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PHANTOM JIM RAT

Catching Frogs on a Bad Hop

August 17, 1998

Beware. The Phantom Jim Rat is snooping around Southern California, looking at the best and worst in health clubs, from parking to juice bars to group exercise classes. And Jim isn't just any rat. He's been teaching for four years at various clubs in the area and is certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Assn. of America.

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Finding the Pyramid on the campus of Cal State Long Beach is simple. It is the big blue building on the Atherton Street side of campus. Finding Frogs the health club, is not so easy.

First, the address given is for Bellflower Boulevard, but the building is clearly off Atherton Street. Then, there is one small sign outside the Pyramid that leads you to the club. But the morning my friend and I went, the sign was pointed in such a direction that no one could have seen it unless you were walking out of the club. My guess is the university must limit the club to the amount of signage it uses, but no one I spoke to at Frogs could tell me why.

There is a lot of weight equipment packed into the gym, and it is a snug fit because the gym is only 18,000 square feet. In the area in front of the aerobics room, most of the machines are made by Panata Sports. There are six stationary bikes by Tectrix, a LifeStep, a StairMaster Crossrobics machine and a Concept II indoor rower. At the end of the room is the free-weights area.

Behind the aerobics room is the cardiovascular area. The treadmills are made by Quinton, StarTrac and Precor. There is a StairMaster, six Tectrix steppers, two StairMaster stepmills and a LifeStep. If you would rather get on a bike, your choices are four LifeCycles--two of them recumbent.

The aerobics schedule is packed with 55 classes. The choices include step, indoor cycling, senior fitness, tai chi, cardio cross-training, yoga, salsa and hip-hop.

My friend and I decided to take the 9:30 a.m. Wednesday Step Plus with John. Step Plus is described as being "more than up-down-up-down. This energetic class will have you climbing like a yak and breathing like a tiger. Creative step patterns and smooth transitions keep it fun for your head as well as your feet."

We must have caught John on a bad day because at the end of class I didn't feel like a yak.

While it appeared he had some regular students there (because he knew their names), he never found out if we had any preexisting conditions he should know about so that he could show us some modified moves; and he never introduced himself to the class. Plus he was late to class and we had to wait for him to rewind his tape to the beginning.

And his music--old, boring elevator music--wasn't that good!

You know, if you are going to spend your valuable time taking an aerobics class, at the very least you should work out to some good music. Most aerobics instructors I know say safety, cueing and good music are the most important components of a good class.

In my opinion, John was one for three. While his moves on the step were performed safely, his cueing needed some work. He apologized a couple of times for missing a move while the rest of the class remembered to do it. He said he was distracted. Excuse me, but what could be more important than leading the class?

Frogs is to be commended for having an adapted fitness and wellness center. The center provides personal training and fitness services for people with chronic illnesses, physical limitations or health-related maladies. The center offers individualized fitness programs, equipment that is wheelchair-accessible with lower weight stacks, unlimited availability of certified personal trainers, and low membership fees with free parking and no initiation fee. The hours of the center are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Frogs was started by a former Navy SEAL in 1992. There are five clubs--in Encinitas, Mission Valley, Solana Beach, San Diego and Long Beach. The Long Beach location opened 2 1/2 years ago. And it's hidden so well, maybe you have to have undercover experience just to find it.

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The Rat Trap

On a rating of one to four rats, four being best, here is how the Jim Rat rates Frogs on some amenities:

* Parking: Plenty in the summer, definitely tougher when school is back in session. It will cost you $1.75. ***

* Locker rooms: Big and clean. Free towels available at the front desk. Shampoo and soap in the showers too. No steam or sauna. ***

* Juice bar: Sorry, but your choices are machines that offer soda, bottled water and sports drinks.*

Frogs, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach; (562) 985-5995. A single-day pass is $7 for students and seniors, $10 for everyone else. Membership for the public is $265 for the year, and the club throws in an extra month and towel service. By-the-month fee is $18; $21.50 includes towel service. There is a $75 initiation fee. A six-month membership is $150 and includes towel service. There are lower rates for seniors, Cal State Long Beach students, faculty, staff and alumni. Club hours are 5 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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* If you have a gym or health club you think the Phantom Jim Rat should scope out, fax to (213) 237-4712 or e-mail health@latimes.com.

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