Mind & Body

So... you've decided you've had enough sand kicked in your face at the beach. What to do, what to do?

Not everyone can be as buff as Arnold Schwarzenegger, but with a little investment of money and time you can tone up that flabby body and even build a stronger mind. All it takes is a local gym and some safe bike paths. Weight training, once the province of bodybuilders and super-jocks, has become one of the most popular fitness activities of the decade. Iron gyms and chrome palaces have cropped up all over the country, giving unprecedented choices to those of us who like to "pump up the volume."

Before you put your John Hancock on the dotted line of a multi-year contract at one of these fitness farms, here's a few things to keep in mind:

  • How close is this gym to work or home? If you can't get there from here,

    you won't. No matter how great the gym may look, if it isn't convenient for you to get to, you won't spend much time there. Choose location wisely, preferably staying within a 10-15 minute drive from your home or workplace.

  • What will all this cost? You might judge the value-for-money factor of a

    gym by the car the owner drives. If it's a doozy, you can bet the gym owner is either shifty, thrifty or nifty at overcharging. A better way to judge value, though, is to check out the length of any contract you sign and the size of any downpayment due at sign-up. If you get locked into a three-year contract, you will no doubt regret it when that great job transfer pops up, or when you decide watching TV is a better fit for you. Also, gyms that ask for a large downpayment are notorious for being concerned more with quantity than quality customer service. Talk to some folks in the gym and find out how long they have been working out there; the longer, the better for you.

  • Is the gym a good 'fit' for me? Drop by a gym several times at different

    hours to check traffic patterns and equipment availability. If you can barely squeeze between the squat racks and water fountains at prime time, you may want to look elsewhere. Inspect machinery closely to see if it is maintained well; this is especially important on cable machines and on upholstered benches. Shoddy equipment should scare you away faster than bad b.o.

  • Do I fit in with the clientele? Being antisocial is fine when you're

    working out, but you'll feel a lot more comfortable in the long run if you exercise with people you feel good being around. When doing your gym scouting, be on the lookout for "psychic vampires", those men and women who go to the gym to chit-chat and steal away your motivation and energy. If there are more people working their jaws than their 'ceps, you may be better off at a more serious gym. Women often feel more comfortable working out without a lot of men around, especially those women who are more interested in hitting the weights than getting hit on.

In short, pick a gym that is close, comfortable, clean and chummy. If you don't do your homework before you sign up, you'll probably wish you had just paid the neighbors to let their Doberman chase you around the block every evening.

Now that you have worked your muscles, it's time to give that heart some attention. We covered three cheap aerobic activities last month, so this month let's take a short look at a fun and healthy outdoor pursuit - cycling. Bikes in the gym may look appealing, but nothing can beat the thrill and workout you get from a road trip on two wheels. Cycling is a very attractive alternative to running since your joints take less abuse, and the scenery is much better than staring at a cinderblock wall.

If you already know how to ride, all you need to do is visit the local bike garage and pick out a sturdy model that fits your finances and your body. Fancy racing and mountain bikes are all the rage, but your workout will go just as well with a trusty three-speed with a comfy seat and wide tires. Once you're outfitted with the right machine, treat your bike work much like your running or swimming workouts. You can do long rides to work on serious cardio development, or you can work the hills to help in your strength development.

Keep in mind the safety precautions you learned long ago, and you'll enjoy an incredibly productive supplemental workout!

Next time: What you can do in the weight room, and who you can get to help.

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