Quality Over Quantity: Blair Wilson Argues For The 20 Minute Workout

Blair Wilson is something of a maven. By the time he was thirteen, he was a professional water skier and a self-described “decently high level hockey player.” By the time he was twenty-three, he had already turned that passion for fitness into a successful business. Today, six years after opening MedX Precision Fitness in the heart of Toronto’s financial district, Wilson is full steam ahead.

Wilson greets me at his studio for a trial session and I’m not quite sure what to expect. His workout regime is unusual, to say the least, and in an age of high-endurance fitness trends such as Crossfit and High Intensity Interval Training (HITT), it promises something that almost sounds too good to be true. I tell him this at one point and he laughs.

The requirements of the MedX experience are deceptively simple: twenty minutes, once a week ­– and that’s it. The method totes itself as “a rational approach to exercise”. According to the official verbiage, that approach is based on scientific data: “When muscles are exercised in a controlled motion at a high intensity, the body repairs and promotes muscle fiber growth at a cellular level. Muscle growth occurs during the seven days of recovery and rest. Once clients become familiar with the workouts, they can eventually reduce their total workout time to just seven minutes per week.”

Scratching your head yet?

Despite the unusual nature of the workout, one could hardly accuse Wilson of piggybacking a fad; his passion for the business and this lifestyle was borne out of personal experience coupled with rigorous training.

By the time Wilson was sixteen, the young athlete was already riddled with injuries: a hip problem and a shoulder injury that would require surgery forced him to reassess the way in which he was training his body. And so he turned to one of his dad’s high school friends—“a bit of a guru in this world,” Wilson describes—named John Little. Little, who had written multiple books on health and fitness, agreed to guide him through a ‘pre-hab’ stint before Wilson went under the knife. What proceeded was a summer of mindful re-conditioning, and by the time the autumn arrived and the surgery date had rolled around, Wilson’s shoulder was perfectly fine. “I still had the problem, but none of the pain, because the structure was so much stronger,” he says.

Following the surgery, Wilson attended rehab and then university for a while. But Little’s methods had sparked a drive in Wilson to pursue a career in the fitness industry, and at the age of eighteen, he found himself returning to Little’s facility in Muskoka and pestering his father’s friend for a job. Little hired him and the groundwork for MedX was set.

Today Wilson is his own boss, though he isn’t always keen on the entrepreneurial side of the business. “When the toilet breaks, no, I don’t want to be the leader on that one,” he chuckles. “But I like being in the thick of it, and I don’t want to ever be the guy at the back of the line, cracking the whip. I’d rather say, ’Guys, let’s do this!’”

Wilson leads me into a room with a number of workout machines that serve as stations, designed to work different parts of the body. The method, in a sense, is simple; when we lift weights, locking our arms at the height of a lift or pausing for a few seconds at the end of one, we allow our bodies to rest. Wilson’s method is to bypass that lull—that break in momentum—and continually work the muscles more effectively for shorter periods of time.

Wilson constantly checks in. “Do you feel it yet?” he asks as I sit strapped onto a machine that feels not unlike a ride at Epcot Centre. “Do you feel it burning?”

It’s a shame that a certain notable figure has already made the catchphrase “Feel The Bern” so popular; “Feel The Burn” is the best description I can think of for the MedX experience.

But it’s a method that has worked for many; some of Wilson’s more committed clients commute from Mississauga and far north of the city. But he estimates that 75-80% of his clients work in the financial district as the gym’s proximity to their offices, combined with the low time commitment, is enticing.

“Twenty minutes a week is an initial draw for a lot of people, but a sustainable rate of progress for a very, very, very long period of time,” says Wilson. “It’s the thing that keeps people here.”

Given the unusual nature of MedX’s claims, Wilson shares that he encounters surprisingly few naysayers – at least, not in his private circles.

“I guess being in the bubble that I am, this physical space, not so much,” he reflects. “If I do run into those naysayers, it’s at social events, and I try as hard as I can to not talk about work. It’s tough – it’s such a hot topic of conversation, working out or going to a gym, and I don’t know if people pay much attention to it.” He goes on to describe there being a kind of (and he pauses to choose his words carefully here) “folklore” surrounding the pursuit of fitness and health – myths and ideas that constantly change. But the thing they have in common, it seems, is the notion that this pursuit is a full time job. “[They seem to claim that] the only way you’re really considered healthy or fit is if all of your free time is spent doing your fitness pursuit. Running, biking, swimming, fitness activities…none of your free time should be devoted to fun. It should be devoted to fitness, and you can try to have fun while you do your fitness thing…And I’m not really of that mindset. I think that your workout should take up as little time as possible so you can do all those fun recreational things.”

Wilson is also surprisingly relaxed about his critics; his enthusiasm for this lifestyle is infectious, but he freely admits that MedX won’t have universal appeal.

“It’s not for everybody,” he says, leaning back in his desk chair. “And the context of the situation is going to determine who it is good for. Different routines, different jobs, different stresses, different diets…all of these things can affect your brain’s reaction.” And unpacking the causation of these reactions is the heart of MedX’s pursuit; indeed, Wilson is constantly working with doctors and GP’s to strengthen and validate his regime. “They’re obviously huge ambassadors for us,” he says. “They’re not afraid to pipe up…If we try a new thing out, they’ll pipe up and say, ‘Hey, how about this?’ So they’re a resource for us.”

When talking about the medical side of things, Wilson once again becomes thoughtful about choosing his words. “Medical grade exercise” is what he is trying to achieve, though he is cautious about the terminology. Exercise in its own right is interesting, he argues, in that it has medicinal properties. Appearance is only one of the considerations of a proper exercise regime; things like flexibility, resistance to injury, and the ability to heal from injuries, he says, are all factors that ought to be at play. “And then you get into blood sugar levels, insulin levels, blood cortisone levels – all of these things can be managed with drugs.” He likens exercise to the effects of a controlled substance; the danger occurs when we do exercise blindly without giving thought to the greater potential. “That’s what we’re trying to get into: evidence-based resistance training,” he says.

And while MedX may prove to be difficult to scale—issues like personnel and quality control seem like logistical headaches for a brand so intertwined with Wilson himself—he is upbeat and focused about the work at hand.

“I’m sure people get sick of my voice,” he laughs, “but it’s my only job – and I’m going to do it!”

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