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A look at how local gyms weigh in

Jan. 4, 2007

If it's true that the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, then January may be the guiltiest time of the year. This is the month when the cold hard truth hits: Those double chocolate turtle cookies and that extra quart of eggnog did not just evaporate into the digestive void. They set up a winter vacation spot near your waistline.

No need to panic; just get to the gym.

The South Milwaukee Fitness center offers residents of South Milwaukee a well-equipped facility with modern equipment as well as a padded, indoor running track. CNI Photo by Charles Auer

Unfortunately, finding a gym can be an arduous task, and many of us don't have the time to do the research. Lucky for you, I do. Here's a rundown of what South Shore's fitness centers have to offer, from price points and hidden fees to which ones offer free yoga classes with membership.

All of the gyms visited were quality establishments. All featured weight and cardio machines that were in good, and sometimes almost new, shape and made by reputable manufacturers. Each gym also called the post work hours of 5 to 7 p.m. weekdays the busiest time for workouts, something worth noting if that is your target workout time.

Bally Total Fitness

Bally is often the first place people think of when considering a gym, given its size and name recognition. With its arsenal of 30 treadmills lining the front window, 20 or so elliptical trainers right behind, plus weight machines and free weights, you should have no problem finding a machine to fit your needs, regardless of what muscle you're looking to flex.

Included in membership is access to all of the center's classes, which include Pilates, yoga, dance, spinning and martial arts. Membership also includes use of the Olympic-size swimming pool, sauna and steam rooms, whirlpool, second-floor walking track and an orientation with a certified personal trainer.

Although the gym has a qualified and informative staff on hand to answer questions, those new to the fitness world may find Bally a bit overwhelming. Its extensive options are better suited for the experienced fitness practitioner, and the atmosphere is more urban and fast-paced than other local gyms.

Bally also is likely to be the busiest, but it offers a healthy amount of options for the cost, good hours and a lot of equipment from which to choose, if you come at the right time of day.

South Shore YMCA

"Breadth" is the word to describe the offerings of the YMCA. As has been the case for decades, one of the great strengths of the YMCA is that your membership not only lets you work out, but it also lets you grab a racquetball game with a friend, swim a few laps or shoot some hoops in the gym.

Staff members stress it is a family-oriented gym, and that is the truth. Aside from obvious services like camps and intramural sports, the YMCA offers separate locker rooms for adults and children/teenagers, has an indoor playground in its common room and a shallow wading pool aimed at the younger set. This makes the Y the only fitness establishment in the South Shore that caters to children as much as adults.

Most adult fitness classes are free; membership includes cardio kickboxing, water fitness, aerobics and spinning. Other specialty classes - such as Pilates, yoga and tai chi - are offered for a fee.

Also free with membership is the Commit to be Fit program, designed for those new to fitness or uncomfortable working out with the general public. Sessions are held in a separate room with a coach.

For those who take advantage of the many options available on YMCA's campus, it's well worth the price.

South Milwaukee Fitness Center

Te newly remodeled high school is home to one of South Milwaukee's better-kept secrets, the new South Milwaukee Fitness Center, accessible from the back of the building. Given the newness of the facility, the equipment is in fantastic shape, with a total of about 20 pieces of cardio equipment plus the typical weight machines and free weights.

The center offers classes, including toning, spinning and yoga, but they are not included with the cost of membership. Members do have access to the 200-meter elevated rubberized track and the basketball courts.

One thing that may be a deal-breaker for some is that the high school's physical education classes use the facilities from time to time. The center posts a student-use schedule on the door, and staff member Juliana Wucherer said there is generally still equipment available for use even during those times. Considering the low fees, it's a small trade-off.

Wisconsin Health and Fitness

Located in South Milwaukee's recently remodeled Grant Park Plaza, Wisconsin Health and Fitness is a very straightforward fitness center. Ample cardio machines line the length of the building, including 15 to 20 treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes.

Weight machines and an extensive free weights area are located toward the back of the building. All of the equipment is in nearly new shape, and the center has fitness professionals on site to answer questions, which is one of its main selling points.

This is a great place for someone who is fed up with busy gyms and waiting for machines. The sheer number of machines, along with the fact that the gym is newer and has yet to "boom" in terms of its customer base, means you should have no problem getting on your machine of choice.

The monthly fee, which is probably the lowest in the area, and the inclusion of classes within that fee - cross-training and spinning among them - make this a great place for someone looking to put a few miles on a treadmill.

The downsides are that the decor is a little plain and it lacks the high-intensity atmosphere of a Bally's.

Wisconsin Health and Fitness was originally slated to open a second location in the building housing condos at the southwest corner of South Kinnickinnic Avenue and Becher Street, although negotiations with the developer have hit some snags.

Cardinal Fitness

Cardinal Fitness is a chain that provides fitness facilities at a low price. One of Cardinal's main selling points is that memberships are month-to-month and can be easily terminated with 30-day written notice. Membership grants you access to any Cardinal facilities in the Milwaukee area.

The gym is very clean with newer equipment, including plenty of cardio machines and at least a dozen each of treadmills, ellipticals and bikes. The location of the treadmills may be unsettling to some, as they face the front windows.

The weight area is also one of the larger in the area, and it is located toward the back so it doesn't interfere with those doing cardio work.

The center offers a free consultation with a personal trainer; however it does not offer any classes. All in all, Cardinal is a good option for someone looking to spend quality time with an elliptical machine at a low price.

The Shape Up Shoppe

Funky, eclectic and a Bay View institution, The Shape Up Shoppe is a women's gym that caters to the needs of a female fitness enthusiast. All of the weight equipment is sized to fit women, which is a nice change of pace from the bulky and broad weight machines at most gyms. The main room features an assortment of weight and cardio machines - not as many as larger gyms, but you shouldn't have to wait long to get on a machine.

Aerobics classes are included in membership, and specialty classes are available for a fee and include personal training, boxing, tumbling for kids and Pilates.

One of The Shape Up Shoppe's claims to fame is its spa, which features Wisconsin's largest whirlpool tub. It also has a sauna and steam room on site.

The center has a very friendly, communal vibe.

Brickyard Gym

An intriguing counterpoint to The Shape Up Shoppe is the Brickyard Gym just down the block. It flows with pure testosterone, although women are welcome, too. The atmosphere is aimed at a masculine audience, with an emphasis on heavy lifting equipment. Hard rock music plays over the speakers in the no-frills, dark-toned space.

An extensive huddle of weight machines resides in the center of the establishment, with a decent-size free weights area in the back. A few treadmills, bikes and ellipticals are stationed around the fringes of the space but aren't the focal point they are in many other gyms. If you are looking to bulk up, the Brickyard Gym has everything you need. If you're looking for more of a cardio focus, it may not be your cup of tea.

Curves

Curves is a women-only fitness facility specifically designed for gym novices and women with larger figures. Rather than taking the traditional treadmills and weight station approach, Curves features a circuit of stations arranged in a circle. The participant spends approximately 30 seconds at each station, which ranges from hydraulic resistance apparatus to platforms for stepping.

In the background, fast-paced aerobic-appropriate music plays, with signals for when to change stations.

There is a sense of camaraderie among participants, and staff member Rhonda Rodriguez stresses the focus on promoting a "come-as-you-are" message. There are no mirrors and programs are tailored to the abilities of each person.

Curves would make a nice starting place for someone looking to lose a few pounds or begin fitness training, although for more substantial results, transitioning to a more traditional gym would be a logical progression.

Oak Creek Fitness

Located on Ryan Road just west of the Interstate 94 on ramp, Oak Creek Fitness is the most mature and comfortably designed of the fitness studios visited. Employee Nicole Plohocky described the center as a "homey environment where people know your name."

Combined with the adjoining chiropractic center, Oak Creek Fitness is establishing itself as a one-stop wellness center. It sells nutritional supplements in the main lobby and sports an upscale-looking juice bar, where Plohocky said a "menagerie of shakes" is served.

The gym features less cardio equipment than some of its competitors but, given that the gym rarely gets overly busy, that doesn't pose a problem. A bank of flat-screen televisions overlooks the cardio area, offering workout entertainment.

All classes are included with membership, notably yoga and Pilates classes, which require extra fees at most gyms.

As an added bonus, Oak Creek Fitness has massage chairs in the lower classroom, for those who want to shed some stress after work. It's perfect for business people and those looking for a gym with an adult focus.

Dan Cowan wants to stick his nose in your business. Contact him at dpc555@hotmail.com with tips for his Strictly Business column.

Get in shape

WHAT: Bally Total Fitness

WHERE: 2525 E. Layton Ave., Cudahy

CONTACT: (414) 481-2255

ONLINE: www.ballyfitness.com

RATES: start around $20 per month for a three-day-a-week plan or $39 for an anytime plan

JOINING FEE: $75

HOURS: 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

WHAT: South Shore YMCA

WHERE: 3244 E. College Ave., Cudahy

CONTACT: (414) 764-6400

ONLINE:www.ssymca.org

RATES: sliding fee based on income and starting around $30 per month

JOINING FEE: none if membership paid by auto-withdrawal from a bank account

HOURS: 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

WHAT: Wisconsin Health and Fitness

WHERE: 2953 S. Chicago Ave., South Milwaukee

CONTACT: (414) 762-7772

ONLINE: none

RATES: start at $20 per month

JOINING FEE: $29 to $100; applied toward cost of membership

HOURS: 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

WHAT: South Milwaukee Fitness Center

WHERE: 901 15th Ave., South Milwaukee

CONTACT: (414) 766-5084

ONLINE:www.smrec-fitness.org

RATES: $24 per month for residents, less for seniors and students; $29 per month for nonresidents

JOINING FEE: $15 for residents; $30 for nonresidents

HOURS: 5:35 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 5:35 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

WHAT: Cardinal Fitness

WHERE: 8601 S. Howell Ave., Oak Creek

CONTACT: (414) 570-0100

ONLINE:www.cardinalfitness.com

RATES: $19.95 per month

JOINING FEE: $99

HOURS: 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

WHAT: The Shape Up Shoppe

WHERE: 2697 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Bay View

CONTACT: (414) 481-2108

ONLINE: none

RATES: not available

JOINING FEE: none

HOURS: vary, but are generally grouped into two blocks: 8:30 a.m. to noon and 4 to 8 p.m. daily; Tuesdays and Thursdays have early-morning hours

WHAT: Brickyard Gym

WHERE: 2651 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Bay View

CONTACT: (414) 481-7113

ONLINE: none

RATES: start at $30 per month

JOINING FEE: none

HOURS: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

WHAT: Curves

WHERE: 1200 E. Oklahoma Ave., Bay View; 2191 E. Rawson Ave., Oak Creek

CONTACT: Bay View, (414) 482-2260; Oak Creek, (414) 766-9385

ONLINE: www.curves.com

RATES: not available

JOINING FEE: not available

HOURS: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to noon Saturday; closed Sunday

WHAT: Oak Creek Fitness

WHERE: 1902 W. Ryan Road, Oak Creek

CONTACT: (414) 764-5464

ONLINE:www.oakcreekfitness.com

RATES: $39 per month, individual; $69, family

JOINING FEE: none

HOURS: 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

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