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Fitness More of a Year-round Pursuit

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Brad Willis, a 33-year-old father of three, didn't wait until the start of a new year to change his stationary ways. When Willis noticed he was getting a bit heavy around the middle, he headed to Gold's Gym to restart his fitness routine.

Since April, he has been going to the gym consistently three to four days a week.

"I haven't missed a day," Willis said on his way to a recent workout. "We'll see if I can stick to it."

Thanks to people like Willis and an increasing number of health-conscience Atlantans, business is steadier throughout the year for many area health club owners, who no longer have to pin their hopes on January --- the busiest month for membership sales --- to carry them through the year.

"I don't have to worry about it, no," said Kelly Farris, a certified trainer and owner of Ladies Workout Express, an 1,800-member club in Snellville. "The last year, we've been more even every month than any year I've been in business."

Eight years ago, Farris said, she would sign up about 30 to 35 new members during the summer months, traditionally the slowest time of the year. This summer, she saw 65 to 70 new clients every month.

One of them was Rebecca Bentley, who joined Farris' gym in July after her doctor told her she might have problems having children because of her weight. Within three hours of hearing that news, Bentley, 25, was at the gym signing her contract. Since then, she has worked out at least four times a week.

The only time off she took was when she went on vacation.

"When they told me I might have trouble down the line conceiving, it was a big wake-up call for me that this is something I really needed to take care of," said Bentley, who has lost 10 pounds since she joined. "I actually found I enjoyed exercise. It's not something I ever thought I would do because I've always been overweight, but I found I actually enjoyed it."

Kip Rozier, co-owner of BodyPlex Family Fitness, said exercising isn't simply a fad anymore.

For Rozier, business used to be like a roller coaster ride. Each year started off at a high point with people rushing to gyms as part of their New Year's resolutions. Business dropped off dramatically in the spring and summer as people lost interest, picked up a bit in the fall with the start of the school year, then leveled off at the end of the year.

Not anymore.

"We don't have as many of the peaks and valleys as we used to have," Rozier said.

The steady business helped Rozier and his partner expand from the original BodyPlex site in Suwanee to Buford, Oakwood and Sandy Springs. Several more sites are planned or under construction.

Even with a more regular stream of customers, January remains the hottest month for health club memberships, with hundreds of people deter- mined to make this the year they get in shape. Many clubs, including Gold's Gym in Peachtree Corners, expect to sign up 200 new and renewing clients this month, about twice as many as they normally do.

"Everybody wants to get back in shape at the beginning of the year," said Mike Kane, Gold's Gym's general manager. "Nothing compares to January --- that's industrywide. January is always the best time to do business for us."

Of course, not all club owners have been able to figure out how to get those big January crowds to stick with their resolutions through the year.

Brandi King, the operations manager of the Southern Athletic Club in Lilburn, has been watching the cycle for nine years.

How long do her New Year's clients usually last?

"About two months," King said, "and then they're done."

Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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