SAN DIEGO — Several years ago, Gayle Forster was getting sweaty in a gym. She was really pumping hard, doing push-ups, when a girlfriend popped the question.
"Gayle," she said, "I thought that was supposed to build muscle in the waist. Is that why you're doing it? Does it build muscle?"
"You know," Forster said with a worried frown, "I don't even know."
Thus began a series of phone calls to Fitness Unlimited and its president, Doug Federman. What followed may mark a new frontier in the ever-changing world of fitness and health: an exercise house-call program.
For $15 to $50 an hour, Federman goes to people's houses to "work them out." He stands there. He sits there. He gets down on the floor and does push-ups there, with his oh-so-agreeable clients. He hardly breaks a sweat, but boy, do they work hard. They'd have to, to live in the kind of houses they have.
No Smelly Gyms
Most of Federman's clients are affluent. Two interviewed by The Times live in elegant abodes, one in leafy Scripps Ranch, the other in Mission Hills. Federman comes in, and in the privacy of their own tax write-off, the clients get a strenuous hourlong workout that is strictly "one-on-one."
They don't have to drive to a smelly gym.
They don't have to fight for space on a dizzying array of equipment that no one understands and few can explain.
They don't have to look for instructors who seem to never materialize.
They don't have to fight off hustlers in what some charge are not fitness centers but predatory "meat markets."
This is what they like, they say, about the house-call approach.
Forster enlisted in Federman's program, one of only a few in San Diego, mainly because she didn't know, or didn't understand, what she was doing or ought to be doing for the sake of getting that perfect bod.
"It was all very confusing," she said, lifting 41-pound weights in a Mission Hills living room that looks more like a cover for Architectural Digest than a haven of body building. Forster is a commercial interior designer who spends much of her free time weightlifting. "I pulled a hamstring a couple of times," she said, "when I didn't warm up properly."
Ah, but that was in a gym, which, Federman says, due to volume, offers only equipment, facilities and a chance to meet strangers.
"It can't offer much more," he said. "It just wouldn't be possible."
Injuries, or how to avoid them, said Federman, a 27-year-old exercise guru, are one of the main reasons a one-on-one approach works better than Richard Simmons set to music.
"Novices get injured all the time," Federman said. "People may be motivated, but they start out trying to do too much at once, and any number of things can happen. They get hurt--that's the worst--or they get so darn sore they can't move the next day, and suddenly, the motivation is gone.
" 'If exercise is this painful,' they say to themselves, 'it's not for me.' Well, it doesn't have to be painful. I'm here to show it can be fun."
Patty Gorman, 32, had a different reason for wanting the house-call approach. Hers wasn't so much a need to be educated or how to avoid the gym scene. As the mother of two girls, ages 3 years and 6 months, Gorman was reluctant to leave the house. She had post-pregnancy body fat that, admittedly, flustered her more than others. Still, it was there. Something had to be done.
A call to Federman has Gorman working out (working in?) three times a week, in the comfort of her Scripps Ranch estate. On a recent afternoon, with her 3-year-old looking on, she pedaled a stationary bicycle (for cardiovascular work) and stretched through a series of floor exercises. "Trimnastics," she called them. She heaved and hoed, huffed and puffed, flexed to improve flexibility and did lots of muscle toning.
Must Stay Home
Gorman used to run. A lot. She knows running mothers who manage to "feed their addiction" even with a baby.
"They run while pushing a stroller," she said. "But with two kids in the house, I have no option to leave and go running. Two really limits you. Maybe you can pull off something bizarre like that with one, but anything done on a regular basis now has to be done in the home. This approach would not necessarily be my first choice, but with kids, it's the only choice."
Gorman, now on leave from teaching at Patrick Henry High School, gained 45 pounds with her first baby, 35 with her second.
"I felt extremely depressed," she said. "I didn't do any regular exercise during pregnancy. Maybe I should have. . . . I tried not to eat like a horse, but nothing seemed to matter. I looked really big."
Federman understands the need of some women--many of his clients are women--to get back in shape after pregnancy.
"They can really get down on themselves," he said. "Unnecessarily so."