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To play in L.A., it must be hip

June 27, 2005|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

L.A. is a tough crowd when it comes to gyms, led by music-savvy fitness buffs who have a glut of classes from which to choose.

When it comes to the tune selection, "If you're not willing to be up to date with what's coming out, you're dead in the water," says Amy Dixon, group exercise director for Bodies in Motion gyms. A good instructor who foists bad music on his students can end up with empty classrooms, and a so-so teacher with an outstanding playlist can enjoy a packed house. True L.A. gym rats trade reviews of instructors and their music to find out who's hot and who's not.

Gym mega-chains such as Bally Total Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness even change their music depending on the time of day and the crowd. The 5 to 8 p.m. prime-time slot, for example, tends to draw a young working crowd that requires high-energy, up-tempo music. There might be classic rock for the early morning group and slower-tempo pop during the day for a somewhat older crowd.

Bally is experimenting with its format, breaking out of the one-size-fits-all design to offer some clubs music that's suited to their clientele. Gyms in Latino neighborhoods, for example, may play salsa music at certain times of the day.

Reactions from members have been good so far, reports Jim McDonald, the Chicago-based company's chief marketing officer. "There's a lot of nuance in terms of language and culture, and music is a big part of that," he says. Liking the music they hear could make for members who stick with their exercise routines.

Despite the flood of music genres in fitness, live music is still a rarity, showing up in the occasional dance class. Groove Fitness, a Hollywood gym, offers live DJs spinning an up-tempo mix of electronic, house, hip-hop, progressive and break beat music. "A lot of gyms can be very annoying with the music choices they make. It's really bad, you know?" says Johnny Hawkes, Groove Fitness' DJ consultant.

He believes fresh mixes help keep the energy up and the workout less tedious. "It's different having that live interaction. It's like there's someone out there playing music for you."

To maintain an edge over her competition, Dixon trolls online sites, watches MTV and keeps her iPod almost maxed out. While some classes' selections tend toward pop, she fills out her offerings with Ludacris, classic rock and Metallica. For her body sculpting classes, set at a slower pace than spinning or cardio kickboxing, Dixon uses pre-mixed compilations, the advantage being that the CDs are mixed to a certain number of beats per minute; about 120 to 130 for step, 60 to 70 for yoga. Songs are continuous, which is key for cardio classes because any blip in the rhythm can sidetrack a workout.

Instructor Stacey Griffith swears to music's power of persuasion in her Spinning classes at Equinox in West Hollywood. Group cycling is a unique animal among exercise classes because students stay in one place for the entire time -- the change of terrain and speed occurs mentally and is often directed by the music.

Her tastes are eclectic: Buddha Bar, some Blind Melon, some house. The mix, which she calls "happy, sexy and motivating," keeps her and her students from getting bored.

"It's what drives you, it's the energy, it's ... it's like going to a nightclub. You're not going to get on the dance floor if you don't like the song."

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