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As fitness resolutions weaken, gyms try harder

Times Staff Writer

By February, even the most zealous New Year’s resolutions to get in shape can start to wither. At this point, it has become a royal pain to rise before dawn for a Spinning class, and that last weight-lifting session has you hobbling down stairs.

But slacking off isn’t what it used to be. Some gyms now try to stave off the inevitable drop-off with check-up phone calls, trendy new classes, a free personal training session and informal get-togethers, hoping that the extra bit of motivation will keep members on track. Computerized check-ins make it a cinch for gyms to see who’s hitting the snooze button instead of the treadmill.

At the Spectrum Health Club in Santa Monica, general manager Michael Neitzke says personal trainers and other staff give gentle over-the-phone nudges to get new members back with the program.

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“The trainers are very good at telling them what they might be missing,” he says. “They can gauge a member’s frustration level and tell them how they can change their body, that they might need to add resistance training to their cardio.”

The gym also started hosting informal get-togethers as a way to encourage members, especially new ones, to talk to each other. That, Neitzke believes, fosters friendships, and friendships foster workout partners -- and workout partners motivate each other to keep coming back to the gym. The club has bagel breakfasts on weekend mornings (which are popular, despite the high carbs) and is planning an off-site new member party.

“We felt like if we could create community among the members, that goes a lot toward retention,” says Neitzke. “Happy members will stay with you.”

“Member retention” is the big buzz phrase in the fitness industry, used most frequently this time of year when clubs see new enrollments soar. Industry publications feature stories about keeping members, and almost every trade show includes seminars on the topic. Conventional wisdom holds that health clubs make their money from the people who sign up and promptly disappear. But some gyms object to that notion, saying that no-shows can give a club a bad rap.

“There’s a reason why club owners go to trade shows and buy the best equipment,” says Brooke MacInnis, spokeswoman for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Assn. “It’s better to have good word of mouth from happy members and getting more business in the door than taking money out of the account of a member who’s not coming.”

To keep new members happy, Gold’s Gym launches a new, attention-grabbing class early in the year; for 2004, it’s Cardio Hoop, which uses a weighted hula hoop for fat burning.

The club also offers a free session with a trainer to set goals, start a workout program and try out equipment, making the gym a less intimidating place.

Equinox offers free training sessions as well. Dawn Millner took advantage of them soon after she joined the Pasadena club a month ago, and she quickly signed up for 12 more sessions.

“I had never worked out with a trainer,” says Millner, a 45-year-old legal secretary from Duarte.

“I always did my own thing. But this time, I thought I needed something extra. I knew it would be good for my body and my mind to do this.”

Shelling out a bunch of cash and being beholden to a trainer three days a week have helped keep her motivated, as have the plethora of equipment assuring her free cardio machines, the piped-in up-tempo music and even the live plants. She also has shed a few pounds.

New members at 24-Hour Fitness don’t have to worry about surprise phone call busts. “We try to put ourselves in our members’ shoes,” says Hollywood club manager John Newbury. “We try to target this market without invading people’s privacy.”

They do that by encouraging personal training sessions (the first one’s free) and touting a new program called Xpress Zone, a 30-minute circuit training workout.

“They can get in and get out in a short amount of time, and there’s no excuse that they’re too busy,” he says.

But there will always be excuses, from reasonable (parenting duties) to flimsy (it’s too cold outside). And like the nagging friend who won’t cut you any slack, a good gym won’t allow too much time to go by between workouts.

“We totally understand that life is busy,” says Neitzke, “but we encourage people that even after 15 or 20 minutes of cardio, you’ll feel better and sleep better. We start with something very, very basic and move on from there.”


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