Shea Showalter thought it sounded too good to be true. "Work out for 15 minutes twice a week and lose weight?" she recalled. "Let's just say I was skeptical."
The 38-year-old from Tampa had heard about Bob Kissel and his magic machines from her life coach. "I didn't have a particularly active lifestyle," she admitted. "I had been a swimmer when I was younger, but I hadn't done anything in years."
Kissel's program, MaxQ Fitness, promised a total body workout on five exercise stations that he designed, built and patented. Showalter, who works in sales, was sold after just one session.
"It was really unbelievable," she said. "I lost nearly 30 pounds in just three months."
Showalter said she's leaner and sleeping better and her energy level is off the charts. "My body is sculpted," she said. "It has been a real transformation."
Kissel had so many people sign up to train with him in South Tampa that he recently opened a second location, in downtown St. Petersburg.
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Fast workouts — even faster than 15 minutes — are all the rage these days, with countless smartphone apps, books and professional trainers touting their virtues.
"There's very good evidence" that high-intensity interval training provides "many of the fitness benefits of prolonged endurance training but in much less time," Chris Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, told the New York Times last year. He is co-author of an article in the American College of Sports Medicine's Health & Fitness Journal describing 12 exercises that require only your body weight, a chair and a wall to generate the kind of high intensity he's talking about.
But note — like Kissel's workout, this is not for couch potatoes. His whirlwind of pushups, squats, dips, jumping up on chairs and more may be the longest seven minutes of your life. Plus, proponents note, such a training routine also should be combined with aerobics like running.
But there are lessons here even for the out of shape.
Scientists and serious athletes long have known that just plodding along on the gym treadmill won't translate into fitness gains. Interval training, in which you alternate high and low intensities, translates into gains at all fitness levels. In fact, a new study published in the journal Diabetologia found that the strategy also helps people with Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes better control their blood sugar. Comparing treadmill walkers, scientists found significant improvements in those who alternated three-minute bursts of slower and quicker walking with those who kept the same pace.
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Kissel, 52, began working in gyms in college. "I played baseball," he said. "It was a way to make money and stay in shape."
In the early 1980s, free weights began to give way to exercise machines. But Kissel, part athlete, part self-educated scientist, was frustrated by their lack of flexibility.
"I would be training somebody, and as they got more tired with each rep, I just couldn't change the weights fast enough," he said. "I thought to myself, 'If I could only make a machine that did it automatically.' "
Kissel built a prototype in 1988. For the next 20 years, he tweaked and retweaked the machine until he finally came up with a system that increases resistance with each repetition until the muscle is exhausted, then decreases resistance until the muscle is approaching the point of failure.
"That creates microscopic tears in the muscle fibers," he said. "You need to take the next 72 hours off so your muscles can repair themselves."
What Kissel calls "adaptive resistance technology" is the key to the program. Working to the point of exhaustion, combined with a high-protein diet, triggers a total body transformation. Sound like a miracle?
Vicki Walker is a true believer. The 54-year-old pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church started with Kissel a little more than a year ago.
"I played rugby in college," she said, "but as my life got busier, I got less active. Too many chocolate chip cookies and french fries … I knew I had to do something."
Walker changed the way she ate and worked out. Today, she is 80 pounds lighter.
"The system is efficient and effective," she said. "I feel stronger than I ever have in my life. I just love it."
If you are interested in the science, Kissel has a website (maxqfitness.com) that explains the finer points of the program.
Here's a sample, slightly edited: "Adaptive Resistance Technology is the only exercise technology that automatically triggers the anaerobic energy system, in which the phosphagen system lasting 0-10 seconds immediately followed by the glycogen lactic acid system lasting 11-90 seconds, stimulates muscle to respond, i.e. results."
In other words, you work hard and fast, giving it all you have for 15 minutes of all-out exercise, and then you take the next three days off.
A University of South Florida associate professor of exercise told the Times this year that the basic concept — heavy resistance — is sound. Bill Campbell, director of USF's Exercise & Performance Nutrition Laboratory, also said the short workouts would be good for busy people and beginners. But advanced exercisers likely would need more, he said, a notion Kissel disputes.
Campbell also is dubious of some of the science on the MaxQ website, and said he has never seen research supporting claims that the exercise machines are 10 times more effective than others and that "you have a 90-second magic window to do something.''
Kissel won't go into the details of his diet plan. Sign up and he'll tell you exactly what to eat and when to eat it. "It varies from person to person," he said. "But basically … it is a lot of real protein, small meals, two hours apart."
Kissel charges $30 to $35 per session, but package plans are available.
"You want to train more often, but you don't need it," Showalter said. "Bob's motto is 'less is more.' "
Information from Times staff writer Philip Morgan was used in this report. Contact Terry Tomalin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8808.