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BODY WATCH : Take a Hike : Or climb a tree. Or jog in the park. In other words, move your workout outdoors. Who says you have to sweat inside for that hard body.

August 02, 1994|LIZ BRODY | Special to The Times

Go, champ! You made it to the health club, having Roto-Rootered your way through miles of clogged up freeway, past "Permit Parking Only" hassleage and around the no-vacancy glitch in the locker room. But despite such heroics, you're stuck, once again, standing in line for the treadmill.

By now, if the cling of sweat in the air isn't strangling your good intentions, the clang of weight machines squeaking ceaselessly like oil derricks is getting on your nerves. And when it's finally your turn to hit the exercise pedals, those little red devils--"LAPS," "CALS," "MILES"--start flashing in your face, only to remind you of the diabolical taillights on the 405 you came here to forget.

Yes, you've been waiting all this time to go nowhere fast.

Consider a new concept: Get off the treadmill and turn your neighborhood into an outdoor gym. You have nothing to lose but your membership payments.

Take it from the exercise pros who are trading mirror and metal for a breath of fresh air. "A lot of personal trainers are starting to train their clients outside one, maybe two, days a week to run or walk and finish with crunches," says Kelly Jacobs, a spokesperson for the International Assn. of Fitness Professionals.

"And I think we'll see a lot more of that. People have been going to the gym for so many years, they're looking for a change."

After years of dishing up fitness on a calculator--"X number of calories burned in 20 minutes doing aerobics at 60-80% of your V02 max (click, click)"--many experts are realizing that something is missing in the math.

"Often it's better for the soul to let go of the numbers," says Keli Roberts, a Hollywood trainer who led Cher's first video (she has two of her own out as well) and teaches at Martin Henry Fitness Studio. "I really see it in my Type A clients. When I get them outdoors, they come back as different people."

Roberts also takes her less-driven clients out to a park or canyon when motivation gets stale. The scenery, sounds and smells of the outdoors, she says, definitely revive their spirits.

"The fitness industry has been so body-oriented--as in getting the perfect waistline--we haven't been dealing with the other aspects of the body, such as the mind," says Reebok City Jam creator Christophe Toledo, known for taking hip-hop aerobics to the pinnacle of cool. Although Toledo made his name teaching in the steamy studios of Los Angeles, his next move is to develop an outdoor cross-training program that encourages participants to take advantage of their surroundings and "use their own brains."

It does take a bit of figuring to create your own outdoor gym. But that's half the fun.

With its varied terrain, L.A. is a no-cost circuit city of potential workout stations. Surrounded by mountains, beaches and forests, the sprawling metropolis is riddled with long public staircases and dotted with parks.

Many of these parks have ready-made Parcourses that have been there, for the most part, since the early 1980s--tracks studded with your basic chin-up bars, balance beams, stepping stumps and the like, bearing illustrated signs to coach you through. (Check out Admiralty Park in Marina Del Rey, Clover Park in Santa Monica and Warner Park in Woodland Hills; there are many others.)

"You don't need a health club to get fit," stresses Mark Stevens who, despite owning the Gym in Brentwood, trains his personal clients outside it at least once a week, packing aerobics, strength and flexibility conditioning into an hour or less.

Two of Stevens' favorite Westside haunts: the 4th Street Steps in Santa Monica and the fire roads that lace the Palisades. Between walking, running and climbing, these upwardly mobile workouts include calisthenics--pushups, sit-ups, lunges, squats--and stretches on the grass.

"Sure, you can do 20 reps on the leg extension machine," Stevens says, "but what does it mean if you can't walk up a hill?"

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For those who prefer a more lateral approach, L.A.'s long coastline offers boardwalks, bike paths, sand running tracks and more. Toledo meets regularly with his Malibu buddies to cross-train outside in improvisational sessions that run anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.

"I'm in better shape now than when I was teaching 10 classes a week and I'm doing a lot less physical work," Toledo says. He describes a typical outing as follows: roller-skating a few miles down the beach, rock walking (develops balance, muscular control and confidence), running at the ocean's edge, and finishing back on the rocks with toning exercises.

The key is to use your imagination.

Ask Jef Hogan. For the 36-year-old Lakewood resident who finds gyms "too organized," not to mention expensive, a good tree is a Spectrum Club: "You can do dips from the branches, standing pushups and stretches against the trunk, and climbing works out all the muscles."

Better yet, if it's rooted in an open area he can run, mountain bike, scramble on the rocks and spy on a few deer.

Hogan is quick to point out that when you train outdoors, the risks can be greater than just a hairy eyeball from a fellow gym member waiting for your treadmill. Once, while running in the hills above Chatsworth, he met up with a herd of cattle.

"There were a few shuffles of hooves," he says. "Then a few more. When I turned around, I realized I was leading a stampede in full gallop. Maybe it was my purple shorts. I don't know--but I ran for my life."

If nothing else, he got somewhere fast.

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