Winter Is No Excuse - Try a Gym or Fitness Club, Some for Women Only

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Winter Is No Excuse - Try a Gym or Fitness Club, Some for Women Only

Come winter and many of us who have been diligent about sticking to an exercise regimen are tempted to stop. It takes a special soul to jog every morning in sub-zero temperatures. And who wants to run around in the cold air with hair still damp from the pool?

After all, no one can tell that you have stopped exercising. Those bulky sweaters and heavy coats camouflage many faults. The list of excuses to keep you from your exercise routine seems endless.

It is not a good idea to let the weather come between you and your exercise. If you do, all your good work may come to nil. American College of Sports Medicine research shows that fitness levels are reduced within two to three weeks of the discontinuation of exercise. Within three to eight months, all your good work has gone down the drain. You are back to square one. An option for winter could be a fitness club equipped with exercise machines. For the uninitiated, a gym can look intimidating at first, with its rows of heavy equipment. But do not be put off - this equipment targets specific areas of the body.

The Marquis Thermal Spa & Fitness Club, at the J. W. Marriott Hotel in Banpo-dong, southern Seoul, has more than 200 pieces of equipment. So where do you start?

"The first thing to do before starting any workout program is to get a medical assessment to identify any health problems," advises the club's leisure director, Peter Berry.

A fitness test is also a guide to setting up an exercise program appropriate for your fitness level. "Another test should be done six weeks later to determine how your fitness has improved," says Mr. Berry. "Then your program can be adjusted accordingly."

For beginners, walking on treadmills and doing recommended exercises with light weights should be sufficient. "It is not how heavy the weights are that matters, but the number of repetitions," Mr. Berry explains. "You should aim for high repetitions."

Those who fancy something different should try the aqua gym, literally an underwater gym with special exercise equipment. This is an efficient way to increase fitness without straining yourself too much. Because weight decreases 70 percent when the body is immersed in water, a workout in the water enables you to do exercises without getting so tired.

Women have taken enthusiastically to sweating it out in gyms - pumping iron is no longer seen as an exclusively male thing. Most gyms today have separate areas for women where the equipment is designed for the female body. However, many women feel more comfortable in women-only gyms. Because of this, the number of women-only gyms is growing.

"Women have specific problem areas such as the abdomen, upper arm and inner thighs," says Lee Hwa-jin, an aerobics instructor at the Amaranth Fitness Club in Hannam-dong, Seoul. This women-only club opened last summer. Ms. Lee says beginners should aim to exercise three times a week for about 30 minutes to an hour or until they feel stress in their muscles.

"Begin your workout with a warm-up, including some stretching and cardiovascular exercises such as the treadmill, stair stepper or bike, for 15 to 20 minutes," she advises. Ms. Lee says a proper warm-up can prevent injuries and improve flexibility, strength and blood flow. When using exercise machines, exercise the large muscle groups first, then move on to the smaller muscles, she advises.

"Work the entire back area before moving on to the arms, for example," she says. "Aim to do three sets of each exercise, with between 8 and 12 repetitions in each set."

Ms. Lee says the abdominal area should not be forgotten as more than 90 percent of women say they have abdominal problems. Sit-ups and stomach crunches should be followed by a cool-down and stretching. "It is very important to stretch after exercising to prevent sore muscles the next day," Ms. Lee points out.

For people with arthritis, exercise is vital to maintaining full movement and to prevent joints from stiffening. "Aqua aerobics is an option for people with arthritis," says Ms. Lee. This is because water resistance is gentle enough not to strain the joints. Underwater aerobic exercises are good for the heart and for muscle strength.

Mr. Berry agrees with the benefits of water. "Even taking big strides in the water, swinging your arms while you walk, is good exercise," he says.

Regardless of the type of exercise you choose, the most important thing is to get the body moving and to maintain consistency. "Exercise should be fun and enjoyable if you are to stick to it regularly," Mr. Berry says.
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