O.C. Is on a Row With Crew Camp

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 clubs in the area and is certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Assn. of America (AFAA).


You can row, but don't expect to do so gently. And it won't be very merry because this class is not a dream. Not unless you like overwhelming fatigue.

The Sweatshop in Dana Point has created quite a nifty niche with its crewing studio and crew camp classes. Now, you don't have to go to Orange County to take indoor rowing classes. The Boathouse at the Los Angeles Athletic Club in downtown L.A. and By Land or Lake in Saugus have crew classes too. But crew camp is different from crewing (or rowing) class.

In a rowing class, you sit on a seat, strap your feet into some pedals, then pull a handle attached to a wheel and chain while your body goes forward and back. In crew camp, you row for five minutes, do a weight-bearing exercise (for biceps or shoulders, for example) for five minutes, go back to the rower, back to the muscle-building--well, you get the idea. And you do this interval workout for an hour. It's the type of class in which a small bottle of water just won't do.

At the Sweatshop, crew camp is offered Monday nights at 6 and Tuesday mornings at 8:30, and is usually taught by owner Kristi Hugstad and personal trainer Sheldon Ouelette. But the night my friend and I went, Hugstad was not feeling well, so Ouelette went solo. Before she left, Hugstad took us to the rowers on the right side of the room, showed us the proper form and technique for rowing and explained that most of the power in the back-and-forth motion will come from our legs, not our arms. The goal, she said, was to row 1,100 meters during the five-minute portion. I would find out later that the class regulars went to the rowers on the left side of the room, where the machines are programmed for a goal of 1,400 meters.

Hugstad said later that when both she and Ouelette teach, he is the motivating force in class and she goes around to help participants keep their form. And if she doesn't like what she sees, she can tell someone to drop and give her 20 push-ups. That's what makes this class different.

Unfortunately, it wasn't that way the night I was there. Even though there were three new participants (including my friend and me), Ouelette didn't ask any of us if we had any preexisting conditions that he should know about. That way, he could help us modify any of the exercises he was going to be doing. And we were not told that if during the five-minute weight-bearing intervals the weights got too heavy, to drop to a lighter weight or no weight at all. These are things that most group exercise instructors are taught to do from the time we take our first certification exams.

But those two bad marks aside, the class was a killer and Ouelette is a kick. He yells, he gets in your face, he encourages you to lift those damn weights one more time.

The Sweatshop also offers 27 Spinning classes on 33 bikes as well as a Thursday morning "boot camp" that incorporates rowing, kick boxing, jumping rope and push-ups.

Morning classes are the most popular, and that's when child care is offered (7:15-8:15 a.m.). Reservations are advised, and you can sign up for classes two weeks in advance.

"Our reputation is that we are hard-core and spunky," Hugstad said. "We're a studio, not a health club. People who come here are mostly baby boomers who are in the best shape of their lives and they want to be pushed to the limit. We have no juice bar, no facials and no locker rooms here. People are paying for an intense workout."

The Sweatshop, co-owned by Indy car driver Roberto Guerrero, has been open about 2 1/2 years. It's only 2,600 square feet, and it has a very industrial, unfinished look to it. "People like the smallness and the intimate feeling of the place," Hugstad said. "This is definitely not a pickup place. People come here to sweat, finish class and leave. If you want to look cute in your thong, don't come here."


The Rat Trap

On a rating of one to four rats, four being best, here is how the Jim Rat rates the Sweatshop on some amenities:

* Parking: Plenty of free parking behind the building. ****

* Locker rooms: Forget it! There are two bathrooms and that's that.

* Juice bar: Ha! There isn't even a water fountain here.

The Sweatshop, 34255 Pacific Coast Highway, #109 in the Dana Bluffs Center, Dana Point; (714) 488-7700. Spinning, crew and boot camp classes are $12 each or $44 for four classes, $100 for 10 and $135 for 15. For unlimited Spinning, crew and survival classes, the rates are $150 for one month, $400 for three months, $700 for six months and $1,300 for a year. Other packages are available. Club hours are 8:15-10:30 a.m. and 6-7:15 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 5:45-10:30 a.m. and 4-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 7-10:30 a.m. Saturdays; and 8-10 a.m. and 6:30-7:30 p.m. Sundays.


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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