At Inform Fitness in Massapequa, N.Y., there is no piped-in music, no blaring televisions and, above all, no clanging and banging of weights. There are no treadmills, bicycles or rowing machines. A sign on the wall warns exercisers not to drive for at least 30 minutes after a workout.
Owned by Adam Zickerman, a trainer, Inform is one of about 100 centers in the country that teach ''Super Slow,'' a weight training technique that involves lifting weights in ultraslow motion. The workouts are done in total silence to promote focus and concentration. No talking is allowed except for coaching by the trainer. Because the regimen is so physically demanding (hence the 30-minute wait before driving), Mr. Zickerman recommends doing a maximum of two super slow workouts a week.
Mr. Zickerman and members of the Super Slow Guild, a loose group of personal trainers who are certified by what they call a super slow ''master,'' believe that this high-intensity training method -- with its long-lasting repetitions -- is more effective than traditional weight training for building muscle strength. While a conventional repetition takes about 2 to 6 seconds, a super slow repetition lasts an excruciating 20 seconds.
''When you lift quickly,'' Mr. Zickerman said, ''the exercise goes by so fast, your muscles don't have time to latch on to the movement. Moving very slowly fatigues the greatest number of muscle fibers.'' He adds that the majority of weight-training injuries are caused by extraneous movement of the body during weight lifting, a problem that he says is completely eliminated by the super slow technique.
But some of the other ideas supported by the Super Slow Guild are much more extreme. Members believe, for instance, that Super Slow is the best -- and only -- way to achieve fitness. They say that all other forms of exercise, especially aerobic activities like running and jogging, are not only worthless but dangerous.
Mr. Zickerman calls aerobic workouts ''empty exercise'' because, he contends, muscles work in an uncontrolled, haphazard manner that depletes the body's recovery systems and leads to injuries. He and other guild members believe that the increases in muscular strength brought about by super slow weight lifting will translate to adequate improvements in cardiovascular function and stamina.
Most mainstream exercise experts strongly disagree with these conclusions, including Michael A. Motta, an exercise physiologist and president of Plus One Fitness, a fitness management company. Though Mr. Motta believes that lifting weights slowly is a good idea, ''to say that the many thousands of studies correlating cardiovascular activity with reduced incidence of heart disease and other health risks are invalid is preposterous,'' he said. ''It flies in the face of common sense.''
Dr. Wayne Wescott, the strength training consultant to the national YMCA, sees the merits of super slow training but does not support the anti-aerobic stance. In an eight-week study he conducted recently at the YMCA in Newton, Mass., he found that subjects following a super slow program were able to lift an average of 27 pounds more per exercise than they could at the beginning of the study, compared with a 22-pound increase per exercise with a standard 6-second repetition. ''The results are really quite impressive,'' Dr. Wescott said. ''Though the system can be tedious, it seems well worth the effort.''
Michele Mingoia, 44, a software programmer in Oviedo, Fla., has found that super slow training works for her. She has been doing it as her only form of exercise for a number of years. ''When I first walked into the facility I was a size 10,'' she said. ''Now I'm buying 4's.'' Ms. Mingoia does one training session a week, which consists of six, three-minute sets of weights with about a minute rest between exercises. She describes her workouts as both intense and meditative.
Many experts say that high-intensity weight training methods like the super slow technique have a place in advanced exercise routines, but are probably too challenging and result in too much muscle soreness for novice exercisers. They say the ideal fitness program should include a combination of cardiovascular, flexibility and strength exercise.
'There is nothing magical about super slow,'' Dr. Wescott said. ''It's a good idea to move weight slowly to reduce momentum and increase force on the muscle.''