As Ann-Marie Anderson and her clients and friends celebrated the 25th anniversary of her Ideal Exercise gyms and her exercise model of 10 minutes of high-intensity a week, she has begun to focus on helping the anti-aging effort by enhancing awareness of exercise to combat a muscle-wasting disease called sarcopenia.
Over the quarter-century, since she and her late husband, Greg Anderson, founded the first of their gyms, the concept of 10-to-15 minutes of resistance training once, or for some twice, a week may have seemed amusing to many, until those who chuckled tried it and became believers. And some of the "believers" have been clients for as long as she has had the gyms, now one in Seattle and one in Bellevue, while I've been a client and believer for three years this month.
Now she is turning part of her attention to teaching a population that is living longer than the process of aging can have an "anti-aging" flip side, which she sees as the outcome of creating a better understanding of sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia is defined as "a disease associated with the aging process. Loss of muscle mass and strength, which in turn affects balance, gait and overall ability to perform tasks of daily living, are hallmark signs of this disease."
Until recent years it was thought to be an irreversible part of the aging process. Now the medical profession has come to be aware that it is treatable, and that "The primary treatment for sarcopenia is exercise, specifically resistance training or strength training, activities that increase muscle strength and endurance."
"People, not merely those who are aging, since we all are, need to know more about this disease, which even health care workers as recently as the mid-90s viewed as muscular deterioration that was just a part of the aging process," Anderson told me at a recent workout.
"Now we know that it is a muscle deterioration process that can be combated and reversed by exercise," she added. "That's why I want to begin to focus on seniors."
"People need to stay functional and my vision and purpose is to train people to exercise in a safe way so they stay functional for a long time," Anderson added.
High-Intensity Training is taken from the "SuperSlow" process devised more than 40-plus years ago by high-intensity guru Ken Hutchins, who defined and popularized his trademarked SuperSlow form of resistance-training exercise and developed methodology, trainer certifications and exercise equipment. He worked specifically with Nautilus, the exercise-equipment manufacturer that had developed: "strength training principles."
SuperSlow workouts, which are actually high-intensity, slow-motion strength training, typically consist of one set on each of five or six Nautilus units, each set carried out to complete muscle fatigue. Hutchins recommended performing each set for between 100 and 240 seconds, depending on the exercise and the subject's capability.
The bible of the high-intensity disciples is Body by Science, co-authored by Doug McGuff, M.D., who throughout his medical career maintained a focus on high-intensity exercises culminating in the late '90s with his opening Ultimate Exercise, his own high-intensity gym.
This may seem like a column to promote a particular and unusual training regimen and in a sense it is, and I'm in good company. My high-intensity trainer's routine is supported by an array of healthcare leaders, most of alternative healthcare, though McGuff's longtime focus indicates believers among conventional medical practitioners. And Anderson says she has had orthopedic surgeons, dentists, gynecologists, "every type of doctor over the years."
Among those prominent fans is Jeff Haller, a nationally known teacher of teachers in the Feldenkrais Method, which is about being sensitive to your body and coming to understand that your brain has the ability to guide healing.
I asked Haller, who played college basketball at Oregon State and whose Bellevue-based Inside Moves is the outgrowth of his studying directly under Moshe Feldenkrais in the early '80s, about his view of the importance of high intensity to healthy aging.
"High-intensity training makes great physiological sense and there is no more efficient way to retain lean muscle mass while aging," said Haller, who still plays basketball in his early '70s and has been working out with Anderson for five years.
Or as my friend Bob Greszanik, whose clients at his Energetic Sports Lab for acupuncture, sports medicine and energetic technologies in Bellevue include college and professional athletes, put it: "It provides more strength in less time without the risk of injury. It's the new paradigm of training."
Greszanik, who takes Fridays off most of the year to spend the day playing basketball, added: "I personally gained 15 pounds of muscle. It's hard for people to comprehend that less can be a lot more."
Dr. Joe Pizzorno, founder and 22-year president of Bastyr University and one of the nation's most respected naturopaths, has been a client of Ann-Marie's for virtually the entire quarter century since she and Greg first opened their Gym.
I asked Pizzorno to explain what 25 years working with Anderson have done for him.'
"My wife, Lara, began working out with Ann-Marie. I didn't pay much attention as I had been happily working for three years with a trainer who had me doing one hour sessions three times a week.
"But about six months, Lara mentioned how much weight she was now lifting I was shocked. Despite my being bigger (and male) she was lifting almost as much as I was! So I decided to give Ann-Marie a try and in only three months I had increased my strength by a remarkable 40 percent.
"Of particular significance to me is that as an avid basketball player, jumping height is critical to me. While monitoring the amount of weight a person can lift is the standard way of tracking efficacy, vastly more important to me is a virtual leap," said Pizzorno, now his mid-70s. "That 40 percent improvement translated into a real world four more inches of elevation! Working out just once a week."
In fact, the training model has long been known, but unfortunately not widely publicized, to be a way to aid those suffering from osteoporosis.
The way osteoporosis came into the equation is when Hutchins and his wife, in 1982, conducted the "Nautilus osteoporosis study" at the University of Florida Medical School and found that the slow-moving, controlled-exercise approach was effective in building bone density in elderly women with osteoporosis.
Entrepreneur Sandy Wheeler, the founder of equipment maker Bowflex, which owned Nautilus for a number of years, recalled in an interview a couple of years ago that the company did a project with Tufts University to measure how the use of the equipment improved the bone density of people in their 80s and 90s.
The impediments to popularizing High-Intensity training are two: since it is one-to-one training for a brief time each week, it's not likely a sports or health club is going to promote it to its members, and the fact is exercising to the point of failure on five pieces of equipment is painful.