The New York fitness rebel who says you only need to work out once a week

Inform Fitness founder Adam Zickerman's workout philosophy bucks almost every current exercise trend—except for its focus on intensity.
Inform Fitness
Zickerman with a client. (Photo: Inform Fitness)

It’s not just the trainers who are wearing collared shirts instead of muscle tanks in this glass-walled gym overlooking Third Avenue. A business man in his 60s has taken off his jacket and tie and is doing leg presses in loafers. A thin blonde woman in her early 40s is doing bicep curls in skinny jeans. And the quiet in the room is punctuated by short bouts of loud, heavy breathing that sound like women in a Lamaze class.

The scene at Inform Fitness is about as atypical as it gets for a New York City gym, and it’s the manifestation of founder Adam Zickerman’s workout philosophy, which bucks almost every current exercise trend: machines instead of functional props, slow movements instead of explosive, and a quiet, professional setting that’s a far cry from the boutique fitness scene’s music-booming party vibe.

Oh, and he also says you only need to work out once a week…for 20 minutes.

And while you may not have heard of him, Zickerman has built a huge brand based on his philosophy, with Inform locations from Long Island to Santiago, Chile, plus a best-selling book, and a mobile gym.

The Power of 10

Zickerman’s workout, called the Power of 10, can be boiled down to this: lifting weights slowly to muscle failure. “By lifting weights slowly, not only are you making it very safe, but it’s also super duper intense,” he says. “Intensity is the new buzzword because it’s what pushes us to that metabolic level…the problem is that this intensity is always coupled with dangerous movements.”

Workouts like CrossFit, or even running, he says, come with risks of injury that people don’t really need to take, unless you’re going for athletic accomplishment (or fun!) and are not simply looking to get in shape.

While it’s possible to do many of Zickerman’s exercises with free weights or body weight, clients at Inform exclusively use re-engineered weight machines he designed to be effective for slow lifting and safer for joints. On his leg extension machine, for example, the weight gets lighter as you extend, which he says protects your knees, and many of the machines are equipped with seat belts and pillows to keep you in perfect form.

Basically, you walk from machine to machine with your trainer, who guides you as you push/pull/extend for ten seconds, and then back for ten seconds (hence, the name), and you repeat the motion as many times as you physically can until your muscles are shaking like crazy and you’re making the aforementioned Lamaze sound, and then you hold for 10 more seconds before your muscles totally stop working. I found myself grimacing and grunting like I’ve never done before during the intervals, but I still barely broke a sweat (hence, the suits and skinny jeans).

Inform Fitness
When was the last time you waited to start your workout in a room like this? “We don’t bartend on the side, we’re professionals,” Zickerman says. (Photo: Inform Fitness)

Okay…but once a week?

Zickerman has his clients come in once or twice a week, and while many exercise professionals would disagree, he says it’s the optimal schedule for building strength, maintaining a healthy heart, and allowing enough time for the body to truly recover from the high level of intensity. (My body did hurt in weird places for a surprisingly long time after, but that was likely due to the novel aspect.)

During workouts, he tracks how much weight a client is using and how long it takes them to get to muscle failure on each machine, and he says nearly everyone who sticks with the program increases their strength exponentially over time. And he points to recent studies that show shorter bouts of unconventional “cardio” are effective. “Twelve minutes of intense exercise has been shown to have the same effect on endurance and oxygen consumption as several hours of light to moderate exercise,” he says. “Our heart and its healthy functioning depend on brief bursts of intense exercise, most likely because the demands of intense exercise force the heart to improve.”

Of course, some clients do supplement their sessions with other things, like 28-year-old jewelry designer Stephanie Katz, who’s been working out at Inform for six years and says she’ll occasionally hit a spin class or a treadmill. “I’ll go running at the gym or outside, but Inform is my only strength training,” she says, and she says she’s gotten toned and stronger as a result. “It’s a hard workout, but I never dread it. I know it’s 25 minutes, and it’s done.” —Lisa Elaine Held

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