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Gym Gimmicks

The soundtrack from 9 ½ Weeks is blaring as a dozen generously endowed women work their glutes and flex their ... uh, abs ... in classic stripper fashion. On cue, they touch the side of their lips and slide their eyes down the length of their bodies. The gym suddenly seems hotter.

Yes, the gym. This is not a dive on the edge of town -- it's the Mission Viejo, Calif., branch of Crunch Fitness, a 22-gym health club chain that's using nontraditional exercise programs to pump up its bottom line.

"I consult with clubs all the time," says Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, editor of American Fitness magazine and author of The Fitness Instinct. "They are looking for ways to bring out the reluctant exerciser, revive the burned-out member, and reinspire the die-hards. Only 20% of the population exercises to any great degree. The clubs say, 'What about that other 80%?'"

Courting the Timid and Jaded

According to Rob Glick, group fitness director at Mission Viejo Crunch Fitness, Cardio Striptease is not high intensity, but it elevates heart rate and amounts to a decent hour-long workout. "The women have so much fun," he says. "They want to come out and be more sexy."

Other offerings at Crunch include the Police Academy Workout, the Fireman Workout (these are based on real training routines), the Circus Workout (yes, there's a trapeze involved), boxing in a ring (complete with Fight Club on Fridays), Fab (a form of Pilates in which you move instead of stretch on a mat), 10-minute strength training, and BOSU. BOSU, which stands for both sides up, is a balance and strength workout involving half a ball mounted on a platform. You stand on the ball, which is an unusual sensation.

"BOSU is very good for the older population, where balance is an issue," Glick says, adding that the often-ridiculed "chair aerobics" is also a significant workout for older people. "Sixty percent of the strength you lose (as you age) is in the upper body," Jordan confirms. "Chair aerobics addresses that area, with the intent of getting you to be able to bend over and pick up a grandchild or something you could not do before."

Indeed, the boomers are a prime target for gyms. It's economics. Per gym revenue is down 13%, according to the International Health, Racquet, and Sportclub Association (IHRSA) in Boston. The die-hards are already gym members, and the boomers-plus set constitutes a tantalizingly enormous population, many of whom are "deconditioned" as the industry drolly puts it.

"These programs may sound gimmicky, trendy, and goofy," laughs Jordan, "but if they pull in one person, mission accomplished."

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