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Finding a good fit

There are a number of health clubs to choose from - and more on the way - catering to every lifestyle and workout style.

JOHN BALZ
Published June 6, 2003

TAMPA - If it were January, post-New Year's, you'd be trampled on your way to the Stairmaster.

But in June you need not fear for your life when tending to your health. Summer is already blazing. The prelude to beach season - the spring toning and sculpting - it's come and gone.

Thousands of Tampa residents leave the gym and hit the hot sand.

"Hopefully they're already in shape," said Heather Parker, the group fitness coordinator at the downtown YMCA.

In June, you stand a chance.

And while 36-million Americans belong to health clubs - an all-time high - those who actually go on a regular basis is a calculation better left to Stephen Hawking. New enrollments are highest in January, as hundreds of thousands of resolutions dribble from the mouths of the sincere and the deluded.

Trying to sort through the choices?

Health clubs are about more than machines.

They each seem to have an agenda.

Xtreme Health and Fitness in Hyde Park is tailor-made for 20-somethings on the go. Harbour Island Athletic Club and Day Spa offers a lengthy list of programs for young professionals with kids. Shapes, at the corner of S Dale Mabry Highway and Swann Avenue, lets women exercise apart from the eyes of men.

Even as muscles flex from one end of South Tampa to the next, plans are afoot for more machines, more clubs.

A 28,000-square-foot Lifestyle Family Fitness is in the works for Old Hyde Park Village, and an equally beefy Calta's Total Fitness expects to open within three weeks on Gandy Boulevard.

Brooke MacInnis, who works for a health club trade group, sees a disconnect between those who recognize the importance of exercise - and those who get off the couch.

Nine out of 10 adults call regular exercise essential to weight management.

Yet, the federal government warns that 108-million adults - 61 percent of us - are either overweight or obese.

"People really do value exercise, but they're just not doing it," she said.

For the true believers, muscle burn is not an optional activity.

"It gets to be an addiction," said Thomas Kobiolka of St. Petersburg who works out at Leo's Beach Park Health Club. "Just like people are hooked on smoking. It's the same thing with working out."

For the addicted and the nonaddicted alike, City Times presents a sampling of South Tampa's fittest spots.

Xtreme Total Health & Fitness

In the early evening, the blend of techno and pop music piped into the gym floor could be at a nightclub. The machines are clean and sleek; the workout clothes are stylish and colorful.

At Xtreme Total Health and Fitness, health and fitness seems to be just part of the package. There are plenty of luxurious extras: child care, complimentary massages, valet parking, a juice bar, an Internet lounge and a beauty salon.

You could spend all day without lifting a weight. But that's not the idea, said manager Brent Tatum.

"The key to a successful club is taking care of your members," he said.

Once a laundry and uniform factory, the 37,000-square-foot yellow and blue warehouse at Howard and Morrison avenues features special workout rooms for spinning and aerobics and a $50,000 boxing ring.

With the main gym floor open 24 hours, Xtreme is a late-night workout spot for waitresses and bartenders in their 20s and 30s, joined by the staff from Memorial Hospital on Swann Avenue.

The morning crowd is different set of more mature exercisers. Jenni Glaser, 43, has belonged to Xtreme since it opened and said the atmosphere is "friendly and laid back."

At almost $500 a year, membership is not cheap. But Xtreme's clientele are serious health aficionados, the bulk of whom are from South Tampa and willing to pay the extra cost.

Protein shakes and dietary supplements sell well, said personal trainer Alex Algarin.

"This is a fit-conscious crowd," he said. "You can feel it and see it here."

Leo's Beach Park Health Club

The lime green front signals throwback, with its Hulk-like behemoths clothed in yellow Speedos and headbands. Throwback to the '70s. To the mecca of bodybuilding, Venice Beach, Calif.

The message: If you plan to burn and sweat, welcome home. If you plan to gawk and gab, keep moving.

"A lot of people here are hard-core," said Kobiolka, 43, in between sets. "It's not much of a social club."

The owner of the Beach Park Health Club at 3637 S Manhattan Avenue is Leo Ocean, who coached track and football in Hillsborough County before opening his gym in 1977.

The majority of members are more concerned with strength-training and toning, which allows Ocean to keep just seven cardio machines near the front entrance.

Membership is small, eliminating lines at machines even during peak hours. Ocean meets with each member before enrollment to set up an exercise routine.

Beach Park closes at 9 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on Saturday. On Sunday, don't even think about coming by, although, for an additional fee Ocean offers his customers a key, giving them 24-hour access.

Ocean said he trusts them.

"What are they going to steal?" said Ocean, a Beach Park resident. "Roll a weight machine out of here?"

Harbour Island Athletic Club and Spa

With a basketball court, racquetball and squash courts, a spa, and a swimming pool and 15 clay tennis courts, Harbour Island is a sprawling complex of athletics and active leisure.

"We're basically a country club without the golf course," said Sales Director Tim Forrest, who overseas some 4,200 members, making it the largest club in the area.

Harbour Island, 900 S Harbour Island Boulevard, is known as a baby boomers club. Two-fifths of its members are families. The median income is $65,000.

Wellbridge, a Denver-based health club chain, took charge of the club in 1997. It caters to families and children with summer camp programs, volleyball and golf leagues and even wine-tasting events.

The social aspect is important, said Forrest.

"We're like a second family," he said.

Harbour Island's Camp Kaleidoscope for children includes four days of swim and basketball instruction and a weekly field trip.

Individual memberships range from $94-a-month for individuals to $201 for a family.

Shapes Total Fitness for Women

The idea behind female health clubs goes back almost 40 years.

"Many women will not feel comfortable working out in an environment where men are working out," said Bob Karshner, the owner of Shapes Total Fitness. "They like working out with other women because they don't have to be dressed up and looking perfect."

Founded in 1983, Shapes is a west and central Florida chain of 11 women's-only health clubs (it owns two coed clubs in Sarasota as well).

The South Tampa location, 3808 Swann Ave., has a women's-only history. Before Shapes, it was the women's only health club Mademoiselle.

Karshner said Shapes' customers range in age from 18 to 90.

The atmosphere of the club, he said, is no different from a co-ed health club; upbeat, energetic.

Many of Shapes exercise programs, however, are tailored to women.

Every location features a pool and the club's aqua program is designed for women with joint and weight problems and arthritis.

Husbands and boyfriends are allowed inside, but they have to wait in the lobby.

Karshner, who has made a living helping women get in shape, works out at a gym in his house.

Downtown YMCA

They show up at 5:30 a.m., maybe a quarter till. In the beginning they were iron men and women. Now they include a sprinkling of more malleable athletes as well. Copper men and women.

By 6 a.m. they are listening to music and pedalling on one of 21 bikes. They are the Downtown YMCA's spinners.

"People look at spinning and think it's hard," said instructor Maureen Rinaldo. "But it's not. You're in a dark room, you turn up a knob to increase the tension. You don't have to work that hard or you can work real hard."

The workout is the creation of cyclist Jonny G - short for Jonathan Goldberg - who began leading classes on a stationary bike in his southern California garage.

Excellent at building endurance, Johnny G took up spinning in 1989 to prepare for the annual Race Across America.

The YMCA is a full-scale health club but its 4-year-old spinning classes are part of unofficial legend.

Dr. David Leffers of the Florida Orthopedic Institute was one of the first instructors at the Downtown YMCA, 100 N Tampa St.

Quiet by nature, Leffers led early risers with hard-charging Led Zepplin.

"I'm not a screamer or a yeller and it never appealed to me," he said. Sconces and a blacklight illuminated the room.

When Leffers began, the YMCA offered just one spinning class a week. His group quickly blossomed through word-of-mouth.

Today, the YMCA has five spinning instructors who teach 16 classes at all hours of the day including, five at 6 a.m.

"Everybody can do it," said Rinaldo. "The hardest part is the seat."

- John Balz can be reached at 269-5313 or at balz@sptimes.com

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