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Working out the excuses

| Sunday, Oct. 1, 2006

Anna Lisa Haughwout of White Oak devised a novel solution for getting herself to the gym. She got a job there.

"I'm being paid. I work here," says Haughwout, a staff member at Curves in North Versailles.

Before that, she says, she was the Tiger Woods of rationalization.

"Otherwise, 'I didn't have enough time.' 'I had to take care of the kids.' 'I had to be a chaperone.' I had every excuse in the book," she says. "I've lost 22 pounds since I worked here, and I feel so much better."

When it comes to avoiding exercise, people blame everything but the bossa nova. They blame the weather. Their jobs. Or a new pet.

"When they get new pets, they don't come for weeks on end," Haughwout says.

She gives others points for honesty.

"'I'm just too lazy.' They'll actually admit it," she says with a laugh.

"There's a ton of excuses out there," says personal trainer Tim Schilcher, of Indiana Township. Schilcher owns MyoFitness, which partners with Alexander's Athletic Club in Harmar. "A lot of it's seasonal -- too hot, too cold, vacation."

Many people avoid the gym because they feel self-conscious venturing into a foreign environment with intimidating machines and people who all seem to be in better shape than they are.

"Some people like to say, 'I want to lose a few pounds first before I start working out,'" Schilcher says. "I say, 'You clean up before the maid comes, eh?' I think it's more a self-esteem thing, going to the gym and seeing these buff bodies there and feeling insecure."

Lack of time is the No. 1 reason cited by people for letting that gym membership collect dust, health and fitness professionals say.

"People think they've got to spend an hour working out when, in reality, you don't," he says. "You can get a great workout in 10 to 15 minutes."

A survey sponsored by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association found that 91 percent of Americans believed their health would improve if they exercised at a health club. However, only 18 percent of those surveyed belonged to a health club.

Forty-two percent said that exercising for as little as 30 minutes at a club twice a week for the next month would "interfere with their other priorities."

The fitness industry is adapting to the time constraints cited by consumers. Curves, for example, is an international fitness franchise that helps its all-female clientele get in shape with an "express workout," a 30-minute strength and cardiovascular regimen performed on hydraulic resistance machines.

Of the nearly 30,000 health clubs in the country, about 10,000-12,000 are express facilities, says Rosemary Lavery, spokeswoman for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. More gender-specific facilities are springing up, she says, such as Blitz for men. Blitz members do a 20-minute, high-intensity workout three times a week.

"All these different types of clubs that are evolving are geared to specific people," Lavery says. "Women who don't feel comfortable working out with men have a place where the focus is on their workout, as it should be."

Matt Straley, fitness director at Bally Total Fitness in McCandless, keeps track of absentee members by consulting a tabbed day planner.

When the calendar indicates that an individual has not been to Bally for precisely 30, 60 or 90 days, he'll phone them for a chat. He'll ask them how their workouts have been going, even though their absence speaks for itself.

Straley, 25, says he isn't judging them. "Basically, I tell them, 'Let's get you in here and maybe see why you failed.'"

Some people use this failure as an excuse in itself, he says. "'I haven't been in a while, so I'm just not going to come in.'"

Mary Jo Truschel, director of operations for Monroeville Sports Club, thinks for a while before reciting the I-can't-get-to-the-gym blues:

"'I'm too tired.' 'It's raining outside.' They're watching sports on television so they can't work out. If it's a dreary day, then they don't work out."

She suggests working out with companions.

"It has to become a social thing as well as a physical thing," Truschel says. "If you can find one or two other individuals who you not only enjoy working out with but talking with and sharing common thoughts, then you almost feel obligated. 'That person's going to be there, so I'd better show up.'"

Baby steps to fitness

Looking to get fit• Consider these tips:

  • Start small. When driving to work or the mall, park farther away from the entrance. The walk will do you good. Unless you work on the 20th floor, take the stairs instead of using the elevator.

  • Exercise with a friend or a neighbor. You're less likely to skip a workout if someone is waiting for you, says Anna Lisa Houghwout, fitness tech at Curves in North Versailles. Choose a goal, such as a 5K walk or a hiking or cycling trip, that will help you focus your training.

  • Join a gym. It will provide you with a support system. Choose one that's close to your home or office. When the club staff takes you around, note whether it's clean. See if you can chat with members off the premises and find out whether they're satisfied. Check with the Better Business Bureau before you sign on the dotted line.

  • If you visit the gym in the evening, go straight from work. There will be too many distractions if you go home first.

  • Exercise to your favorite music. It's a great motivator, whether it's the "Rocky" theme or "Search and Destroy" by Iggy and the Stooges. "It focuses you more," says Tim Schilcher, personal trainer at Alexander's Athletic Club in Harmar and owner of MyoFitness. It also combats boredom, he says.

  • Take the Big Picture approach. Chart your progress, but don't drive yourself crazy weighing yourself every day. A more accurate measure is whether your clothes begin to fit more loosely, Schilcher says. Weight training helps to develop lean muscle, which actually could add pounds. But that will be lean muscle that can help you burn calories.

    "The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn while you're sleeping," he says. "Muscle is the only metabolically active tissue in our body, meaning it has to burn calories just to maintain itself."

  • Buy yourself some cool new workout clothing, such as a pair of cross-training shoes, Lycra workout shorts or compression T-shirt made of wicking fabric.

  • Put a dollar in a jar whenever you get to the gym or meet your friend for that morning walk. Use the money to treat yourself, just as long as it's not used to buy a banana split.

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