Believe it or not, there are some advantages to being short. At just over 5ft 2in, my feet never get cold sticking out of the bottom of the bed; I get to do a lot of shopping for high heels; I’ve never had a blind date who was shorter than me; and if I ever go on a canal holiday I won’t have to worry about hitting my head on those low doorways.
But there are plenty of downsides to being vertically challenged, too. Growing up surrounded by much taller friends, I always felt like the runt of the litter at school. I was the first one to get asked for ID in pubs and I had to stand on a step to kiss my first boyfriend.
As an adult it’s been no better — I often have to ask people to reach things from the top shelf in the supermarket, comfy flat shoes are a no-no, and I’ve spent more money getting the hems of my trousers taken up than I care to remember.
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Living the high life: Jenny on the rack at A-Grow-BicsIn short, over the years, I’ve paid a high price for being pint-sized — or as I prefer to call it, Kylie-sized. And it seems I’m not alone in being unhappy with my height. A recent survey found British women are among the shortest in Europe, with the average 18 to 29-year-old measuring in at just 5ft 4in.
But after 35 years of titch-dom, I’d more or less come to terms with my lack of height. The only chance of increasing it I was aware of was to have your legs broken and put in traction at a rather suspect-sounding Russian ‘clinic’.
So, when I heard about A-Grow-Bics, (yes, it rhymes with aerobics) a new, pain-free, six-week workout that promises to make you taller, I was sceptical, but intrigued. Particularly as Pierre Pozzuto, 33, the personal trainer who invented it, is apparently so confident he can help anyone grow at least 2cm he promises to refund the £200 cost of the programme if it doesn’t work.
Immediately, I signed up.
When I arrived at London’s trendy Gymbox gym, I was met by the impossibly buff Pierre. Pierre, an Italian, is 5ft 9in now, but he proudly tells me he used to be two inches shorter. After spending most of his life longing to be taller, he developed A-Grow-Bics.
This revolutionary exercise system blends elements of Pilates, Yoga, cardio exercises and stretching moves; it involves hanging upside down like a bat . . . oh, and being strapped on to a rack. Yes, a rack — those devices that were all the rage in 15th-century torture chambers.
I was shown a forbidding table contraption with stock-like restraints, into which my wrists and ankles would be slotted, attached to a long reel of rope. As I wondered whether it was too late to get my coat, the workout began gently with a few gentle yoga stretches.
Hanging around: The new exercise blends Pilates, Yoga, cardio exercises and stretching movesI glanced nervously at the rack, but instead I was taken to ‘the cage’ — a series of scaffolding-style bars and ladders — and asked to hang by my hands for periods of up to 30 seconds. Pierre explained that over time, the vertebrae in our spines compress, making us shorter.
Hanging like this, using my own body weight and gravity to pull me downwards, would decompress the vertebrae, pulling them apart again to their natural position. I saw the logic, but still, that didn’t help when my arms felt like they were being wrenched out of their sockets.
The same philosophy was behind the next, Batman-style exercise. Special ‘anti-gravity’ cuffs were strapped around my ankles. Then, suddenly, Pierre and his co-trainer Loren hoisted me into the air, flipped me upside down and clipped hooks on my ankle cuffs on to a bar on the top of the cage.
Terror doesn’t begin to describe what I was feeling. The blood rushed to my head and I am ashamed to admit I screamed, well, like a girl.
But the ordeal wasn’t over. While I was hanging there, convinced I would plummet to the ground any second, the amazingly-persuasive Pierre somehow got me to attempt a sit-up in mid-air, bending upwards to touch my ankles.
Moves like this apparently strengthen core muscles — the ones that run in a ring around the middle — helping to support my newly-lengthened spine. It was possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do physically; but Pierre reassured me all his clients — who include businessmen hoping to boost their boardroom standing, rugby types who want their height to equal their machismo, and pint-sized women like me — find this the biggest challenge.
I succeeded. Thankfully, it was time for Pierre to help me down. I told him I felt rather woozy, but he wasn’t done with me yet. Next up came some strengthening moves on TRX straps (TRX stands for Total body Resistance exercise) which are basically a couple of woven belts strung from the ceiling.
Pierre, obviously a bit of a movie fan, talked me through exercises such as The Running Man, which involved getting into a push-up position, putting my feet in the belt loops and my hands on the floor and then moving my legs as if I was running in mid-air.
Growth spurt: Pierre claims he has increased his own height from 5ft 7 to 5 ft 9 over two years using his methodsThen came Superman, which involved kneeling on the floor with my hands in the belt loops and gliding alternate arms forward into a kind of mid-air press-up to work my abs, which screamed in protest. There was no time to rest, though, as we moved straight on to some ‘explosive work’ — dozens of squat jumps off a step aerobics box till my thighs hurt even more than my abs. What is the point to all this, I wondered. I want to be taller, not look like a bodybuilder.
Pierre reassured me this would not only help my muscles to grow but boost my levels of HGH or Human Growth Hormone — all pretty important when you’re trying to add a few inches. Just as I was ready to flop on the floor, we headed to the treadmill. Finally, a bit of equipment I recognised.
But we weren’t there for a gentle jog. Instead, Pierre wanted me to hold the sides of the treadmill rails and, without switching the machine on, make the conveyor belt move just by running as fast as I could in 40 second bursts.
Apparently, high-impact running like this can make tiny ‘microfractures’ in your bones, which over time will knit back together slightly longer than before. Do it often enough, and it’s thought you could add a millimetre or two to your height this way.
Finally, we reached the ‘cool-down’ section. This involved Pilates-style moves, lying on my side and moving my legs gently to help improve my balance. It was quite relaxing, and almost didn’t feel like exercise.
Just as I was patting myself on the back for surviving the workout, Pierre reminded me there was still one torture left — the rack.
Ah. By that point, though, I felt I’d already passed through the pain barrier and had nothing to lose. Gingerly, I laid down on the long black table while Pierre fixed my ankles and wrists into manacles.
I tried to tell him to take it easy, but he couldn’t hear me — my pleas for mercy were drowned by the sound of creaks and groans as Pierre turned a scary-looking wheel to tighten the ropes attached to my wrists.
A feeling of deja vu hit me and I suddenly remembered where I’d seen this before — in the final scene of Braveheart, just before Mel Gibson is disembowelled and beheaded.
However, while it was scary at first, the pain I was expecting to feel never actually struck and when I was finally released, I realised I’d had quite a satisfying stretch. I don’t know what Mel Gibson was making such a fuss about.
The whole workout took just under one hour, and Pierre and I went through the same routine once a week for six weeks. I was also given ‘homework’, which involved a few stretches and Pilates exercises, but mainly thinking about my posture and remembering to stand up straight whenever I caught myself slumping.
And as time went on, something strange started to happen. Not only did I start to enjoy the gruelling sessions (yes, even the Batman bit) and lose a little weight, but I actually grew.
Participants are measured at the beginning, and again after every session. There was nothing to show for my effort after week one or week two.
But at the end of week three, I’d grown 0.8cm; by week four, I’d grown 2cm; and by the end of the course I had become an astonishing 4.9cm taller.
I was stunned, and even Pierre had to measure me twice before we both believed it: six weeks ago, I was 160.5cm (5ft 2in); now I’m 165.4cm (5ft 4in).
I think part of it was because so much exercise had really improved my posture, but it can’t all be explained away by that. Whether it was the rack, the stretches or the bat moves, it had actually worked.
And, while it’s unlikely I’ll stay this tall forever as my spine will squish back down over time, Pierre reckoned if I keep up my stretches and remember to maintain a good posture, at least some of the height gain should be permanent.
OK, so the bottoms of my trousers aren’t suddenly flapping around mid-calf, but being just a tiny bit taller feels good. Things are looking up — literally. I feel a little more confident, and standing up straighter means my mummy tummy seems flatter than before. In fact, the only person not thrilled with my new height gain is my husband — when I wear 3in heels now, I’m the same height as him. Who’d have thought it?
But the biggest surprise came a week later, when I was in the supermarket biscuit aisle, treating myself to a well-earned packet of Hob Nobs.
For the first time in my life, an elderly lady stopped, tapped me on the arm, and asked me for a favour: could I get some bourbons down from the top shelf, as she couldn’t reach them? I left the shop with my head held high. I could get used to this!
n A-Grow-Bics is available at Gymbox gyms and costs £200 for six one-hour sessions. For more details, visit gymbox.com.
VIDEO: Pierre explains how A-Grow-Bics works!