The Secrets of Russian Massage

Tenacity, Technology and Touch

By Dan Rutz

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, August/September 2002.

Down South, people who know massage spell relief with a capital “R.” And that stands for Russian. Their champion is Vladimir Chubinsky, a 44-year-old immigrant, who, in the dozen years since making Atlanta home, has proven his abilities by meeting and exceeding the expectations of people who know a good massage when they get one. Great wealth, Chubinsky explains, presents more occasion for massage and with experience comes the capacity to judge quality. “They can afford more frequent massage,” he says, “and they know what is good and what is bad.” Hands down, Chubinsky passes the test.

The woman on Chubinsky’s table believes in the healing power of therapeutic massage. Jane Fonda, who first captivated the world on the silver screen and later starred in her own highly acclaimed fitness videos, has another secret to share: therapeutic massage with a Russian touch is mighty powerful. “I think human beings benefit from touch,” she affirms. For her, the benefits are many. “It’s a great way to relieve stress.” Then, without a moment’s pause, she adds, “I consider Vladimir the best I’ve ever had.”

So does Atlanta Braves star pitcher Tom Glavine. “I can only speak from experience,” recalls the 15-year veteran. “In the course of a winter when I wasn’t feeling too good, I spent several sessions with Vlady and my flexibility got better and my shoulder got better.” And as Glavine’s always-impressive pitching statistics have also gotten better, he’s spread the word around the clubhouse. At least two other Braves pitchers have turned to Chubinsky for the kind of intense bodywork that helps them throw strong and true.

In Russia, Chubinsky was massage therapist to many of his country’s Olympic stars. Back home, he explains, massage is more widely accepted in medicine for pain relief and maintaining overall well-being. “Under Socialism, massage was a part of rehabilitation,” he recalls. Under the old order, people were never exposed to the massage parlor image that has for so long formed an obstacle for legitimate massage therapists in the United States. Chubinsky considers massage a cornerstone to successful physical therapy. He contends, “Ninety percent of the benefit comes from what therapists do with their hands.”

It is that belief that drives the Atlanta therapist to expect the most from himself on behalf of every client. People come to him with pain, he says, and it is his job to ease their discomfort. “Anyone can spread lotion on skin,” he says, but it takes a true expert to overcome pain with intense, but intelligent bodywork. By diligently practicing the science of massage, Chubinsky stimulates healing. Through the art of massage, he accomplishes the task with gentle good feeling.

Soon after arriving in the United States, Chubinsky landed jobs in physical therapy and as a massage therapist at a busy Atlanta health club. Professional golfer Billy Andrade happened by one day, and was so impressed, he made another appointment. Moreover, Andrade told his friends, and before long, the grapevine linking the well-to-do brought new business as it quickly established Chubinsky’s reputation as a massage therapist like no other.

Bernard Marcus, whose Home Depot enterprise proved to the world there is gold in hardware, receives regular massage at home and away. “Nobody can give a massage like he can,” Marcus explains unequivocally. The robust, 72-year-old chairman-of-the-board appreciates deep work, but not the pain that sometimes goes along with it. That, he says, is what makes Chubinsky’s massage so special. (It’s) “as deep as I’ve ever had, and no pain. This doesn’t hurt.”

Chubinsky, not prone to false modesty, nonetheless gives his hands only partial credit for his remarkable list of satisfied customers. He attributes much of his success to his invention of a unique massage tool that integrates ergonomic design with therapeutic advantage. The device, shaped like a hockey puck with attachable knobs, spares the therapists’ hands just as it spoils the client. “I can give consistently deep massages all day and my hands never hurt.” That’s Chubinsky’s first claim, which he quickly follows with his proudest contention, “I can do any number of massages a day and my clients don’t care because they know my last massage will be as good as my first.”

Chubinsky uses his device 50 percent to 90 percent of the time, as he has for more than five years. “I’m not trying to replace human touch,” he explains. “I make human touch much more powerful and effective.” He goes on to say his system provides consistency, assuring every client the deepest and most effective massage possible.

How can that be so? As Chubinsky employs it, the device never comes between the therapist and client. Instead, his hands envelop and guide the device, working deep into the tissue surrounding the neck, spine and large muscle groups. This integrative technique provides the capacity for deep, dynamic work without compromising the incomparable power of human contact. Clients, like Home Depot’s Marcus, insist they’d never know an appliance was being used if Chubinsky hadn’t told them. “I didn’t believe it, because you don’t feel it,” Marcus said. “It gives a much better massage for the customer.” Fonda agrees, “You can’t really tell the difference between the hands and the device.” She finds nothing compromised by her massage therapist’s use of the tool. It only adds to the therapeutic benefits and relaxation she cites as reasons for including regular massage in her recipe for good health.

Chubinsky regards his tool as a practical blend of form and function that provides protection, pleasure and healing at the same time. The device is shaped to benefit both the practitioner and client, but Chubinsky says any Russian doctor or patient can tell you it is the composition of the tool that matters most. When he was growing up in the former Soviet Ukraine, Chubinsky says just about everyone’s medicine chest contained a “Gonchirov Disk” named for the Russian sports physician who invented it. People used the hard rubber device for ordinary aches and pains. They believe it worked by generating weak electrical charges when they rubbed the device on the skin.

Taking a page from history, Chubinsky’s tool is made of the same medical grade ebonite as the Gonchirov Disk. A hundred years ago, before helping ease the pains of modern life behind the Iron Curtain, the same natural rubber composite revolutionized bowling balls.

Friction between the ebonite material and the skin produces surface heat, but its most dynamic effect, says Chubinsky, extends deep into the tissue. That’s where negative ions come into play. As opposite charges build up on the ebonite and skin surfaces, the surrounding air assumes a weak negative charge (ionization), which enhances transfer of surface heat through deeper layers of skin and muscle. The same electric charge sets up an electromagnetic field, which is said to intensify the heat transfer. Instead of an unpleasant burning sensation in the skin, the recipient feels a relaxing and lingering deep heat. Atlanta Braves’ Glavine describes it this way: “You can feel the heat penetrate into the tissue.”

The energy induced by the device not only transfers heat efficiently, but also facilitates absorption of massage oils or lotions deep into the skin. But since the tool is made of ebonite, it repels these materials and cleans up easily.

Chubinsky describes a circuit, completed by the therapist, client and the device. He says the continuous flow of electrons (negative electric current) coupled with the ionization of surrounding air fights infections and promotes healing of eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis. Even the therapist benefits from negative ions, proclaims Chubinsky, who holds up his own hands to make the point.

In his experience, Chubinsky claims the device multiplies the benefits of therapeutic massage three- to five-fold. “American experts never heard of it,” he says, but the Russian medical literature includes several clinical trials, one involving 3,000 subjects. Chubinsky explains it was the affirmative results of that study that made the Gonchirov device a household standard.

Chubinsky finds most of his clients buoyant with enthusiasm. “They never experienced this huge relief. It is a great feeling.” The testimonials may come as no surprise to him, but fellow therapists who’ve learned the Chubinsky method are sometimes taken aback by just how much clients seem to like it.

“Vladimir came to the school and he started grabbing people and working on them and it was amazing the way the tissue changed,” says William Adcock, an eight-year practitioner of therapeutic massage. He recalls the day Chubinsky brought his system to the acclaimed Atlanta School of Massage. “I immediately began to use the device and the results were incredible,” Adcock recalls, even though he had never imagined using any kind of massage tool before. Earlier, when first offered a demonstration by a fellow therapist, Adcock said, “I’m really not interested because I don’t use tools in my practice.”

Adcock attributes his former attitude — still common among his colleagues — as one based on experience with other inventions. “Most of the time they are not therapeutic devices. They are just novelties.” Chubinsky agrees. Most devices, he says, are gimmicks meant to replace, rather than empower the therapist. It didn’t take long for Adcock’s clients to notice something better about his work. “When I started using it, people didn’t know I was using a tool. They just liked it (the massage) better.”

With that, Adcock recruited his own massage therapist to try the Chubinsky method. Steve Hilton had worried his career was threatened by chronic pain. At 5-foot-7, Hilton says he’s especially prone to occupational stress, which, since using the device, has ceased to be a problem. “It has taken the cramping out of my wrists and hands,” he says. Tina Sewell, of Augusta, considers the Chubinsky method a real hand-saver. “It complements my work,” she says. Her clients, like the others, “don’t seem to recognize that it’s the tool or my hand that I’m using. It is an awesome tool for me.” Chubinsky made enough of an impression on the Atlanta Massage school faculty that he regularly conducts seminars there on his device and method.

But Chubinsky’s awesome invention has yet to make a dent in the profession at large. He battles an entrenched attitude critical of massage tools in general. Part of it, he says, is because the familiar devices are hard to use, impossible to keep clean and uncomfortable to the client. He affirms on all three counts the opposite is true for his device, but admits skeptics have to try it out to see for themselves. “People are very conservative. People are not ready for this,” he sighs. But as he waits for his colleagues to take notice, Chubinsky has already moved on to something new for his clients.

It is another Russian convention he calls “Gravitational Gymnastics.” The idea is to learn how to lift massive weights (in excess of a ton, eventually) an inch or so off the ground. The lift is accomplished by way of a belt looped over the pelvis as the participant leans over a special hand support. Fonda and former Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker were among the first to use the method, which, together with therapeutic massage, they believe, assists in their total physical and psychological well-being.

To Chubinsky, the integration of body mechanics with advanced massage technique is both logical and even essential to his goal of promoting maximum health. Even as he moves forward with a newly-constructed facility for the practice of both his weight and massage programs, Chubinsky no longer focuses on marketing his massage tool, counting, instead, on an eventual partnership with industry to license and distribute the invention. These days, he follows his obsession to serve, both in his practice and by his example. Besides following his own gravitational gymnastics routine, Chubinsky receives massage (by the Chubinsky method, of course) every 10 days.

Ten years after he emptied his pockets to buy freedom from the dying Soviet regime, Chubinsky believes in the free market economy. Within the elite community of Atlanta’s “Who’s Who,” he has proven to himself that hard work, marked by skill, care and excellence pays off. Glavine, whose career depends on ease-of-motion, is convinced Chubinsky’s gift makes him a better pitcher, adding, “It’s hard to argue with success.”

But like every fervent entrepreneur, Chubinsky remains restless. He is sure he can help revolutionize massage for the masses and he’s waiting to share it with the world. “The Chubinsky System is ahead of its time,” he allows, hoping all the while it’s not too far ahead.

For additional information on Vladimir Chubinsky, visit