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PHANTOM JIM RAT

Club Has Pluses --and Minuses

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 through the Aerobics and Fitness Assn. of America.

March 16, 1998

Quite a few people have been exercising their typing fingers, recommending places for the Jim Rat to check out. Thanks for all the ideas. I'm hoping to get to them all. But one place has stood out in all the mail. . . .

Dear PJR: Please check out the 24 Hour Fitness Sport in Santa Monica and report your unvarnished findings. I'd like to know exactly why this club is labeled one of 24 Hour Fitness Sport's special (read: more expensive) Sport locations. . . . Is it because of its vast array of "classic (old / worn-out / broken)" stationary bikes and workout machines?

Or how about this?

I hope you are going to write about gyms that need criticism as well as praise. I (along with tens of thousands of others--literally) belong to the 24 Hour Fitness gym in Santa Monica. This is the third corporate owner since I joined and by far the worst. The place is filled with purple-jacketed employees whose job is to sign up new members. Meanwhile, the machines break down and are never serviced, and there is never anyone on the floor to deal with a complaint, help you on a machine or even observe the long lines of exercisers always waiting their turn. I hope you can check it out.

What started as a Sports Connection and became a Ballys turned into 24 Hour Fitness Sport in November 1996. The club, at 31st Street and Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica, is near the Santa Monica Municipal Airport, and the place looks as if it could be an airplane hangar.

Inside the 50,000 square feet, you will find 20 treadmills and 35 stationary and recumbent bikes, Precor Efx 544 elliptical trainers and stair climbers. There's also the room full of free weights, another packed with weight machines, two aerobics rooms and a 25-meter swimming pool with three lanes for fast, medium and slow swimmers. One aerobics instructor, though, did tell me that the pool had been closed for "health reasons" recently, but it looked clean--and busy--the nights I was there.

Bruno Moreira is a general manager at the Santa Monica facility. He has been with 24 Hour Fitness for 13 years and said that, when the company took over, the building was in sorry shape.

"This place had tacky green rugs that were all stained. The men's bathroom was falling apart, and there were no air conditioning units. This club was really beat up," Moreira said. "We have put about $800,000 into this place to remodel it, including almost all new cardiovascular equipment."

That is true, and in fact, one of the readers who e-mailed me to complain about the cardio equipment acknowledged in another e-mail that there were new bikes, treadmills and other equipment. On the nights I visited, only one lonely treadmill in a corner had an "under repair" sign on it. The rest of the cardio equipment was in working order, and almost every piece of equipment had people on it.

"This place is definitely getting better," Moreira said. "There is no way this club is as bad as it was."

24 Hour Fitness Sport offers 90 aerobics classes a week, and it just received shipment of some Johnny G Schwinn cycles, so indoor cycling classes will be coming soon. The aerobics coordinator is Patrick Goodreau, an international demonstration presenter.

I made the mistake of going on a Thursday night to take a 6:30 advanced step class. It was a mistake because the class that precedes it, at 5:30, just happens to be the club's most popular--Cardio Boxing With Harley. About 65 people were crammed into the aerobics room, and by the time it was over, a few mirrors were all steamed up. You can imagine the sweat these people worked up. Guess where most of it landed. On the carpet. You see, there are no fans in the aerobics room.

On the carpet where I set up my step, a significant amount of perspiration had accumulated, making it hard to go up and over my step without worrying about slipping and sliding. Although Mariana taught a fabulous class, I couldn't stop worrying about falling down.

(By the way, I observed Harley's class for about 45 minutes, and in this instructor's opinion, his popularity aside, Harley needs to reread his instructor's manual. His music was loud and great, but his verbal cues were limited and he wore no microphone. You could barely hear him. When he added kicks, I noticed that participants in the back of the room had trouble extending their legs to complete a full range of motion because the class was too crowded.

But Harley does have a loyal following. One woman told me she gets to the aerobics room at 5:10 just to secure a spot. Another said Harley makes her hurt so good--sorry, John Mellencamp. Harley also is on the schedule to teach Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. (Moreira said the club will be instituting a sign-up sheet for Harley's classes.)

The Santa Monica location is open 24 hours--Monday through Thursday. It closes at 11 p.m. on Friday. Saturday and Sunday hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The gym offers monthly and yearly rates, but you'd better ask one of those purple-jacketed employees about them.

*

* 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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The Rat Trap

On a rating of one to four asterisks, four being best, here is how the Jim Rat rates 24 Hour Fitness Sport in Santa Monica on some amenities:

* Parking: Lots and lots. There are even 10-cent parking meters on the street. ****

* Locker rooms: The men's room was spacious, but brrrrrrr, it was freezing. I heard a couple of guys just getting out of the shower complain. **

* Juice bar: Small but well-stocked. Get a smoothie or a thirst quencher. There are no sandwiches. ***

24 Hour Fitness Sport, 31st Street and Ocean Park Boulevard, Santa Monica; (310) 454-4464. A day pass will set you back $15.

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