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Gym Rat

Voight's Back, With a Tough Act


Beware. The Gym Rat is snooping around Southern California, looking at the best and worst in health clubs. And he isn't just any rat. He's been teaching more than four years at various clubs in the area. He is a member of IDEA / the Assn. of Fitness Professionals and is certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Assn. of America.


Pssst! I'm gonna share a secret with you--but, please, feel free to pass the word.

Karen Voight--yes, the Karen Voight--is teaching again. But she teaches only one night a week, at the Aerobic Speed Center in West Hollywood.

The class, which started about eight months ago (see, I told you it was a secret), is called, appropriately, Karen Voight Masterclass. And the night I was there, only 12 other people came. It goes from 7 to 9 p.m., and you'd better carbo-load before you go because this class is hard but fabulous; you are guaranteed to leave some sweat on the floor. But be forewarned: If you don't like, or can't do, high-impact aerobics, this class isn't for you.

For you novice gym rats, here's the skinny (pun intended) on Voight: She was born in Covina and originally had focused on a fashion career after attending La Puente Bishop Amat High School in the '70s. But design, she found, wasn't her cup of tea--ballet was. While studying ballet and yoga at an L.A. dance academy, she was selected by the academy's owner to teach moms who were waiting for their kids to finish ballet classes.

After doing research on body mechanics, aerobics and exercise, and consulting with the Dallas-based Cooper Institute (an exercise-research organization), Voight developed Ultimate Fitness, a 90-minute class that combined static and rhythmic stretches, sculpting with hand weights, aerobics, abdominals, legwork and a cool-down.

The class took off and became so big that the academy could no longer accommodate her and her students. She leased a building on La Cienega Boulevard, and in 1981 the Voight Fitness & Dance Center was born. If you were a happenin' gym rat in the early '80s, that was the place to go for aerobics. (It closed in 1994.)

"I was there 13 years teaching 18 to 24 classes a week," Voight said. "And when I wasn't teaching, I was training teachers."

Health columnist Kathy Smith was a student of Voight's, and so was Keli Roberts (who has since gone on to international fame). Voight became known around the world for her teaching and training techniques.

In 1993, she was selected IDEA's Fitness Instructor of the Year and Business Person of the Year.

Voight branched out into personal training and had such clients as Tina Turner, Elle Macpherson, Paula Abdul, James Taylor and Helen Hunt. She has made nine videos, including "Strong and Smooth Moves," which went to No. 1 on the Billboard video chart in 1995. Her 10th, "Yoga Sculpt," will be out soon. (In addition, America Online sponsors a Voight Web site, (, which offers fitness advice, and she has her own (


The format for Voight's two-hour class is likely a lot different from aerobics classes that you and I take.

"What I do is use yoga to heat up the body in a very slow way," Voight said. "Then I go into a rhythmic warmup that is more movement-related and will imitate moves that we will do later. The muscle sculpting for the upper and lower body is done to further warm up the body. Then I feel the body is ready to do aerobic activity, and the aerobics help to flush out the system after the sculpting."

The abdominals come after aerobics, just like in most classes, "because your arms and legs are so tired you just want to lie down, so it's a good time to make the stomach muscles do some work," Voight said. Then she had us flip on to our stomachs for back stretches. Finally, we worked out our glutes and finished with a yoga-based cool-down.

Of all the places Voight could have picked to teach her one and only class, why did she pick a place that's so tucked away, one block off La Cienega Boulevard?

"I did it as a favor," she said. "But when I first looked at the studio, I said it was too small. The place needed to be reconfigured. The front desk needed to be put in a different place and they needed a new stereo system. They did what I asked, so I'm here.

"You know, it doesn't take that many elements to make a great place . . . a good teacher, good music, good tape deck, clean place. . . . Give the students and the teacher what they need. Nothing has to be so formalized or computerized. Just give us a conducive environment.

"I want to make it so exercise is not drudgery," she said. "I want to make it fun. You don't have to stop your life to exercise. I want people to understand that when you are busy and overwhelmed, you can keep yourself fit and tailor the exercises to the age of your body."

If you know of a gym or health club you think the Gym Rat should scope out, fax to (213) 237-4712 or e-mail


The Rat Trap

On a rating of one to four rats, four being best, here is how the Gym Rat rates Aerobic Speed Center in West Hollywood:

* Parking: Lighted parking in the back, or leave your car in front of the building and feed the meters. ****

* Locker rooms: None, but there are men's and women's restrooms and they are kept very clean. Both are accessible for disabled people. ****

* Juice bar: None, just a refrigerated display case behind the front desk where you can buy bottles of water. *

Aerobic Speed Center, 8475 Holloway Drive, West Hollywood; (323) 656-1254. A single class costs $12. A four-class series is $36; eight-class, $70; 12-class, $102; 16-class, $132; and 20-class, $160. Club hours are 7 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5:30-9 p.m. Mondays; 7 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5-9 p.m Tuesdays; 7 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5:30-9 p.m. Wednesdays; 7 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4:45-9 p.m. Thursdays; 7 a.m.-1 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. Fridays; 8:30 a.m.-noon and 4-5 p.m. Saturdays; and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5-6 p.m. Sundays.

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