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Finding A Perfect Workout Fit

Whether it's trying on workout clothes or trying out a new personal trainer, the athletically minded among us are always looking for a perfect fit.

Yet, with so many Americans trying to achieve personal perfection, how can it be that so many fall so obviously short? It's a paradox that deserves answers, and special correspondent Bill Geist thinks he's found some.

This summer of 2001 finds Americans more obsessed with fitness than ever--33 million of us belong to fitness clubs, home fitness machines are selling like hotcakes, and tens of millions of us are on diets.

Yet, somehow more than 61% of adult Americans are overweight, and that figure--our figures--continues to swell.

What's going on? Liz Neporent--a fitness expert, author, and a board member of the American Council on Exercise--has some ideas.

"A statistic I'll just throw at you--Krispy Kreme's profits were up 89% last quarter," says Neporent. "I think we don't move enough and we eat too much. That's the simple short answer.

"But people want a better answer than that, a magical solution to that," Geist says.

"I could make up a magical answer but what it really boils down to is you need to eat fewer calories and you need to get your butt off the couch--and that's the magical answer," Neporent says.

There are a variety of new approaches to fitness this summer. Tina Castaldi thinks what we need is discipline. Her hard-core class in Los Angeles, called Killer Boot Camp, attacks the battle of the bulge every morning at 0530 hours.

"Everybody wants a magic bullet," Castaldi says. "The thing is, everybody wants to buy a piece of apparatus or take a magic pill and then eat whatever they want and not do anything. It's not gonna happen for you. America, it's not gonna happen! You have to exercise. You have to eat less . . . I'm gonna get the whole nation fit, one waistline at a time."

In the new era of fitness, there are drill sergeants and diet cops, like David Kersh of the Madison Square Club in New York.

"I dine with clients. I get into their heads," he says. "My mother won't go out with me anymore. She's like, 'I'm having my potatoes if I go out tonight.'"

To make sure you eat well, he's developed a gourmet Meals-on-Wheels program. Egg platters with turkey bacon, chicken, turkey chili--all these meals and snacks can be sent across the country to arrive the same day they leave New York.

These days they offer everything from soup to nuts.

This class is called Abs, Thighs, and Gossip--and is held at one of New York's Crunch clubs. Doug Levine founded Crunch. Now there are 19 clubs and 150,000 members around the country.

"The secret is, make exercise fun," Levine says. "We sit around thinking of fun stuff that we can introduce to them."

Of course, Crunch offers the popular spin classes--cycling to nowhere--but the club is now also offering karaoke spin. And let's see, what else can we do with bikes? How about tossing them ithe pool?

"I think they're just designed to get people interested in fitness," says Liz Neporent, about this new breed of exercise class. "I don't have a problem with them. I don't know if they're necessarily going to speak to the average American. I don't know that every housewife who hasn't worked out in 20 years is gonna go to Cardio-Strip Tease."

Cardio-Strip Tease? Yes, there is a Cardio-Strip Tease class--dirty dancing, at the Crunch club on Sunset Boulevard in LA. It draws a crowd.

Levine says his Crunch clubs are for normal people who need not be self-conscious about being out of shape, but then you walk into one and there's male model Fabio.

"I think you should come to the gym to make yourself feel better to work out and feel good about yourself and don't worry about the rest of the people," Fabio tells Geist.

Health club memberships jumped from 20 million to 30 million in the '90s--and, please, don't call them gyms, they prefer . . .

"An urban contry club. You know, our focus is on fitness, but it feels like a country club," says Nanette Patee Francini, cofounder of the posh Sports Club LA.

"We really liken ourselves to a five-star resort. We never liken ourselves to a gym," she says.

"You don't call it a gym?" Geist asks. "What do you call it?"

"We call it a luxury sports and fitness complex," says Francini.

A sidewalk cafe, restaurants, a valet--you can even get your car washed or detailed while you work out, so it can look as good as you do--are all part of this club, as well as a spa, hair salon, and nail salon.

"We do have people who pretty much live here," Francini says.

And, oh yes, you can work out here too. Play ball, you name it--this place offers more classes than UCLA--from Candlelight Stretch to Tango Salsa Caliente.

The big trend in fitness right now is mind/body exercise.

"Mind/body exercise, meaning yoga, Pilates, tai chi--that's very big. And I think that's a reaction from the decades of pumping and pounding we did in the '80s and '90s. People just want to get off their feet a little bit and sort of connect back with the way they feel about things," says Neporent.

"What are you doing to this poor woman?" Geist asks, while watching a Pilates class.

"This is Pilates," the instructor says. "I describe Pilates as ballet meets yoga on medieval torture machines with springs."

And yoga is hot--very hot. At Bikram Choudhury's Yoga of India College, the room is 105 degrees or more and steamy. Why?

"Calcutta is like this 120 degrees anyway," he says. "Hot yoga means we do it in a hot room to make the body warm and flexible."

Hot yoga? "I can tell you if you do yoga you have the most high-quality body," says Choudhury. "You can eat anything you want. You can do anything, you can live a free life. A lot of people find they do lose weight with yoga. Oh, believe it. People lose 100 pounds in my class."

"How?" Geist asks.

"Exercise, stretcing using the energies, burning the calories," Choudhury says.

Geist drove with Choudhury from poolside at his Beverly Hills home to his yoga studio in one of his 30 cars. Car collecting relieves the stress from running his 250-studio worldwide yoga empire.

"So it's a chain, like McDonald's, right?" Geist asks.

"Believe me, the way it's going, it'll be much bigger than McDonald's in another 3 to 5 years. Billions served, as they say at McDonald's. Absolutely," says Choudhury.

Geist asks Liz Neporent for her take. "If you were the czar of fitness for the United States, and could dictate to the American citizenry what to do tomorrow, what would you tell them?" he asks.

"First thing I'd do is ban diet books. Those have to go. Just have to go away. And the next thing I'd do is ban all the infomercial products that promise you'll get in shape in 4 minutes a day," she says. "Then I would encourage people to make very simple basic changes in their lifestyle, like walking more, like eating more fruits and vegetables--things within everyone's grasp."

There's no magic bullet, she says. "There's really no magical potion powder supplement, anything that's going to help you lose weight--except for getting off your butt, getting moving, and eating less."

"So after all these machines, the billions of dollars, the infomercial products, the 32,000 books, you're saying exercise and eat less?" Geist asks.

"That's the secret formula," says Neporent.

"Would that sell?" Geist asks.

"Probably not. You would have to name it something like 'Secret to Sexy Summer Eating,'" she says. "It's not a very sexy message that I'm sending, but it's the truth."

The truth hurts. But in the summer of 2001, the burgeoning fitness industry is at least trying to make legitimate exercise more interesting--and a little easier to take.
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