Gravity suit

The gravity suit weighs about 40 pounds. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / May 17, 2012)

I'm lying on the floor of my apartment trying to maneuver into a respectable downward dog, but it's not coming easy. Not because I'm injured or overworked (although I admit I could clock more hours in yoga class), rather it's because I'm strapped into a 40-pound compression suit, trying to see how much harder it makes my workout.

Spoiler: It makes it much, much harder.

Created by Jim Foster, a former professional athlete, the Gravity Plus Suit consists of a weighted long-sleeved jacket and chaps, which go over workout clothes and Velcro together for added compression.

Foster's idea, he says, came from poring through research about how to improve the efficacy of workouts. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that weight-bearing exercises, which could refer to body weight or added weight, increase the calories burned and can improve bone density. Other research suggests that compression garments can help muscles heal more quickly after exercise and allow athletes more precision in their movements.

Foster hopes to market his product to people looking to lose weight, injured people looking to heal and athletes looking to improve technique.

Research supports the concepts behind the suit, but experts are mixed in their reactions to it.

Mike Donavanik, a personal trainer based in Los Angeles, notes that weight bearing is tried and true as far as ramping up cardiovascular workouts. "You're going to burn more calories because you have to carry more weight," he said. But Donavanik cautions that it may not build strength more effectively than simple weightlifting.

Dr. William J. Kraemer, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, agrees that the research is in place to back compression and bearing weight but said products such as the Gravity Plus Suit need to be explicitly tested.

"What they are trying to do is take general attributes of compression and relay it to their configuration," he said, but "they don't have any peer-reviewed data to say that it works as a design."

Still, devotees of Foster's creation are sold on the product. Helena Porter, 45, has been using the suit for five months and says she's never felt better. "I work out diligently, and I've never lost weight as fast as I lost weight with that suit," she said. "When you take it off, you feel so alive, so energetic."

As for me, Foster had warned that I'd only be able to work out in the suit briefly, and he was right. After about 10 minutes of yoga, my shoulders were straining, my quads were exhausted and my biceps were crying out for rest. It was all I could do to return the device to its box, to be used again at another time.

health@latimes.com