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Gyms: The Next Generation : Exercise: Ready for spinning? Obstacle courses? A holistic approach? Be prepared, fitness fans. These innovations may be coming soon to a club near you.


There are 8 million ways to exercise in the naked city.

High-impact aerobics, low-impact aerobics, high-/low-impact aerobics, step, step circuit, power step, power walking, power dance, aqua aerobics, country-Western dance aerobics, hip-hop aerobics, cardio-funk, power-funk, strength training, stair-climbing machines, exercise bicycles, treadmills, kick-boxing, in-line skating, yoga, Pilates and spinning.

It's become a calorie-burning exercise just contemplating all the fitness options available now.

But that's nothing compared with what's due on the Next Wave: Obstacle courses, a la "American Gladiators," designed to be assembled inside health clubs; the slide, which mimics the side-to-side movements of speed skaters; classes in which cardiovascular and strength training are combined; workouts that borrow yoga techniques to emphasize stress reduction; aerobics classes infused with multicultural dance and music, and workouts that incorporate motivational and visualization techniques to maximize the benefits of exercise.

"Our industry is similar to the computer industry, in that changes happen so fast now, because the interest in fitness is so high," says Kathie Davis, executive director of IDEA, the San Diego-based International Assn. of Fitness Professionals.

"Consumers are also so much more educated than they were 10 years ago. Coupled with the fact that consumers are always wanting something new and different, that puts pressure on the industry."

Probably nowhere is that pressure felt more than in Los Angeles, where gyms scurry to keep up with the latest things. When mambo aerobics and ski boarding are already considered passe, you know you're in a serious trend zone.

So what might be coming to a gym near you? Here are some of the innovations:


* Step Reebok Athletic Circuit: From Gin Miller, the woman who gave us step aerobics, comes a new " 'American Gladiators'-style obstacle course" for use in health clubs.

The 21-station circuit includes a crawl-through tunnel, push-up station, supine chin-ups, jump rope, lateral maze, squat thrusts, abdominal crunches, stair-climbing and monkey bars.

Events are timed, and participants are encouraged to race against the clock as well as against other students.

Miller has designed small, medium and large ready-to-install courses for health clubs.

* The slide: This contraption's been around for a couple of years but hasn't gained wide acceptance. That could change this year, with more companies introducing a variety of versions for at-home and gym use.

Sliding--also called lateral movement training--uses a rectangular piece of plastic with bumpers on both ends. Participants wear booties over their athletic shoes and do choreographed moves from side to side, somewhat like speed skaters. The slide primarily works the outer thigh muscles.

* Other gadgets that may soon be making their debuts are steps with built-in pulleys for resistance training, weighted steps for use in pools, and weighted balls to be used for stretching and resistance training.

* Nike is introducing a "Total Body Conditioning" class that incorporates strength exercises and lateral movement with dance aerobics. Reebok's version is called the "Step Circuit Training Program," which combines step, strength training and flexibility in one session. Instructors will be trained.

* We may see elements of boxing and martial arts incorporated into cardiovascular workouts. Women are just discovering that boxing is great for increasing upper-body strength, and they don't have to get in the ring with Oscar De La Hoya to get a good workout.

* Spinning: Not to be confused with the Teacup ride at Disneyland, spinning was developed by Johnny G. (for "Goldberg"), a competitive cyclist and personal trainer who invented a special stationary bike for this classroom program. In the class, students pedal the bike while an instructor uses motivational and visualization techniques to simulate courses that include hills and sprints. Available at the Voight Fitness Center in Los Angeles, spinning is about to make its debut at other clubs.

Spinning taps into techniques--self-motivation, visualization--used by Olympic and professional athletes for years. Some call spinning an example of a "mind-body connection," which are the hot--if vague--buzzwords in the industry today.


The people and forces behind the changing face of fitness are as numerous as the trends themselves. Fitness instructors, personal trainers, bodybuilders, inventors and physical therapists--in addition to changing lifestyles--will all influence how people exercise.

Retail giants such as Nike and Reebok spend extensive time and money surveying professional athletes, coaches, sports-medicine specialists, fitness instructors and students to find the good, the bad and the ugly about exercise, as well as what's missing from their training programs.

Of course, their bottom line is sales, and any new gadgets or programs are also tied to shoe and clothing promotions.

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