Think "fitness club" and the first image that comes to mind is some warehouse-sized complex with blaring music and boatloads of shiny equipment. But the Los Angeles area is also peppered with neighborhood gyms and studios offering a different experience -- a more relaxed environment, smaller classes and less of a cookie-cutter approach. Some are posh with trendsetting workouts; others are holes in the wall where you feel as comfortable as if you were in your own living room. Though the city offers great outdoor workouts (the Santa Monica stairs, cycling trails in the mountains), there are times when only a class or equipment will do. Here's a sampling of noteworthy places in Los Angeles -- and just beyond:

Boxing Academy Los Angeles

1335 Willow St.

Los Angeles

(213) 625-0330


Boxing is quickly becoming the sport that crosses all boundaries, with white- and blue-collar types lacing up the gloves. All types train at Boxing Academy Los Angeles, which offers serious workouts for men and women in a 6,000-square-foot facility boasting two rings, heavy bags, plus a weight room and cardio equipment.

House trainer Jason Haynes says there's camaraderie among the staff of experienced trainers and clients -- men and women, rank beginners and more experienced pugilists. "I've got all kinds of clients," he says. "I've got a dental surgeon, an architect and police officers."

-- Jeannine Stein

Silverlake Yoga

2810 1/2 Glendale Blvd.

Los Angeles

(323) 953-0496


Billed as the oldest yoga studio in Silver Lake (12 years in one place), Silverlake Yoga is proud of its friendly, mom-and-pop environment. The studio offers 65 classes a week, including kids' yoga, Pilates, tai chi and prenatal classes taught by co-owner Juliette Kurth, a certified doula. Classes are generally small, with about 10 to 12 participants, but weekend classes can attract twice that number. "We've been here long enough that the entire life cycle of the community passes before our eyes," says co-owner Jonathan Emerson. "Students have gotten married, had babies and now bring their kids in."

-- Janet Cromley

Liberation Yoga

124 S. La Brea Ave.

Los Angeles

(323) 964-5222


Liberation Yoga has both ends of the yoga spectrum covered. For newcomers, there's an intro course that goes over the basics and explains the history and philosophy of yoga. For more seasoned practitioners, there are noteworthy workshops such as the Five Elements workshop series, which explores connections with nature. And several yoga styles are available, says co-owner Christine Burke, including Iyengar, vinyasa and ashtanga.

For people looking for an alternative to the four-walled studio, Liberation features a garden studio, a covered patio complete with heating (when it's cold) and plants, lending an outdoor feel for when you just can't be fully enclosed.

-- Jeannine Stein

Harmony Studios

8440 Santa Monica Blvd.,

Unit G2

West Hollywood

(323) 822-9584


Taking fitness classes with a friend is always more fun. But what about taking a class with only your friends? That can be arranged at Harmony Studios, a 4,000-square-foot facility that offers Pilates, Gyrotonic, yoga, weightlifting and circuit training. Owner Karen Schwalbe-Jones says that groups of friends, family or co-workers can book a private mat class of their choosing. If there's safety in numbers, there can also be motivation -- sticking to a regimen together can create a terrific support system.

On the regular roster, the studio offers private and semiprivate training as well as small classes in Pilates (including reformer classes) and Gyrotonic.

-- Jeannine Stein

Personal Best

643 W. 6th St.

San Pedro

(310) 548-5984

Havana-born dancer and fitness trainer Clara Bassett, also known as Clarita, brings a touch, well, more than a touch, of Latin flair to the Mambo Mania fitness, yoga and Pilates classes at her new studio. In fact, Personal Best even offers a class called Yoga Suave, which combines Kundalini yoga with salsa movements to "reach the lower chakras," Bassett says. The studio, which opened in September, attracts an eclectic group of neighborhood artists and longshoremen, who seem to prefer the power yoga and salsa classes.

-- Janet Cromley

Goda Yoga

9711 Washington Blvd.

Culver City

(310) 287-1255


Goda Yoga is the quintessential neighborhood yoga studio. Small and friendly, the entire 1,250-square-foot facility includes a yoga room that holds 30, a dressing area and boutique. The studio offers classes for all levels and specializes in personal service. "There's a lot of gentle instruction, and your teachers get to know you very well," says owner Cheryl Moss. "This area isn't saturated with yoga studios like the Westside, so the students are often beginners with no expectations."

-- Janet Cromley

Canyon Athletics

135 Entrada Drive

Santa Monica

(310) 459-2409


With state-of-the-art equipment crammed into a storied 19th century building, ocean breezes wafting into the tiny space and anything from Green Day to Miles Davis on the sound system, it's immediately apparent that Canyon Athletics is not a typical gym. Fitness veterans Thierno Diallo (also a musician) and Brian Cinadr (also a fiction writer and the inspiration behind the ABC comedy "What About Brian?") are not typical club owners, either. "There's not the muscle-head theme here," says Cinadr. "We're innovative, but not trendy. It's almost got a coffeehouse vibe." Canyon Athletics offers very small classes and personal training based on a system that blends elements of yoga, Pilates, plyometrics and cardiovascular exercise.

-- Janet Cromley

Yoga Blend

1921 W. Magnolia Blvd.


(818) 954-9642


Got a hankering for a yoga class at 9:30 at night? Head over to Yoga Blend in Burbank, where classes start early and go late. It's hard to find but perfect for a studio-heavy neighborhood where not everyone works a traditional 9 to 5.

A choice of about 70 classes a week includes a wide variety of styles and focuses, including meditation, prenatal, beginning, power yoga and stretching. Workshops are available for those who want to delve into new territory, according to owner Christy Marsden. The studio also fosters a noncompetitive atmosphere and encourages newcomers by adding modifications in classes for those just starting out.

-- Jeannine Stein

ATP Specific Training

1942-44 Huntington Drive

South Pasadena

(626) 403-6545


For a small fitness facility, ATP Specific Training packs in more fitness regimens than most -- personal training, Pilates (both private and group), Gyrotonic -- and it has a registered dietitian to help with nutritional needs. Co-owner Tracy Mallett handles the fitness side, while husband Chris runs the physical therapy portion that specializes in sports injuries and pre- and postnatal therapy. Having fitness and therapy available is somewhat rare, but extremely handy when going through rehab that requires exercise. The studio also features a fitness program for overweight kids.

"It's got a nice, relaxing atmosphere, without the hustle and bustle of a big gym," says Tracy. "There could be as few as two trainers and two clients in there at a time." She recommends Pilates newcomers start with a few private sessions to learn the basics, though students after that can choose from group mat or reformer classes.

-- Jeannine Stein

Fanatics Athletic Club

22222 La Palma Ave.

Yorba Linda

(714) 692-1007


Sometimes exercising within four walls can feel a little restricting. Fanatics Athletic Club in Yorba Linda has the perfect solution: a nearby running trail that goes through a wildlife refuge. Members can take advantage of the cardio and strength equipment or classes inside the 11,000-square-foot facility, then dash out for a brisk walk or jog and commune with nature. For ambitious types, the trail extends about 20 miles to the beach, according to general manager Vodak Hawkins.

The gym limits membership, so there's no line five-deep to get to an elliptical trainer at peak times. The club offers other amenities and services, including towel service and a personal training staff. One more great feature: no PA system to disrupt you when you're in the zone.

-- Jeannine Stein

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