You could mistake the Exercise Coach for a travel agency, minus the posters of endless sand beaches. It's in a storefront in strip mall. When you walk in, you're not met by a blast of techno music, instructors shouting "Five more seconds!" or the stench of sweaty bodies.
Instead, the quiet, compact gym is pretty businesslike. And that's the point.
What is it? A personalized workout that uses computerized, bio-adaptive machines instead of treadmills, dumbbells or traditional weight machines to deliver an intense, effective, low-impact workout.
"We decouple impact from effort," said Jesse Hudson, owner of the Eden Prairie, Minn., franchise. "It's about getting the whole effort with low impact."
What's the approach? The motto here is "muscle quality over movement quantity." Instead of relying on high weight, lots of reps or speed, the machines are programmed to provide a consistent challenge for a short period.
Trial run: Hudson set me up on what looked like traditional weightlifting machines (lat pulldown, leg press, etc.) by testing my range of motion and current level of strength for each lift. He entered the results into the computer connected to each machine. Then we ran through a couple of sample sets.
Instead of pulling a weight stack, releasing and doing it again, my goal was to keep my effort constant for an 8-second rep, then repeat the rep eight times.
My muscles were engaged for just over a minute, but it was harder than it sounds – and a lot more fun. Instead of straining through each set, I was focused on the computer screen. (It was kind of like those old arcade games where you try to keep your car on the road.)
By the end of the 20 minutes, I felt like I'd put in a good, hard workout, but I wasn't drenched in sweat.
Who it's for: Those who Hudson calls "the unlikely exerciser. We are the perfect fit for people who hate going to the gym or just plain don't like to work out," he said.
I'd add gamers and aging jocks to the list (being one of the latter myself).
Who it's not for: Gym rats. This is a "get in, get 'er done" kind of workout.
Don't: Expect to nail it right away. This is a whole new take on strength training, and it takes a bit of time to master the machines.
Do: Give it a try, especially if you haven't worked out in a while (or ever), aren't into strength training or are nursing an injury. It's novel enough to get you interested, and effective enough to keep you coming back.
Cost: $179 per month for two 20-minute sessions per week. You also can buy 20- or 40-session packages. exercisecoach.com.