EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 26, 2008

A tale of two health clubs trends: Fitness for kids, high-tech workouts

By Mark E. Vogler

Latitude Sports Clubs of Methuen has a new program designed to nip childhood obesity in the bud.

The fitness center at 116 Pleasant Valley St. caters to more than 6,000 members. Last month it launched a Kids Fit program designed for children ages 18 months to 13.

Curves for Women in North Andover, meanwhile, recently joined the high-tech age of fitness training.

Its owners bought a new computer system called CurvesSmart that offers its 350 members a computerized, precision-designed workout when they train at 110 Sutton St. in North Andover.

These are among the newest in fitness trends at local health clubs, a competitive and growing business.

"Childhood obesity and childhood diabetes are rising, and we'd like to do our part to help stop that," said Elena Scuderi of Salem, N.H., who is general manager at Latitude Sports Clubs of Methuen.

"It's great for the parents. They can bring in their kids to work out the same time they're working out," said Scuderi, who's been involved in the fitness field for about 15 years.

At the beginning of the year, Latitude lowered its monthly rate for youth membership to about half the rate charged to adult members. It also began offering discounted memberships for people in the 14- to 18-year-old range, reaching out to high school and college students.

"We started the Kids Fit program in March," Scuderi said. "The big trend is family atmosphere, so we have a youth membership for 14 and up, and now we have a kids fit program 18 months to 13 years old. We offer different sessions for different ages," she said.

A special trainer works with classes of six to 10 children at a time.

While health clubs have traditionally courted individual members to work out on their own schedules and at their own pace, Latitude — formerly Golds Gym — is concentrating more on group programs, with the idea that people who are out of shape and need to drop the weight might be more inclined to do so if they're joined by others who are battling the bulge.

The club's "biggest loser" contest is gaining popularity, whether done in-house or in competition with other local health clubs.

"Overall, the training aspect is leaning toward group training because it's more cost effective," Scuderi said. "But group training isn't just more popular because it's cost effective. It's because of the socialization aspect, too, the friendships that develop within the group."

Some of the smaller clubs — like Curves — have carved out a niche for themselves by offering more personalized training.

In Texas, the company pioneered the computerized, personal coaching system called CurvesSmart, which finally made its way here this month.

"Out of the 10,000 Curves worldwide, there's only 1,300 that have them right now — and we're one of them," said Laura McKellar, a Bradford resident who has been co-owner of the North Andover franchise for six years.

"That's a huge trend for us. We call it 'the success coach' — a little computer attached to all of the equipment. CurvesSmart ensures that members maintain an exertion level that is safe and guarantees maximum benefit based on their heart rate, speed of movement, repetition and resistance," McKellar said.

"The clubs that have been using them have seen a 15 percent increase in inches lost," she said.

CurvesSmart provides electronic progress reports on a woman's personal training program, and also helps to improve progress of individual workouts, which involve hydraulic resistance machines that combine strength training and sustained cardiovascular activity, McKellar said.

There's a built-in incentive to inspire the women to reach for their maximum potential fitness. The box that measures the progress of a workout also takes on different colors.

"Yellow means you need to kick it up," McKellar said.

"Green means you're in you're range. If you get a blinking green, it means you overshot your range. If it blinks too much, it will move you up a level," she said.

"When you're working toward your maximum potential, it keeps you motivated. So, the green is the best. Green is where you want to be."