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A difficult next step

So far, a majority of gyms aren't inclined to make room for the Ramp, a new low-impact routine aimed at the less-fit crowd.

November 03, 2003|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

The woman who invented Step aerobics, a workout that swept the country more than a decade ago and is still going strong, is hoping that lightning will strike twice.

Gin Miller's latest program is called the Ramp, but it may not be coming to a gym near you any time soon. This low-impact routine, which involves choreography and strength moves on a semi-circular board set at an adjustable incline, made its debut in February at a fitness trade show in San Francisco. Since then only about 70 gyms have purchased the program -- that's 70 of about 20,000 in the U.S.

The sluggish sales aren't just because the Ramp is relatively new on the market and somewhat similar to Step. It's also evidence of changes in the fitness industry that affect whether a new workout or piece of equipment ever makes it into a health club, a shifting economy, and an increase in exercise accessories and inventive classes incorporating everything from high-wire circus acts to African dance.

The Ramp's unveiling at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Assn.'s show included continuous classes taught by Miller at a prominent booth blaring up-tempo dance tracks. Unlike Step, which has participants stepping up and down on a platform, this easy-to-follow routine involves traversing the board and incorporating moves such as turns and lunges. Unlike Step, which targets muscles in the front of the leg, Ramping primarily uses muscles in the back of the leg and is much easier on the knees.

The reaction at the show from exercise instructors was positive, says the Atlanta-based Miller, 45, a highly respected fitness industry veteran with a series of workout videos.

She's developed beginning and advanced pre-choreographed Ramping programs and a certification workshop for teachers. "Right away, people got it," she says of the debut. "They said, 'I'm feeling this in my legs.' "

But when it came to buying Ramps, which sell for about $100 each, gyms were less enthusiastic: "They were kind of cautiously interested," she recalls. "Most clubs right now are trying to make ends meet, even the chains."

Over the last several years, gyms have spent small fortunes investing in fitness gear used in group exercise classes, from Bosu balls to balance boards to jump ropes. Step, which is in 90% of gyms nationally, had virtually no competition in the aerobics room when it came on the scene. The Ramp has plenty.

Miller says the new program was inspired by a board she spotted one day, propped up on a step, and used for lunges. "I thought, this is such a great exercise for the legs -- what if you did this to music?"

That coincided with fitness enthusiasts asking for an alternative to Step that wasn't so hard on the joints. Miller saw an opportunity to fashion a group cardio exercise program that even overweight, out-of-shape people could do, something many gyms have gotten away from in favor of intense workouts, such as Spinning, and complex dance-based classes.

"This addresses new participants," she says. "The choreography is not intense and there's a lot of repetition. When I have a 300-pound woman in class who can get through it, that's great."

But some are skeptical that Miller's Ramp will be the ticket for luring fitness phobes into the gym.

"I would love to say, 'I think the Ramp will be the [program] that will bring deconditioned people in,' and it could very well be, but I think they come in for a variety of reasons," says Donna Meyer, corporate director of group exercise for 24 Hour Fitness, "whether it's for the personal training, or because a doctor sent them."

Although Meyer, who has tried the Ramp, calls it "an awesome piece of equipment that has a place in the fitness industry," the chain has no immediate plans to purchase it.

She cited budget restraints, but added that the club already caters to the less-fit crowd with its "express" classes that last 30 minutes.

Bally Total Fitness also passed on the Ramp for now; the program "is just not that far removed from Step," says Charles Little, the company's assistant director of fitness education, who also mentioned that the clubs are steering away from equipment-heavy classes.

Crunch has incorporated Ramping in two of its Atlanta gyms. Donna Cyrus, Crunch's national group fitness director, said the clubs there are bigger and have room to accommodate the equipment, and Miller herself teaches the classes.

Asked why she doesn't plan on rolling it out in the chain's other clubs, Cyrus says, "The feeling I had after I did it was that it was a good workout, but not great. It wasn't special enough for me."

The cost and the fact that it wasn't that different from Step were other factors. Cyrus added that Crunch's core demographic -- 25- to 40-year-old urban professionals -- are used to the gym's edgy classes (Grooveology, Kardio Kombat) and more intense workouts.

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