Skip to main content

Participants in a FitWall fitness class use resistance pulleys for strenghtening at FitWall in Vaughan, Ontario Monday March 19, 2012.Tim Fraser for The Globe and Mail

I'm hanging on for dear life to the rung above my head, my feet resting on another rung approximately one foot off the ground. My forearms are burning and my fingers are slowly losing their grip as a dance remix of (I've Had) The Time of My Life blares in the background. It's fair to say that my upper body has never worked this hard during a squat before.

That's right – I'm doing a squat on a vertical steel contraption. Thanks to its eight rungs, FitWall allows you to perform strength-training exercises (leg extensions, core work and the like) on a vertical plane as opposed to the traditional feet-planted-firmly-on-the-ground approach. The company claims the act of hanging onto the wall activates every muscle in your body, putting "your calorie consumption through the roof" as you "reach goals you never before thought attainable" – all in one 30-minute session.

My sole objective on this Saturday morning is not to fall off. The class is small – there are only eight FitWalls in the studio, which is located in a strip mall in Vaughan, Ont. – with two men and three other women in attendance, all in their 20s and 30s. A very enthusiastic instructor ("Can you feel it? I know I can feel it!") leads us through 22 exercises and gives lots of one-on-one instruction. We start with seven moves on the wall, alternating between 30 seconds of exercise and 30 seconds of rest. Then we step off and use the FitWall's attached pulleys to do a series of arm exercises – think triceps kickbacks and bicep curls. Then it's back on the FitWall for a final round of squats and core work.

Sweaty and slightly out of breath after the class, I sit down with Bonnie Goldmacher, who opened the studio this past March. A finance worker turned personal trainer, she first tried FitWall in the United States last year and decided to bring the concept to Canada. "I loved the feeling of being able to squat as deep as I could without the pressure of being grounded," she says, noting she can do far more squats on the wall than she can on the ground.

She also loves the calorie burn – a 30-minute session can eradicate up to 600, she says.

Later, I ask Paul Van Wiechen, an exercise physiologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Toronto who has no affiliation with the FitWall, for a second opinion on that calorie count. "You'd have to be a pretty elite athlete to do that," he tells me, noting that it's more likely that most people will expend about 250 calories during a 30-minute session of FitWall – or any other type of exercise, for that matter. "The number-one consideration should be whether you enjoy it, not how many calories you burn," he adds. "Movement is movement; this is just a new way of doing the same thing."

Ms. Goldmacher says FitWall is suitable for all ages and strength levels – intensity can be increased or decreased depending on your positioning (I can vouch for that). And it can help people with injuries that might otherwise impede traditional strength training.

The latter prospect drew chiropractor Duilio Bertolo to the class I attended; he's exploring the idea of using FitWall with his patients. "When you're doing a squat on the floor with weights, it increases pressure on your back," he says. "With this, you get on the wall and do a full-body squat and you're getting the same effect without the pain." (Mr. Bertolo speaks from experience, having two herniated discs himself.)

After only one class, it's clear that my arms – and wrists – bore the brunt of the workout, and I worry that my preoccupation with just hanging on compromised my form. Perhaps, says Ms. Goldmacher, but that will change the more I use the wall. Until then, she notes, I should focus on the bright side: When was the last time I felt the effects of a squat in my arms?

Special to the Globe and Mail