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GYM DANDY FITNESS EXPERTS WEIGH IN ON THE MYRIAD OPTIONS FOR SHAPING UP.

Byline: Evan Henerson Staff Writer

Welcome to 2002. Now, about that paunch ...

If Americans typically gain 8 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's, then we spend the first three weeks of the New Year listening to fitness trainers and membership-hungry health clubs tell us how to snap back into shape.

January is the busiest month within the fitness industry. Gyms are typically packed with people who included ``shape up'' on their New Year's resolutions list. Large chain gyms have finished offering their attractive membership specials because they know people will be joining up anyway and everybody wants to try something new.

``We can predict it to the day,'' says Kevin Lewis, fitness and lifestyle coach and owner of State of the Art Fitness in Woodland Hills. ``Since the first was on a Tuesday this year, it may take as long as the seventh for there to be an influx. People want to get started on the first, but they're a little hung over. Then the week starts. Usually by the second week in January, we have the majority of people starting.''

With their multiple amenities and locations, chain gyms like Bally's, 24 Hour Fitness and Bodies in Motion are certainly viable options, say fitness consultants, but they're not your only choices. After consulting your budget, schedule and general preferences, you might opt instead for a single-location gym or the convenience of a personal trainer who will come to your home.

Maybe you simply can't live without that 11 a.m. turbo kick boxing class that only 24 Hour Fitness will offer. Perhaps the spiffiest gym in the neighborhood doesn't have a pool, but your local YMCA does. So who gets your patronage?

Kathie Davis, executive director of the San Diego-based IDEA Health and Fitness Association, suggests the fitness seeker look to his own interests before figuring out who can help meet his goals, and certainly before shelling out hundreds of dollars on gym memberships or private training sessions.

``My big bandwagon is to find something that you really enjoy doing for an activity. That will help you to stick with it,'' says Smith, whose organization has more than 23,000 members worldwide. ``The worst mistake people make is to commit to some new type of fitness program, and end up just hating the activity.''

OK, so you're a four-day-a-week treadmill person who likes to mix in some recreational tennis. Got it. Now we can talk.

The multiple-location gym

Convenience counts for a lot in fitness, especially if you travel or are constantly on the go. There may be security knowing that, even if you're not near your local Bally's, there will be another one not far down the road. Or, for that matter, in the next county.

Because they are competing with other chains, big company gyms will typically offer all of the latest equipment and many of the most current classes. Since so many of the big chains' corporate offices are based in Southern California, their personnel will be up on local fitness trends and will try to offer them to membership.

``For the amount you'll be spending, you'll get a wide variety of equipment, which is always good,'' says Lewis. ``Variety is nice when you start getting into a program. Because there are people there, sometimeS that helps motivate you. Atmosphere motivates you to do more than you would on your own.''

Larger membership gyms pay off the more you use them. If you're going to be working out more than four times a week, a gym membership will likely be more cost-effective than personal training.

And the more a chain can do to keep the environment personal, the happier their clients are likely to be, says Anastasia Alexander, regional operations manager for Bodies in Motion.

``We're all profit driven, but we do take on extra staff, so there are always two or three people at the front desk,'' said Alexander, whose company operates five clubs in Southern California. ``They know you by name, so if you have a problem it's not just, 'OK, here's an 800 number to call.' ''

The smaller gym

That ``personal touch'' is exactly what smaller or single-location neighborhood gyms say they're trying to offer. Fewer locations means smaller membership, which may mean more individual attention and less waiting for popular machines. Well-established gyms can often afford to pay their trainers more than the chains and therefore get more qualified personnel, says Lewis.

More often than not, say fitness experts, people who go to the smaller clubs are there to work out, not to meet people or be seen.

``It's much friendlier in many ways,'' says Davis. ``You don't have to worry so much about getting on equipment, and there will be less equipment to begin with. It's a more intimate atmosphere.''

As with a chain gym, the convenience rule applies. If your neighborhood gym is more than 12 minutes from where you live or work, odds are you won't be going there too often.

An upscale facility like Mid Valley Athletic Club in Reseda takes its ``one stop'' approach to fitness even further. In addition to classes, machines and all the gym frills, Mid Valley has a hair salon, restaurant and sports medicine facility all under one roof. ``It's kind of a mall within itself,'' says general manager Harold Wright, who also likens Mid Valley to a kind of fitness country club.

Lewis says the neighborhood gym is something of a dying breed.

``The trend is for big chains to take over,'' says Lewis. ``The clubs that are not chains are few and far between.''

Personal trainer

If getting fit is truly your goal and you can afford the expense, it's tough to beat the individual attention a trainer will offer. The workout happens when you want it to happen and is tailored to your individual needs.

A trainer will also provide motivation that many fitness seekers need, says Del Barrett, who runs Action Personal Training in Tarzana.

``Are you self-motivated where you'll go to the gym every day?'' asks Barrett, whose company employs nearly 28 trainers who work as independent contractors. ``A lot of people figure they may as well save that membership money and put it toward a trainer so they'll be committed when they show up.''

A social experience? Not especially, since your companion is your trainer. Some trainers can meet you at a gym or at a private studio like Barrett's. Others will work with you at home, even bringing the necessary fitness equipment along if you don't already own it.

Trainers rarely come cheap, but there are enough working in L.A. that a smart shopper should be able to find someone whose expertise and workout level matches his needs. Certain trainers also offer package deals if you sign up for a certain number of sessions.

In some cases, you can even arrange a semi-private workout session, splitting the trainer's time and the cost.

``But you have to find a really good trainer, someone who can handle a couple of people at once,'' says Davis. ``I wouldn't go with anything over four people.''

Exercising your options

So many gyms, so many classes, so many choices. Which gym is right for you?

A handful of fitness experts gave us some advice on finding the right fit. Our sources include Kevin Lewis, owner of State of the Art Fitness, Woodland Hills; Kathie Davis, executive director of IDEA Health and Fitness Association, headquartered in San Diego; and Del Barrett, owner of Action Personal Training in Tarzana.

Also, check out the tips on the IDEA Web site, www.ideafit.com.

1. Visit the gym at a time you would normally be working out to get a sense of what your gym-going experience will be like. A tour at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday might not give you the best picture. Also check out the facility during peak hours. Do the staff members seem too busy to help members who have questions?

2. Does the gym carry liability insurance?

3. Get a tour of the entire facility. A messy, towel-strewn locker room may be the sign of a not-so-well-maintained facility.

4. Is the gym located close to where you live or work?

5. Does the gym have the equipment you plan to use? Are there signs or posters that explain how to use the equipment?

6. Will you be allowed to try out the gym before you sign up? Ask for a day pass so you can sample the merchandise.

7. Who is monitoring your workout? Before you hit the weights, will someone from the facility give you a health screening form to fill out? Are the trainers qualified and certified? Will somebody help you set up a workout program?

8. Do facility employees explain payment methods and options, including what happens if you need to move or cancel your membership? Can you pay on a month-to-month basis?

9. Ask current members what they think of the facilities.

And if it's a trainer you're looking for, our experts recommend you find out ...

1. Is your trainer certified by a nationally recognized organization? Is he trained in anatomy, exercise physiology, injury prevention and first aid? Is he certified in CPR?

2. Can the trainer supply references?

3. Will he determine your current fitness level and tailor your workout according to your abilities?

4. Does the trainer ask about past injuries or your medical history?

5. What kind of equipment will the trainer use?

6. Is the trainer insured?

7. Will the trainer be available at times that you are free to work out?

8. Does he belong to a professional fitness organization? Does he keep up with the latest fitness trends and techniques?

9. Does his personality/workout style seem to mesh with your own?

CAPTION(S):

6 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- 3 -- cover -- color) Find your BEST FIT

How to choose the right place and way to get in shape

(4 -- 5) Personal trainer Kevin Lewis helps Sharon Tesoriero with her core exercises at Warner Gym in Woodland Hills. Going the trainer route offers many workout and scheduling options.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

(6) no caption (two hands on free-weight bar)

Box:

Exercising your options (see text)
COPYRIGHT 2002 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 7, 2002
Words:1705
Previous Article:CASAMAYOR, FREITAS ON THE VERGE.
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