- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

Get off that boring old treadmill and belt out a cheesy Elvis song on the exercise bike, instead. Strut around in 3-inch heels or work up a sweat on the pogo stick.

As gyms compete with dance studios and adult sports leagues to hold on to members with ever-shorter attention spans, run-of-the-mill aerobics and other classes are getting an injection of creativity.

So, sessions such as “Karaoke Spin,” “Pogo Bootcamp” and “Stiletto Strength” are springing up in gyms across the country.

“People are putting in longer hours at the office,” said Donna Cyprus, who’s in charge of programming for Crunch Fitness. “The gym shouldn’t be another chore.”

But, increasingly, the fitness-conscious view it exactly that way. Since 2000, the average length of a gym membership has dropped from 5.7 years to 4.6 years, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA).

“With so many more clubs, it opens up opportunities for people to leave and seek a better alternative,” said Brooke Correia, the industry group’s spokeswoman.

Bally’s Total Fitness plans to add options such as African dance and Brazilian martial arts by early next year.

“One of the reasons is so we can attract a broader, larger membership base,” said Norris Tomlinson, director of group exercise for the Chicago-based chain.

For gym members, a hip-hop dance or kickboxing class has a physical benefit besides the mental advantage of staying fresh. People are more likely to flex different parts of the body while learning new moves, lowering the risk for injury, said Richard Cotton, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise.

“You’re not walking up and down the same steps, stressing the same muscles,” he said. Working out with others also builds camaraderie, making it easier to commit to regular exercise, he said.

Group classes have long been a big draw for gyms. Most of the nation’s 29,000 health clubs offer some type of group class, according to IHRSA.

“It’s what keeps people coming back,” said Carrie Kepple, director of programming at Gold’s Gym, based in Irving, Texas. “When there were only a couple classes in clubs 10 years ago, people got bored and their bodies would plateau. Nowadays, classes are geared toward allowing choices and tricking bodies into getting a workout.”

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