Sunday, November 25, 2007

You're invited for the holidays

Tempted to take a workout break? Gyms and trainers saw that coming -- and want to save you from yourself.

Fit list
Trainer Nina Moore, left, at the Sports Club/LA with Mia Sable, gives holiday marching orders to her clients. Sable says she likes “knowing there will be accountability” in the new year.

By Jeannine Stein
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

November 26, 2007

WITH gifts to buy, halls to deck, parties to plan and copious amounts of rich, fatty food to be consumed, even devoted fitness buffs might lop a few workouts off the holiday schedule. Less devoted enthusiasts might just say to heck with gym visits altogether.

But health clubs, personal trainers and fitness instructors would like you to know they're here for you during this hectic time -- and they'd really, really like you to come in. They're so concerned about the slide toward flabdom that, even before Thanksgiving leftovers are history, they're offering special classes, parties and workout sessions to bolster your flagging motivation and make sure you don't opt for sloth over svelte.

If the major get-in-shape push from clubs comes at the first of the year and the beginning of summer, this is more of a stay-in-shape push. Gyms are livening things up for the holidays, hoping to be more tempting than cheesecake -- or at least offering a way to do penance for eating it. Trainers are leaving nothing to chance, mapping out strategies for their clients to maneuver past holiday pitfalls. Instructors are offering abbreviated classes, operating under the premise that a little activity is better than none.

"I think it's better to keep an even keel going versus that panic that comes Jan. 1, when people feel they have to make their New Year's resolutions," says Toni Brown, group fitness director for Spectrum Athletic Clubs.

Although the fabled average holiday weight gain of 7 to 10 pounds has been blasted (it's really only a pound or so), fitness experts say there's danger in slipping out of the exercise habit.

"It's easy to get sidetracked because you're always going to be busy and have challenges," says Marcus Pierce, a master trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in Hollywood. "No one likes to keep starting over. Today you'll wake up thinking that you'll start again on Jan. 1, and that'll drag on until February."

Holiday workout treats

The Spectrum in Rolling Hills is offering a one-time Doggie and Me hike in December, "so that the pooches don't get too puffy" along with their owners, Brown says. "People just have to break away from the craziness and shopping and get in here." Spectrum's Howard Hughes club in Los Angeles booked a DJ for an Afro Brazilian Beat class in December. He'll venture into the club afterward to pump up members as they head into the home stretch toward New Year's.

Bally Total Fitness gyms will offer extra classes this Thursday, encouraging holiday revelers to burn off those Thanksgiving calories. The chain's clubs will also offer free small-group personal training sessions that day for members. "We're trying to help members stay focused during this tough time," says Tia Willows, senior vice president of member services and customer care.

Because many people are scheduled within an inch of their lives this time of year, several gyms have half-hour classes on their calendars through the holidays. Equinox in Century City created two classes: Cardio Quickie, with high-intensity drills; and Rock It Out, which concentrates on core and upper-body work. Spectrum's holiday short classes target upper and lower body: "If they do this, then they feel like they've done something," Brown says. "And usually they'll stay a little longer once they get in the door."

But not everything is designed for a massive calorie burn. YogaWorks studios schedule more restorative classes this time of year to counteract the stress of the holidays. "I think people know it's a refuge," says Julie Kleinman, director of programming. "The thing that most people need to attend to in December is that they're super stressed out."

Those needing a mood-lifter can attend the Yoga to Lift Your Spirit class at the Larchmont studio in December. The classes designed to help people de-stress and have fun have featured stand-up comedy, art, poetry and chocolate.

"It's a lighter approach," says Kleinman. "For a lot of people, the holidays are a time for depression, and this is community-oriented and is something to make you feel good."

They know where you live

But keeping people focused can't be left just to corporate headquarters. Trainers know that the holidays can be treacherous for clients with maxed-out schedules and ample opportunity to wine and dine. Canceling sessions is the first and most obvious sign of exercise negligence, followed by halfhearted workouts. Some plan outdoor runs or hikes just as a change of pace; others substitute basketball games for the regular cardio routine.

People need to stick to their workouts, even if they scale back, trainers say, because a one-week slip can easily segue into a three-month hiatus.

"This should be a separate conversation aside from the regular session," says Gregory Florez, chief executive of health and fitness coaching and training companies First Fitness Inc. and FitAdvisor, both based in Salt Lake City. "You should set some realistic parameters and expectations . . . . Here are the potential land mines and how to deal with them."

That's helped Mia Sable, who's been working out with trainer Nina Moore three times a week for about a year at the Sports Club/LA. "The holidays are particularly tricky," says the Los Angeles singer-songwriter, who will be spending part of the holidays with her family in Charlotte, N.C. "You don't want to pass up Grandma's special whatever, and any time you're not at home, there are definitely challenges. It's great to have a trainer who can set up a routine for you and show you what to do while you're away."

Moore gives Sable marching orders the minute a holiday schedule is set. Staying in unfamiliar locations away from a gym requires detailed instructions on alternate workouts using body weight, resistance bands and, if possible, the outdoors.

Moore also takes a client's measurements just before the holiday onslaught, and then afterward, making it impossible for even the most convincing fibber not to get caught. That helps keep Sable on the straight and narrow: "It's knowing there will be accountability," she says, "that it's going to be noticed if I haven't kept it off. And then I'm just going to have to work harder later, and that's going to put me back months into the new year. Why do the same thing over and over every year?"

Tough love keeps Mike Ryan's clients motivated. The trainer with Gold's Gym Fitness Institute says, "When I hear 'I can't make it because . . . ,' I know there has to be a total intervention. I know where you live. Don't make me come to your house."

He counters excuses with solutions: No gym? Take a walk. "Even if you're back East and it's chilly, bundle up," he says. "The body has to heat up, so you're going to be burning more calories. People will look for any excuse. But we are not grizzly bears. We do not hibernate."

Cellphones and the Internet have made it simple for trainers to check in with out-of-town clients. "I keep in touch with all lines of communication," Moore says, "texting and e-mailing. I'm usually just asking them how it's going, answering any questions."

But there's a fine line between motivation and nagging, which can backfire. It's all about balance this time of year, Florez says. Trainers need to recognize that indulgences will happen, he says, but they shouldn't be met with flogging.

"Throw the scale out," he says. "It will only serve to create anxiety. This should not be about stress; it should be about fitting things in when you can and toeing the line as much as possible, knowing that four weeks from now you'll get yourself back on track and be fine."