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A cover girl for fitness ought to look the part


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The great irony of most female health and fitness magazines is that the cover models often look sickly. Take Kristy, the svelte blond who graces the January cover of Fitness wearing a shrunken one-buttoned cardigan and bikini bottoms.

Her bio, which is meant to inspire, says she runs six miles a day and craves pasta for lunch. But she doesn't look like a real runner. And like every other cover model for Fitness (which declined to discuss its regular use of come-hither poses), she doesn't look fit. She looks undernourished.

There is nothing new about magazines featuring airbrushed, too-skinny, impossibly perfect models. These fantasy images supposedly drive the product off the newsstands. But for once I'd like to see "health and fitness" magazines start serving their readers - especially impressionable young girls - by putting healthy-looking people on the cover.

Women's Health Magazine (You & Improved!), one of the best new magazines of the year, says it is trying to do just that. The much-needed sister publication to Men's Health uses sexy but reasonably athletic-looking models, like Sonya Balmores, a 19-year-old actress and surfer from Hawaii.

"It seemed like the staff was really concerned with being authentic," Balmores told me. "They actually do the workouts and wanted real-life examples (from me) to show the readers."

For years I've been among the 20 percent of American females who loved Men's Health (in spite of its ab obsession) because none of the women's health magazines had the content or the witty, confident voice I wanted.

Now it has arrived and is selling beyond expectations.

"Too much of the time we see a patronizing approach to women and how we handle our lives," editor Kristina Johnson said. "We're so far beyond that. Women don't need to be convinced healthy is a good thing. We just want to know how to do it better and balance our time."

What is a geezer, anyway?

For another magazine that features accessible people, take a look at GeezerJock, which caters to serious Masters athletes (age 40 and older) who are still surfing, competing in Ironman triathlons, playing baseball, forming rugby scrums and dunking basketballs. The newly launched Chicago-based publication celebrates the "regenerative power of sports, activity and competition," editor Sean Callahan said.

The intense nature of "mature" athletes is perhaps best illustrated in the ongoing debate over the magazine's lighthearted name. Callahan says the juxtaposition reflects the irreverence and insouciance of people who refuse to submit to the traditional notions of aging.

Critics, who are taking themselves way too seriously, find it offensive, crass and inappropriate. Would you pick up a magazine called The Masters Athlete or Senior Sport Scene? Yuck. The real issue with the name, said Callahan, who enjoys the debate, is that geezer generally means "an eccentric old man," but more than 35 percent of readers are women. (www.geezerjock.com)

Most GeezerJocks probably were high school athletes who would have devoured the new magazine Stack. Coming off a strong rookie season, Stack aims to help young athletes improve their game without drugs.

The premier issue contained a plyometric workout (stretch-reflex exercises) to drop your 40-yard dash time, medicine ball drills from Major League Baseball All-Stars, and LeBron James' training program when he was a phenom at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.

Since then, the magazine has bulked up in certain areas. There's more information about making the jump from high school to college and increased coverage of sports injuries, training facilities, mental toughness and product reviews. The computer program My Stack lets readers customize content based on their sport, interest and goals.

Created by former college football players Nick Palazzo and Chad Zimmerman, who saw a dearth of training and nutritional information for high schoolers, the magazine was distributed to a million high school students this year. It's free upon request for athletic directors and available by subscription through the Web site www.stackmag.com.

Though light on information specifically for women and lacking female cover models, the editors say the articles could apply to everyone.

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(E-mail Julie Deardorff at jdeardorff(AT)tribune.com.)

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(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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