Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Annual Rush To Fitness For Oklahomans Begin In A Few Days

“John H. Winkler, Jr. works out on a stationery bicycle at Pacer Fitness Center on Friday. Winkler said he exercises at the facility 5 days a week and said he’s been committed to a fitness regimen for the past 10 years. In a few days, the annual rush to fitness centers and gyms across the country will begin as Americans face the reality that another year has brought on a few more pounds. For fitness centers, health clubs and gyms, January represents one of the busiest months of the year for new memberships, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. But this year, the troubled economy that has cut into consumer spending and holiday retail sales could also mean a less than cheery new year for the industry. The economy is worrisome, some club managers and owners here say, even though they haven’t seen a big drop in business yet. ‘We continue to see people join,’ and pay month by month, said Nancy Shidler, director at Integris Baptist Medical Center’s Pacer Fitness Center. But the fitness center has downsized its staff slightly, and cut a few group exercise sessions from its schedule to keep operations lean. ‘Every day we’re looking at what we’re doing, and how we’re doing it,’ she said. There are still 107 weekly group classes and, to encourage new members and retain current ones, the center now provides free baby sitting and hasn’t cut back on member amenities. Going into 2009, managing stress and maintaining health through exercise is more important than ever, Shidler said. ‘We hope it’s one of the last things people consider cutting,’ she said. Southern Athletic Club general manager Jeff LeCrone has spent two decades in the fitness industry, and a drop in business that started in summer 2007 ‘is the biggest dip I’ve seen in 20 years,’ he said. High gas prices, and an influx of health clubs, seemed to affect traffic at the south Oklahoma City club, but business picked up recently and the club — with mostly month-to-month members — has doubled its usual January advertising to encourage a healthy start to 2009. ‘The floodgates will open Jan. 5,’ LeCrone said. And like Shidler, he hopes people will realize the ongoing value of keeping fit amid soaring medical costs. ‘It’s an investment in your overall future health,’ he said. At Downtown Fitness of Norman, owner Mark Floyd isn’t concerned about business — at least not yet. Floyd bought the business five years ago, and since then has renovated and expanded its space and added services more than once. ‘Business is up right now,’ he said, and has been growing for months. ‘We’re doing good.’ But Floyd also said he has ‘been hustling’ to keep members interested and coming back through phone calls and personal attention when members are onsite.”

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