Feature Article - November 2005
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Fit Facilities

Mixing old and new ideas to fulfill fresh niches

By Kyle Ryan

21 Minute Convenience Fitness
Walnut Creek, Calif.

Quick circuit workouts existed before Curves, but the women's storefront fitness chain undoubtedly revolutionized them. Now the number-one franchise in the United States (according to Entrepreneur magazine), Curves inspired a whole line of copycats, all employing variations of its quick, no-stress, no-intimidation formula.

But Greg Thurman, 21 Minute Convenience Fitness founder, says the parallels between his new company and Curves stop after their similarly brief workouts, low franchise-startup costs and target market (people who wouldn't normally join a health club). For example, members work out in their street clothes, which is possible because they only do sweat-free slow lifting and minimal cardio. Thurman calls it "Fatigue Intensity Training," a.k.a. the FIT Method. It's based on the work of Arthur Jones, who created the slow, controlled method of strength training 50 years ago and inspired several exercise programs, such as including SuperSlow, Power Of 10 and Slow Burn. The method works particularly well for older people.

"Baby Boomers are now transitioning into senior years and finding it more and more difficult to kind of maintain strength, if you will," Thurman says. "They need to kind of move slightly away from what we could call an 'aerobics-based' workout—a lot of this was damaging joints and connective tissues."

Until 21 Minute Convenience Fitness, no one had really incorporated those techniques into the storefront formula. For Thurman, that convenience aspect is essential. People need to be able to pop in, work out and leave without any hassle. Consequently, 21 Minute lacks everything but the basic equipment.

Members make appointments to exercise, mostly because they have to work out with a coach. The coaches use wireless tablets to access 21 Minute's software to see each person's training routine. The software charts members' progress against their goals, then sends assessments to them via e-mail. Each coach gets trained to use the software and the FIT Method through a Web-based program that takes a few days to finish.

One seemingly glaring hole in 21 Minute's exercise routine is cardio. Any type of exercise that doesn't cause people to sweat can't be elevating their heart rates enough for any benefit, right? Thurman says no. At the beginning, middle and end of the 21-minute workout, members mount a recumbent stationary bike and pedal as hard as they can for 30 seconds against medium resistance.

"When you do this, it raises the ambient level of your heart rate throughout the rest of the workout to about 65 percent of your target cardio rate," Thurman says. "So it's very, very effective."

That amounts to a whopping three minutes of cardio a week, which seems laughably small. But a study that appeared in the June 2005 issue of Journal Of Applied Physiology stated that six minutes of intense exercise every week can be as beneficial as three hour-long runs. The article did note, however, that it's not effective for losing weight.

For now, 21 Minute Convenience Fitness only has one location, but Thurman plans to open franchises around the country shortly.