Bob Kissel runs a torture chamber on S MacDill Avenue, and scores of time-pressed professionals undergo his special treatment for a grueling 15 minutes twice a week.
"It doesn't ever get any easier,'' said Valerie Cordell, 45, one of his clients. That's because every one of the repetitions she works through on his five exercise machines tests the limit of her strength. So instead of doing a series of reps before reaching that final, almost impossible, one, as she did when she went to a conventional gym, every repetition is the almost-impossible one. Kissel's patented machines measure the muscle strength she has left and quickly change resistance to meet it, enabling her to do another rep within what Kissel says is the crucial 90 seconds necessary to get the most benefit.
That routine, combined with a protein-only diet regimen, creates muscle and burns fat faster than conventional weight training, said Kissel, a sculpted 52-year-old who preaches his workout system with the fervor of an evangelist.
So many busy clients have signed up, he said, that he plans to open a second gym in downtown St. Petersburg's BB&T building during the first week of June.
He said people stick with his program because it takes a half- hour out of the week rather than three, four or five hours at a conventional gym, and clients quickly see results.
"One out of three people will quit within two months of joining a health club. You know why? Lack of time. Lack of results.''
The cost of the Max Q Fitness training varies with the number of sessions clients sign up for. For eight sessions, it's $249, or about $31 per workout; for 96 sessions, it's $1,579, or about $16 per workout.
Quick weight loss results depend on sticking to the diet, Kissel said, adding that clients eat six small protein-only meals a day so they don't get hungry.
"For that muscle to actually go through protein synthesis and get stronger, it needs protein. Can't do it without protein. So my clients, every two hours I prescribe a certain amount of protein based on how much muscle they have.''
Since they aren't eating carbohydrates, they are drawing on the fat in their bodies, he said, so clients see changes in muscle and fat on a biomass measurement within the first 72 hours.
Penny Darville, 38, who works for a health care company, started training at Max Q Fitness last fall in attempt to lose a stubborn 15 pounds. She said she starved herself, slogged a treadmill and even tried the extreme workout P90X3, yet the weight stayed on.
Under Kissel's tutelage, she said, she has lost 20 pounds of fat and gained 4 pounds of muscle, for a drop in body weight of about 16 pounds.
"You just have to be willing to give 110 percent when you go.''
She maintains a strict protein diet, eating roast beef, turkey, chicken, ham, egg whites, sometimes a protein shake, and she usually has vegetables with dinner, maybe a salad or broccoli or asparagus.
Cordell, a vegetarian who weighs about 100 pounds, said she signed on with Max Q Fitness to keep in shape, not lose weight. She finds that the workout is just as good as an hour workout five or six days at her old gym. Kissel's records show that in 10 months, she has gained 3.4 pounds of muscle while losing 1.2 pounds of body fat and 0.1 pound of visceral fat, the fat around the intestines.
"I never have seen such muscle tone in my body,'' said Cordell, who works for a family-owned software company. "It freaks me out.''
A University of South Florida associate professor of exercise science is intrigued.
''I think that is a great concept,'' said Bill Campbell, who is director of the university's Exercise & Performance Nutrition Laboratory. "He's right on by making sure the resistance is heavy.''
Campbell said he thinks the 15 minutes twice a week under Kissel's system could be as effective for beginners as more time in a traditional gym, and it's a good program for people who are pressed for time.
But he doesn't think it would be as effective over the long term for people who have adapted to Kissel's workout system; he thinks they would need more time per week to exercise in order to build more muscle.
Kissel maintains that "there is no plateau whatsoever'' because the machines can always adjust to create maximum resistance, no matter how strong the user.
The professor said that some of the science on the Max Q Fitness website, maxqfitness.com, is incorrect and that he's unaware of research that supports claims that the exercise machines are 10 times more effective than others and that "you have a 90-second magic window to do something.''
But having clients lift maximum weight with limited rest between attempts "is a good workout system for increasing muscular strength, muscular size and improving one's physique,'' he said in an email.
Kissel said a number of body-building sites on the Internet address the 90-second window between reps.
And no one can dispute the results, he said, as reflected on clients' biomass readouts.
Client Bill Josey, for example, lost 21.3 pounds of body fat and 4 pounds of visceral fat and gained 15.3 pounds of muscle in 90 days.
Asked how he feels, the 59-year-old lawyer smiled and flexed a biceps. "What I did was I traded in my fat for muscle.''
Kissel, a self-taught fitness trainer who started in the business in the early 1980s with the Nautilus workout program, said he noticed early on that the time it took to change weights gave people too much rest between reps.
There is no resting on his machines.
"It's as intense as you can make exercise.''
Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Philip Morgan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3435.