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After the Hard Sell, the Ride is Smooth

July 20, 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 (AFAA).


As a guy who gets to visit a lot of gyms around Los Angeles and Orange counties, nothing bugs me more than having some person come up and try to sell me a membership before I even step through the door. Really now, why doesn't the salesperson give me a chance to try out the health club, and then, if I am really interested, we can talk?

So guess what happened when I called, not entered, but called Mid Valley Athletic Club in Reseda?

Me: Hi. Can you tell me how much a day pass to your club is?

Salesperson: How did you hear about our place?

Me: A friend of mine told me about it. Now, how much is a day pass?

Salesperson: If your friend is a member, I can give you a great rate.

Me: No, thanks. I really don't live in the area. I just wanted to come and work out. Now, how much is a day pass?

When I got to the club and was signing in, another salesperson asked whether I wanted to sit down first and talk about membership rates. I have to give them credit. They certainly are persistent.

Happily, the rest of my experience was much more enjoyable.

The Mid Valley Athletic Club, with its 5,200 members, is a lush, plush 75,000 square feet of top-of-the-line exercise instructors and equipment.

The first floor is lined in racquetball and squash courts along with a beauty salon. Child care is available too.

There is about $500,000 worth of exercise equipment on this floor. Icarian and Cybex machines are sprinkled about, and free weights line the walls. And let's not forget the full- and half-court basketball games that were going on.

Outdoors is a 50-yard pool that is kept at 82 degrees. You can do lap swimming or take the aqua aerobics class that is offered three times a week.

The second floor of Mid Valley is covered in cardiovascular equipment: five Precor Efx 544 elliptical trainers, two NordicTraks, seven Lifecycle recumbent bikes, 11 StairMaster stepping machines, 21 treadmills (by Star Trac and Cybex) and three Gauntlets by StairMaster. And there are eight television sets to occupy your mind, but bring headphones and a radio so you can tune into the TV stations on FM.

There are three aerobics studios. Two of the surfaces are carpet on top of wood-sprung floors (kind to knee and ankle joints), and the third is wood for studio cycling. There are 34 Reebok cycles in the studio.

I took the Tuesday night 7:30 cycling class. Suzie was the instructor, and she was very good. There were six of us in class, and for two people, it was their first indoor cycling class. She helped them align their bikes to their bodies and made sure their knees didn't lock out when they pedaled. Her cuing was excellent, always reminding us about posture and holding abdominals in tight and keeping elbows soft.

My only gripe with the class had nothing to do with the instructor. The studio is covered in mirrors except for one big glass wall. No big deal, except the night I was there, a baseball game was being played and there is a large-screen television set right outside the cycling studio. It just so happened that two baseball fans were riding cycles next to the glass, and they kept talking about the game in voices loud enough that it was a bit distracting for me. Please, cover up that glass during class!

Suzie said she had been teaching studio cycling for two months but has gone through a year of training.

"The standards here are quite high," she said. "You can't get a bad instructor here."

Kim Worthen has been the aerobics director at Mid Valley for 11 years. She has also worked at the Pritikin Longevity Center for fitness and wellness in Santa Monica. Peter Fair is the studio cycling coordinator. He is also a U.S. Cycling Federation sports coach. Both teach group exercise classes.

One hundred group exercise classes are offered a week, 28 are studio cycling. Fair said there are 50 aerobics instructors and 30 cycling instructors. All instructors are certified through ACE or AFAA, he said, but if instructors want to teach cycling, they have to go through Fair's certification process.

"I've taken the science of exercise physiology plus the drills and applications of the professional coaches, and combined them to make my own cycling program," Fair said. "I show instructors how to create a ride so that you hit all the leg parts correctly and don't over-fatigue too much, plus don't do unsafe moves which are damaging to the knees and the hip."

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