are trying to come back from broken bones and even a few who just can’t overcome TFSD, traumatic-flail stress disorder. Of these clients, he says, “Even after they’ve healed physically, the emotional scars and fear remain. I have one patient who had all his teeth knocked out by a flying kettle bell a year ago. The oral surgery and implants took six months, but now, six months after that, he’s still having flashbacks and can’t even walk through the weight room door.”
It’s not just the “Empers” (as MPR devotees are called) who are feeling the impact of swinging weights and flying objects. Notes Bruno Mancini, an old school iron pumper, “Used to be people just come to the weight room and laid on a bench or stood in one spot. It was all about control and form, but now it’s like frickin’ Cirque de Soleil in here. You need an air traffic controller just to cross the room. It ain’t safe no more. Last month I got my nose busted by some chick who was trying to juggle a couple of five pound plates while she was laying on one of them balls over there. It’s crazy, man.”
With the enormous injury risk, then, how is it the approach has become so popular? Trainer Carlos Mandrake says it’s the speed. “People come in now and expect you to give them one exercise that works every muscle in their body at the same time. They figure they work out for ten minutes and they’re done. If I tell ‘em, hey pal, it takes time to get ripped, they’re not buying it. I suggest starting with some bench presses, but they get down on the bench and they want to do crunches at the same time. That’s the expectation.”
Does MPR work? I ask. He shrugs. “Look at these people. You tell me.”
I look around. Ms. Levy-Almond has gone across the hall to the mat room and is lying on her back. At first she appears to be stretching out, but a closer look reveals that she is having minor convulsions. When asked about her condition, she explains that she’s having back spasms, but claims they always pass eventually and says she’d never go back to her hour-long circuit training regimen. “No pain, no gain,” she chokes between sobs.
Downstairs, Ace Judson is now working out on an old-fashioned escalator-style stairmaster under the watchful eye of his personal trainer, who prefers not to give his name. Mr. Judson is walking sideways up the moving staircase, which his trainer calls stair-crabbing. I ask the trainer what the benefits of this are. Lowering his voice, he says, “Nothing, it’s stupid. People don’t want to pay me to tell them to use the equipment the right way. They could do that by themselves. So I tell ‘em to do it sideways for half as much time as they need to.”
Business, he says, has never been better.