Let's get physical

Gyms see memberships rise in January


People work out at Gainesville Health and Fitness Center on Sunday afternoon. For local gym owners and attendees alike, keeping up a workout routine after the new year's burst of enthusiasm fades can be tough.

DARON DEAN/Special to The Sun
Published: Monday, January 12, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 11:23 p.m.
New Year's Eve has become to health clubs what Valentine's Day and Halloween are to florists and costume shops.
"For retail stores it's before Christmas," said Jeff Plasschaert, manager of Gainesville's Downtown Athletic Club. "For us it's after Christmas."
Plasschaert said he usually sees a 20 percent jump in membership sales in January - though actual gym attendance usually bottoms out two or three months later.
"There's always more interest in fitness at the beginning of the year," Gainesville Gym owner John Babb said. "Everybody has good intentions; they just don't make it a priority in their life, that's all."
Nationally, health clubs pick up more new members in January than any other month, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association.
Although January is still by far their busiest month, for Gainesville gyms - like most businesses in the city - the influx of students in fall also boosts membership and attendance. At Orion Fitness, which caters mainly to students, manager Shane Howell said new semesters, not just new years, often bring in members.
"Gainesville's a little odd because we do have the students," Howell said. "They kind of throw things off."
At Gainesville Health and Fitness Center, though, supervisor Alonzo Perkins downplayed the student effect.
"We anticipate the students coming back," he said. "We're prepared for that, but we're more prepared for the people who want to sign up for the first time."
For gym owners and attendees alike, keeping up a workout routine after the initial burst of enthusiasm fades can be an uphill battle.
Most area fitness centers employ incentives to keep members coming back. Aside from offering a wide variety of programs to keep workouts interesting, some gyms offer free drinks and snacks on "member appreciation days" or mail postcards reminding wayward members that they did, after all, pay for a whole year.
The new year also inspires lapsed fitness buffs who already belong to a health club but have stopped going.
"There's people who we haven't seen for three months who are like, 'Remember me?' " Plasschaert said.
Nicole Ferranti, who used to work out "pretty religiously," signed up at the Downtown Athletic Club this week as part of her New Year's resolution. Ferranti quit her last gym, she said, because her workout partner started exercising at home, so this year she teamed up with several co-workers and picked a gym near her downtown office.
"Hopefully, on any given day, at least one of us will feel like going," she said.
For the dedicated, though, others' flagging attendance can be a blessing. Howell, whose gym limits membership numbers to avoid overcrowding, points out that fewer people also means shorter lines to use the machines.

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