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Slow burn, fast fitness

Could a 15-minute workout change your life? Abstract Gym in Newbury thinks it can. Carole Elgueta investigates

Carole Elgueta



There’s no magic formula to fitness. That much we know. But one couple, who opened Abstract Bodyworks Precision Exercise gym in Newbury a couple of years ago, have discovered what must be the nearest thing.

For, with their system, it takes just 15 minutes to complete each workout, you don’t need to exercise more than twice a week to see the results, and you don’t even need to change your clothes.

“It’s an incredibly time-efficient way of exercising, achievable by professional people during the working day,” says Stephen McKinnon who, along with his wife Pat, brought the system to Newbury from the US where Pat first discovered it when the couple were living there.

Now they say that their gym is the only one in Europe offering this precision workout, which was developed in the States by Arnold Shwarzenegger’s trainer and Nautilus guru Arthur Jones and fitness expert Ken Hutchins, who developed a SuperSlow method of exercise while supervising the programme for a Nautilus-sponsored osteoporosis study at the University of Florida Medical School.

The system is based around strength training on what Stephen calls the ‘big five’ machines, comprising of a torso arm (pull down), chest press, seated row, overhead press and leg press. On arrival at the gym, clients’ measurements, such as (body mass index) are taken to chart their progress. The specialised equipment, which was shipped out from the US, is then set to fit individual participants who, under the one-to-one guidance of a trainer, perform just six repetitions on each of the five pieces, taking about 20 seconds for each one. “If you don’t stimulate your muscles you will lose muscle strength,” explains Stephen, “which is why the repetitions are very slow.

By getting stronger, you are demonstrably getting fitter. Diabetes issues go away. Blood fat goes away.” Abstract Gym doesn’t weigh its clients because weight loss isn’t the primary aim of the workout, but Pat maintains that, so long as a healthy diet is followed, this happens anyway, since the energy expended on the lifts also “gets the cardio going” and after each session the metabolism runs at a higher rate for several days.

Think it sounds all too good to be true? To prove the efficiency of their system and the benefits, which they say can reverse many of the health problems associated with ageing, such as reduced strength, osteoporosis, increased fat to muscle ratios, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, they have teamed up with the Sports Department at the University of Southampton, which has put it under its research microscope.

After a study in which 14 men and 19 women were monitored while exercising according to the Abstract Gym method for 12 and 19 weeks respectively, the resulting paper, Strength gains as a result of brief, infrequent resistance exercise in older adults, was published last year in the Journal of Sports Medicine. The paper concluded that “significant strength increases were identified for all exercises. With the detailed health benefits obtainable, the present study suggests that resistance exercise can be efficacious in much smaller volumes than previously considered.”

Which has to be good news all round. Neither Pat nor Stephen were involved professionally in the fitness industry before Abstract Gym, or were even gym bunnies. The couple were living in Florida and Stephen was working long hours in the electronics industry, flying some 12,000 miles a year, when Pat first read about the method’s success. She says that it was the improvement in her energy levels that won her over, and Stephen, too, quickly became a convert.

Both celebrate their 60th birthdays this year and Pat, who is indeed remarkably trim, says she’s been told that physiologically she is some 20 years younger than would be expected for her age. “I couldn’t give it up now,” she adds. “If you want to get toned for the summer, or for a special occasion like a wedding, this is the way to go. After two to three months, you will begin to see real changes.” “It’s also the little things,” chimes in Stephen. “Clients report that now they walk up the escalators, rather than stand. That they find it easier to move bags of compost. You improve the engine of the body and you just get fitter. Exercise is also know to deter dementia.” Today their clients comprise everyone from marathon runners to desk-bound business people, octogenarians and even a centenarian.

Having had a couple of 15-minute training sessions myself at their town centre location in Kings Road West, I can vouch for the fact that this is a regime that fits in with your schedule, rather than the other way round. At the end of it, I felt exercised (in both senses of the word), without being bright red of face or moist of body, and could jaunt back to the office in less time than it would take for lunch... with the bonus that this time the calories were going out, rather than in.

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