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Orange County Style : Crossing Over To Fitness

October 04, 1987|NEIL FEINEMAN | Feineman is a Los Angeles--based writer who specializes in health and fitness

When progressive fitness professionals talk about cross-training as the only sure way to keep people fit, they emphasize variety, consistency and enjoyment. They are the key factors that make the concept work when other exercise programs fail.

The pros explain that cross-training routines balance calisthenics with planned aerobic and non-aerobic sports activities. And they say to forget the rigid daily workouts in the gym and the morning run and opt for a more interesting and--in the end--more effective program.

What these professionals advocate occurs naturally in Orange County. Thanks to a diverse environment, a predictable climate and some of the country's most advanced exercise facilities, people here were cross-training long before it was chic.

Surprising? Not really. Says physical-fitness lecturer Ted Neuland, who coaches UCI's water-polo team: "You're out in the sun here more than in other places so you have no choice but to become body-conscious." He's got a point. Even county bus kiosks extol the lean, fit look, with ads touting Gold's Gym, Jimmy Z active wear and, for the impatient, liposuction.

"To fulfill the image we've bought of the flat-tummied, small-waisted athlete means working that much harder on the body," Neuland says. Understandably, he adds, this commitment to svelte has been a boon to the workout ethic, and "because people spend so much time working out, they experiment, to prevent boredom, with sports they wouldn't otherwise try."

Because the atmosphere is supportive, people here devote more energy to fringe or "radical" sports. Take the relatively new sport of competitive aerobics. Aerobics instructor Roberta Zullo and Patty Robinson of Laguna Hills have gained national recognition for promoting this sport, a sort of cross between gymnastics and "Dance Fever." Competitors perform elaborate three-minute routines and are judged on technique, originality and performance. Zullo and Robinson took the prestigious National Crystal Light Aerobics Championship in 1985 and spent the following year on an exhibition tour of the United States, Brazil and Japan.

Afterward, they could have relocated and taught at any prestigious exercise studio in New York or Los Angeles. They wanted to come home, however, and create a workout haven for their original clientele and other sophisticated aerobics. So they opened their own studio, Aerobic Bodyworks, now one of the area's leading workout facilities.

For love of the sport, Zullo and Robinson spend long hours working with teachers and students interested in developing the choreography, flair and temperament required to win aerobics competitions.

While some county residents find satisfaction dancing to the beat of an indoor drummer, others, such as Linda Yuskaitis of Waterfront magazine, head for the great outdoors.

"I used to go to the neighborhood health club religiously," Yuskaitis says. But one time, as the editor of the Newport Beach-based publication stood in line to use the weight machines, she asked herself: "With weather and a landscape like ours, why are so many of us so eager to sweat indoors?"

When her club membership expired, Yuskaitis decided it was "silly not to take advantage of the area. And do, instead of renewing, I started playing tennis at the rec department and riding my bike whenever I could."

Moving her program outdoors showed Yuskaitis that fitness could be "a whole different animal than it was at the health clubs. People go to the clubs to meet people or because they feel they must get their body in shape," she says. "There's nothing wrong with that. But outdoors, the watchword seems to be fun. Now I have such a good time that I forget I'm working out."

Yuskaitis may not have known, but she was a trend-setter. Combining several enjoyable activities to create an overall high-level fitness program represents a major shift from regimented exercise routines that rely on repetition and that frequently cause overuse injuries and fitness burnout. If the streets are any indication, Orange County residents are at the forefront of a distinctively Californian brand of cross-training.

But fitness expert Neuland cautions that the marriage of fitness and fun works perfectly only if a person has mastered the activity. "The sports have to be performed at appropriate intensity levels," he warns, "or they can be less effective from an exercise standpoint than walking at a brisk pace.

"Surfers who surf hard with a small board and really paddle get a good aerobic workout, and develop their musculature. But skateboarders are probably not working all that hard. They are developing balance and coordination and, once they get good enough to stand on the board, muscle tissue. But they don't get that much cardiovascular exercise."

Despite its increasing popularity, Neuland says, board sailing, or windsurfing, is primarily an anaerobic activity with the same inherent limitations as skateboarding. However, he says, roller skating, cycling and beach volleyball can be tremendous aerobic activities--if they are done with skill and intensity.

To get a beneficial workout, Neuland says, one must elevate the heart rate to within the target pulse range (65% of 220 minus one's age) for at least 20 minutes, three to five times a week. Until athletic expertise is developed, activities such as jogging or vigorous walking are the best guarantee of required cardiovascular intensity and should be the cornerstones of an exercise program.Coordinator Gianna Majzler

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