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Staying Fit by Sorting the Options

October 04, 1990|CATHERINE M. SPEARNAK

You know the fitness business has really taken root when Valley Center, a town so small that it doesn't even have a stoplight, does have a health club.

"Today, people are exercising for their health, rather than just for the way they look," said Renee Meyst, who runs Valley Center Fitness. "Baby Boomers are a large group of consumers, and they've educated themselves about fitness."

Almost any manager or trainer at the 40 or so health clubs and gyms throughout North County will echo Meyst's comments. People are joining health clubs, using them, and even looking for additional training.

In other words, the days of health club as meat market are coming to an end.

"A good percentage of our members are professional couples who want to get in and out. They don't have a lot of time to waste," said Michael De La Rosa, manager of Family Fitness Center in Mira Mesa. "Lots of people today are more concerned about their stress level than the size of their muscles. No one comes here anymore just to hang out in their workout clothes."

No longer a luxury, fitness has become a lifestyle for people in the 1990s, say health club managers. And, with almost everyone willing to invest time and money in improving their health, the booming fitness industry has become more savvy, more aware, more conscious of how to best serve its fitness-smart clients.

"Ten years ago, most people didn't know what the word 'cardiovascular' meant. Now they're familiar with the difference between aerobic and anaerobic, and a lot more," said 15-year fitness biz veteran Joe Garcia, who now manages World Gym in Escondido.

Familiarity is a key word for those looking for a health club or reassessing the club they now belong to. Exercisers who know what they want will be better able to choose the right fitness center--and get more for their money.

Clubs in North County offer such a mixture of athletics and amenities that it's wise to figure out exactly what you're willing to pay for before choosing a club. There's no reason, for instance, to pay for a swimming pool you'll never use, or to join an aerobics-based club when you really want to play racquetball.

Most North County clubs allow clients to tailor their memberships, offering a lower price to those who want only fitness workouts, and an additional fee for those who play racquetball, tennis, or other court sports.

California Sports & Fitness in San Marcos, and the Ramona Fitness Center charge $25 a month for a fitness membership, and $10 per extra for racquetball privileges. Most clubs offer a similar price differentiation.

Although dozens of clubs span North County from Ramona and Fallbrook to Encinitas and Poway, most fall into just a few categories. Most clubs base their fitness plans on aerobics classes coupled with cardiovascular equipment and weight machines.

The cardiovascular machines are like exercise versions of video games. Everything from stationary bicycles called Lifecycles to stair-climbing, rowing and mountain-climbing simulators are computer-operated. The LifeRower features a video screen that pits you against an imaginary challenger. The simulated competition is supposed to give athletes a better workout by motivating them to beat their rival.

Aerobic classes offer the second component of the cardiovascular workout. Some clubs offer as many as 90 classes per week, such as the Del Mar Workout. Owner Sally Guenther began teaching aerobics classes six years ago in a tiny studio with no ventilation, next to a fish restaurant on a Del Mar alley.

Thanks to the fitness boom and the popularity of aerobics--especially among coastal North County's affluent residents--Guenther is planning her third expansion in five years at her stylish new club on Jimmy Durante Boulevard.

Guenther's instructors go beyond basic aerobics. They also teach special classes for pre-teens and over-40 novice exercisers; workouts to jazz and funk; and the latest aerobics rage, step classes. Clients spend their workout stepping on and off a 6- to 9-inch bench, using their arms and legs continuously. The workout puts the body through no more stress than walking, but works the heart as if running 7 m.p.h.

Most clubs urge clients to combine their cardiovascular work with weightlifting and strengthening. Weight machines including Nautilus, Cybex and Hoist and free weights can be found in almost every health club.

Some clubs offer weights only, plus a handful of cardiovascular machines. If you already run or swim at a neighborhood pool and are looking to add a weight routine to your workout, these gyms are worth looking into. They are much less expensive than full-service fitness clubs; Hard Tymes Gym in Oceanside is $25 a month, while Free's Gym in San Marcos costs $15 per month.

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