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Alternatives:Healthcare Outside the Box


By Sharon Lintz

The walls of the gym were painted red, purple and yellow with black trim, and the floors were black rubber X think Dr. Suess with an urban edge.

So — you need to lose weight.

Maybe, like me, you’ve spent one too many late evenings at the office, slumped in front of a computer, gnoshing on greasy take-out. Or maybe, like me, you’ve indulged in too many nights out "for drinks."

Whatever the case, it’s always time to get in shape. For women, studies show that exercising several times a week may reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 20%. For both men and women, exercise is a weapon against countless illnesses: heart disease, adult onset diabetes, depression — this list goes on.

There’s no denying it — leaner means healthier. For me, getting in shape meant (gasp) hitting a gym.

Why Crunch?

Here in New York City, it’s not hard to stumble past a Crunch Fitness gym.

Founded ten years ago in a small basement studio, Crunch has exploded into what spokeswoman Dana Crawford calls "an international lifestyle brand." The fitness rage comes with its own line of fitness videos, a show on ESPN2, and the inevitable line of apparel, body, and hair care products.

There are currently seven Crunch gyms in New York, five in Atlanta, and one each in Chicago, San Francisco, Miami and Tokyo.

Still, Crunch’s push towards world domination isn’t what piqued my interest. While I hate to admit it, I really liked the sound of their "no judgement" mission.

"Crunch is not competitive," reads then gym’s seductive mission statement, "It is non-judgmental, it is not elitist, it does not represent a kind of person."

I also liked the fact the Crunch web site offered vital and user-friendly health tips. The "Booze Damage Control" advice and a recipe for the all-important non-fat grilled cheese sandwich are just two of the web site’s gems.

Crunch : A Complete Guide to Health and Fitness, the gym’s ’98 entry into the hallowed pantheon of fitness books was another hook. The book features inspiring photos of one very buff drag queen, an aerobicizing grandmother, and a Crunch member demonstrating strength training who happens to be missing an arm.

Among other activities, the Crunch book recommends "slow, pulsating, throbbing sex."

My kind of gym, I thought. I decided to give it a go.

A wacky workout

Signing in was a breeze. All I had to do was ask for a day pass at the front desk, pay my 22 dollars, and Lo and behold, I was in — I didn’t have to deal with the routine "chat" with a sales rep.

Although I came right after work, the gym (I went to the Union Square location) wasn’t overly crowded.

I quickly changed and headed up to my class — a hip-hop aerobics class called "The Jam."

I was early.

The waiting area for the class was furnished with one huge, zebra-print couch and several yellow plastic chairs shaped like human hands. The walls of the gym were painted red, purple and yellow with black trim, and the floors were black rubber — think Dr. Suess with an urban edge.

The other women waiting for "The Jam" were a mixed group. Their ages ranged from what looked like late teens to late forties. A few spoke Spanish. One spoke Russian.

Some "jammers" were plump — others were fighting lean. A few wore ratty T-shirts and sweats (myself included), others wore meticulously coordinated, head-to-toe Adidas and Nike ensembles. One woman — who looked to be in her mid-forties–was heavily tattooed.

And the class, well — it was a lot of fun. Duant, the instructor, was funky, motivating, and very easy on the eye in skin-tight camouflage hot pants.

We sweat.

Some of choreography was complicated, but the instruction was easy to follow — like when he repeatedly admonished us to grab our crotches, which everyone did with dramatic flourish. (You had to be there, but the move was intrinsic to the choreography.)

While a lot of the women in the class were spectacular dancers, a few sort of flailed — at least, I did. But hey, it was cool. I was trying and that’s what counted.

The skinny

A playful environment, no hard sell and good, sweaty fun — not the kind of experience I’d expect from any high-profile gym franchise.

The class variety at Crunch is impressive, featuring every kind of aerobic workout you can think of — hip hop. Latin, African, and more. Cutting-edge classes like "Urban Rebounding," (a workout on mini-trampolines) and "Gospel Aerobics," (a Los Angeles class led by a live church choir) add to the gym’s repertoire.

More than fun

Crunch’s creative approach has advantages beyond the amusement factor — it can help keep you working out.

"It’s always important for people to keep their exercise programs fresh," said Maeve McCaffrey, spokeswoman for the International Racquet and Sports Club Association.

McCaffrey cites intimidation and lack of variety as two of the primary challenges facing anyone beginning a workout.

"Crunch does a great job of addressing those challenges," said McCaffrey. "The whole idea of being who you are is great. The choice of classes and décor — they keep those things exciting."

And the choice of classes continues to grow. Some of the newer additions to the innovative Crunch roster include "Karaoke Spinning" (yes, it’s exactly as it sounds), in Los Angeles and "Laugh and Sculpt" — a class taught by a stand-up comedienne in Atlanta.

"We’re always, always looking for new talent and new class ideas," say Donna Cyrus, the National and Group Fitness Director of Crunch. "We always want to create the ideal fusion of fitness and entertainment."

Fitness and entertainment — to my mind and sore muscles, a very good thing indeed.

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