Better equipment, cool classes make the gym more fun

Stop your winter slacking and get into the gym
While it?s good to give your muscles a break in the off-season, don?t go completely soft or you?ll be playing catch up all spring. Your local gym offers all kinds of innovative ways to make training fun and beneficial this winter. So get off your duff, have some fun and work some new muscles.

Equipment
"It?s so boring working out indoors?"
With new equipment and tweaks made to the old favorites, you?d have to work pretty hard to get bored at your local health club or gym this year. Clubs are adding more and more machines that offer total-body workouts, low-impact exercises and ways to customize your workouts.

As far as cardio equipment, the popularity of elliptical trainers is still on the rise, says Tia Willows of Bally Total Fitness. Elliptical trainers that utilize both your upper and lower body are popping up in clubs everywhere. Using the same smooth, elliptical footwork that?s easy on your joints, but by adding ergonomic handle bars, users get a total-body workout.

"People are really getting away from the hard impact," says Efonda Sporles, regional vice president of Lifetime Fitness in Bloomingdale, Ill.

The classic treadmill continues to be popular with members, but this year, look for an added twist to the old favorite. According to Willows, NordicTrack?s Trekker is a shorter version of its treadmill cousin, with a higher percentage of incline (up to a 50 percent grade), making it the ultimate imitation of outdoor hiking.

"What?s neat about it is it comes preprogrammed so you can select a program you want to follow," Willows says. "It?s like choosing which mountain you want to climb." The 26 programs vary in duration, grade of incline and intensity.

If you still think indoor exercise is tedious, look for wireless technology to take off in the upcoming year. If your club doesn?t offer it already, soon you may be watching TV, listening to your favorite CD, checking the weather, following a computerized personal trainer or getting breaking news while on a cardio machine.

Along with the various entertainment perks offered in clubs across the country this year, Netpulse and EZone technology will give members the ability to plug in to the Internet while they work out.

"EZone just adds a different dimension to your workout," Perry says. People who used to avoid machines because they get bored don?t have to anymore. "It does help because it?s something visual to take your mind off the physical exertion," Willows says. It also provides a great time saver for the busy members. They can check their stocks, shop and get news while getting fit.

Facilities
"I don?t have time?"
It?s going to get a lot more convenient to go to the gym in the upcoming years with the way clubs and gyms are refining their facilities, so the "I?m too busy" excuse isn?t going to fly anymore.

Look for an increase in amenities offered by clubs and gyms, from childcare to cafes to sports rehab centers right in the club. As juice bars and pro shops are popping up in clubs everywhere, members will have a variety of their needs met in one place.

"Most facilities are catering more towards member convenience," Willows says. "Kind of like one-stop shopping." Some gyms are including amenities such as heart-healthy cafes, retail shops, laundry service, shoe-shine service, self- and valet-parking, conference and classrooms, and computer data ports.

Besides various services, clubs are offering educational features to help you get the most out of your workout while you?re at the gym.

Rather than just show members how to use the machines, clubs are striving to teach the benefits of working out and how combining different facets such as flexibility, cardio and strength training can benefit members? health.

And the extra education is paying off. "Most people are saying their reasons for working out now are more cardiovascular than losing weight," Sporles says. "They?re really looking to strengthen their hearts. A by-product is you lose weight."

Clubs are also changing one-on-one personal training. Gone are the general health tips. Now, if you want to focus on something specific, like training for a marathon, personal trainers will help.

Classes
"But I like working out by myself?"
If you?re not into working out with others, now might be the time to try it out. Group exercises are taking off across the country, and clubs are responding with a plethora of new classes.

"We?ve seen an increase in group activity participation," Willows says. "People who might not be into group stuff are participating." So instead of flying solo, spice up your routine with an innovative class.

The recent surge in popularity of functional training, or core strength training, has led to an increase in classes such as Pilates and yoga.

Functional training, according to Sandy Philippen, fitness director at the Lincoln/Belmont YMCA, is training that helps you function better on a day-to-day basis by strengthening the core muscles, such as abs and glutes that are firing almost all the time.

According to Philippen, building up these muscles helps prevent injuries, especially for runners. Anyone who has trained for a marathon only to suffer a debilitating injury after months of hard work knows how frustrating this can be. Core strength-training can increase your chances of staying injury-free.

Along with core strength-training, general strength-training is increasing in popularity as people realize the benefits of adding it to their routine. Schwinn combines strength training and group fitness in a new program called Resistance Performance Program (RiPP). The program is more than pushing or pulling weights to a choreographed routine, though. Instructors educate members on how to position and stabilize the body while focusing on contracting muscles. The class also utilizes the RiPP Pro unit, which provides isotonic resistance, simulating the feel of free weights, without the hassle or hazard. High-energy music and certified instructors motivate participants.

Now that people have been seeing results from the intense classes of the past, they?re looking for something fun to try their muscles out on, says Willows. Clubs are responding by providing a slew of creative classes. Classes like Bally`s new trampoline class are taking off, says Willows.

"It?s kind of like going back to when you were a kid," Willows says. "You?re having fun and you?re motivated by an instructor."

Whether you?re interested in training for a triathlon, biathlon or marathon, clubs are increasingly offering ways to get well-balanced training in a group setting. Training with a group for a marathon or triathlon can provide you with that extra motivation.

"People like to be part of a group and work toward goals when training for biathlons and triathlons," Perry says. "A balanced training is achieved by group runs, nutrition talks and mapping out training plans."

With all the new additions, Willows says gyms are doing a good job of attracting members, which is good for getting the general population healthy. "Today, compared to 10 years ago, I think (members) have more options and (working out) is much more comfortable,` says Willows.

Statistics show people are spending more time at the gym. According to the annual IHRSA/American Sports Data Health Club Trend Report, U.S. membership in health clubs reached a record 30.6 million in 1999. IHRSA also found members visited their clubs and gyms more frequently, with club attendance at an average of 89.9 days, up from 85 days in 1998.

With improvements clubs are making today, you can choose from a variety of new equipment, enjoy the many conveniences clubs are offering and keep motivated with innovative group exercises. So get out to your local gym today and see what they have to offer. No excuses.

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