Glamour, glitz and fancy schmantzy exercise classes do not describe the Powerhouse Gym in Fountain Valley. Big muscles, and lots and lots of weights do.
The gym is about 20,000 square feet, and three-fourths of it is filled with heavy metal. The other quarter is for everything else--cardiovascular equipment, an aerobics room, a room for child care, and locker rooms.
And speaking of heavy metal, if you like working out to hard rock, played loud, then you've found nirvana. If not, bring earplugs.
The gym's 5,000 members certainly have their choice of weight equipment. It's impressive. Body Masters, Get Flexed, Icarian and Flex are well-spaced around the gym. The free weights of choice are Ivanko and Iron Grip.
The cramped, modest cardio area has five StarTrac stair-steppers, 10 StarTrac treadmills and 16 StarTrac bicycles, 11 of those recumbent. The area also has four television sets (thank goodness the owner had the sense to include the closed-captioning format because you can't hear them above the music).
The aerobics room is a former basketball court. It has one long mirror in the front, two shorter mirrors on the side and no mirror in the back. That wall is glass, and the people working out in the cardiovascular area--mostly men--look in on you. So, if you're the least bit self-conscious about your shape, be on guard. And if you set up your step for step aerobics in the back of the room, you have to watch out for the heavy bags and the ramps leading out of the room.
The aerobics schedule, with only 22 classes, is modest. Early-morning classes haven't had any success here, according to Jamie Kaleo, the aerobics coordinator, so 9 a.m. is the earliest you can take a weekday class. Tuesdays and Thursdays offer noon classes and cardio kick-boxing (at 6:30 p.m.), but the gym doesn't have classes in high-impact aerobics, indoor cycling or yoga.
My friend and I wandered in for the 5:30 p.m. Step-n-Pump class with Kaleo, who also teaches the 5 p.m. Buns-and-Thighs class. The night we were there, she started the first class 10 minutes late, so people in that class only got a 20-minute workout.
Kaleo was kind enough to introduce herself to us before she started Step-n-Pump and to ask if we were beginning steppers. And she previewed almost all of her moves so that we could follow her more easily when she called out a particular move. But she didn't introduce herself to the entire class--"We just don't get many new faces in here for this class," said Kaleo, who has been teaching the same class now for almost three years.
Also to Kaleo's credit was the fact that after she saw some huge dust balls lurking in a corner of the aerobics room, she immediately got someone to clean them up.
The acoustics were fine and the music wasn't blaring, so my friend's biggest complaint--and a recent pet peeve of mine--is that the music was played too fast.
As I mentioned last month, 128 beats per minute should be the maximum tempo for a group exercise class. And for the most advanced classes, an instructor can go maybe two or three bpm faster. If you don't think you can get a good workout at the slower speeds, talk to your instructor. Any certified instructor should be able to suggest modifications of power or propulsion moves or of step height, as long as your knee flexion, or bend, does not go beyond 90 degrees. When I mentioned the speed of the tape, Kaleo said the tape was supposed to be played at 130 beats per minute, but that she had pitched it to go a bit faster.
But Kaleo's big mistake came after she commended my friend for lowering her step height, from two doughnuts to one. Kaleo said that decreasing the height would help in dealing with the speed at which she played the tape and that is incorrect. Pitching the music above industry guidelines compromises your control and stability on the step regardless of how many doughnuts are under the platform.
Another complaint I had was that the room was too warm. There were only two fans running overhead. Kaleo said that she would have turned on the air conditioner if someone had requested it. That was my mistake--I should have asked her to turn on the air conditioner.
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The Rat Trap
On a rating of one to four rats, four being best, here is how the Gym Rat rates Powerhouse Gym in Fountain Valley:
* Parking: Spaces are available near the front door, and it's free. ****
* Locker rooms: Very small. There are only two benches in the men's locker room, and my friend saw only one in the women's. Each locker room had three showers, and neither room was clean. In the men's, used paper towels were strewn all over the room. *
* Juice bar: Although the Web site shows an espresso bar, owner Jack Oyhancabal said that the vendor no longer works there. There are three vending machines, with protein bars, water, soft drinks and protein drinks. *
Powerhouse Gym, 17800 New Hope St., Fountain Valley. (714) 549-2222. A day pass costs $13. Basic membership is $25 a month or $295 a year, but special rates are available as well. Child care is $2 a child. The gym is open 24 hours Monday to Friday, and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
* Gary Metzker is a certified aerobics instructor who has been teaching for more than five years at various clubs.
* 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The column runs the third Monday of every month.