Fitness options pump up McHenry County

Northwest Herald, The (Crystal Lake, IL)
February 2, 2011 
Section: Business
ELIZABETH HARMON - Special to the Business Journal

McHenry County’s fitness professionals say it is their customer lists – not their customers’ waist lines – that are expanding. It seems that residents are committed as ever to staying healthy. Destination Fitness owner Jill Walters said her main customers are no longer body-builders or hard-core enthusiasts.

“It used to be the people who hired us were mainly interested in how they could get bigger and stronger. Now it’s shifted to a more health-and-wellness focus,” said Walters, who runs an 11-year-old in-home personal training company in Johnsburg. “A lot of other companies like mine didn’t make it. I used to be personal training for people who wanted to get buff or lose weight. What I did three years ago was reinvent the wheel and put more of a medical spin on it. I started to get elderly people who had fallen into the cracks of living at home and needing a caregiver, but not quite requiring physical therapy.”

Walters also capitalized on cutbacks in school physical fitness time to offer in-home exercise programs for children, and on the growing numbers of unemployed to boost her client base – which now extends into Chicago, as well as throughout northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. She has corporate clients who opt for on-site classes in workplace conference rooms.

Destination Fitness employs 35 personal trainers. Usually, employers pay most of the cost for the trainer and employees are charged a nominal fee, she said. Hour-long sessions range from $15 to $35; individual training sessions in the home or office typically cost between $60 to $85 for an hour session.

“It’s perfect for the employees because they don’t have to go someplace else to work out and its very reasonably priced. The companies see the benefits of healthier employees,” she said.

Walters compared herself to fictional teen detective Nancy Drew. She begins with a phone consultation to discuss the client’s health – typically after a doctor tells a customer that they regime they are on has failed and they need to get in shape.

“I put my Nancy Drew on and look at what’s happening,” said Walters, a former hospital nurse. “The problems could be medical, a medication they’re taking, or they’re simply eating too much and not working out.”

She then consults with a Vernon Hills doctor and chiropractor, as well as a dietitian and metabolic consultant, to create a customized exercise program for her clients. They range from busy professionals to stay-at- home moms; college students and senior citizens.

“These are people who aren’t ready for a nursing home or assisted living but we can extend their quality of life. They have less stress, social interaction and less depression. Their kids call all the time and say ‘I got my mom or dad back,’” Walters said.

Rick Landre, owner of 2K Adventure Gear in Richmond, said the overwhelming majority of his customers are between ages 45 and 75 – not the 20-somethings typically associated with kayaking and backpacking. “I think there’s more disposable income at that age and people want to stay fit in their older years so more of them are going out and doing it.”

A McHenry County native who lived for many years in the Pacific Northwest, Landre and his wife, Christina, opened the shop eight months ago as a way to combine his lifelong interest in outdoor sports with a business. 2K Adventure Gear carries camping equipment, canoes, boats, snowshoes and more. The store also offers rentals, instruction and trips. Landre organizes backpacking, camping, canoeing and other trips through the store. Events such as Snowshoe Sundays and demonstrations allow people to try a sport at little or no cost.

“If you think you might like kayaking or snowshoeing, but you’re not ready to put out the money, we also do rentals,” Landre said. “On Snowshoe Sundays for just $25, you get snowshoes and breakfast.”

A group of customers have formed an adventure club, and in January they met to discuss excursions for the coming year. These include overnight backpacking and kayaking trips to destinations such as the Ice Age Trail covering parts of Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Landre hopes more people get involved.

“Our philosophy has been to sell you the product then give you every opportunity to use it,” he said. “One thing we talked about is doing more scenic backpack trips, but we’ll start with day hikes so when summer comes and we go to the UP, people know they’re in shape.”

Customer demand has brought a greater focus on practical experience and education.

“When we started we had no idea how important trips and instruction time would turn out to be so we’ve beefed that up,” he said.

The result has been growing camaraderie among local enthusiasts.

“The store’s become a meeting place. So many customers never knew each other before but now they have tons of people to go exercise with,” he said.

There also are options for those who prefer more intimate surroundings. Specialized fitness disciplines such as yoga or Pilates attract clients to Studio Pilates in downtown Crystal Lake, which thrives best when sessions remain small. Owner Scott Teasdale opened his studio in 2003.

Pilates focuses on building muscle tone, strength, balance and flexibility. Developed by Joseph Pilates and used to train ballet dancers in New York City, it is popular with dancers and athletes such as gymnasts, figure skaters, marathon runners and bike racers. Teasdale’s 100 clients include all of these types of athletes and more, as well as those who only do Pilates.

They range in age from teens to those in their 80s and include both men and women.

“My interest in fitness goes back years and this was another way to keep up with it as I get older,” he said.

The advantages of Pilates include less muscle tearing and joint impact. “You don’t get the pounding as with other types of exercise. It’s not easy but it’s not high impact. You get a wide variety of exercise that works every muscle in your body,” he said.

Studio Pilates has several types of Pilates equipment, including the reformer, which resembles a rowing machine, and the trapeze. Teasdale limits his sessions to no more than five experienced clients at a time and sessions containing Pilates novices have even fewer people, so that he can provide assistance on the machines. “Everyone works at their own level,” he said.

The studio does not have a membership fee; instead clients are charged $195 for 10 sessions. “You pay for what you use,” he said.

Teasdale has seen a drop in attendance because of the economy. Still, he said interest in Pilates remains steady.

“People like it because it’s something different, unique and specialized. When they come in, they can’t believe the hour has gone by so quickly,” Teasdale said.

Fitness centers, such as the Huntley Park District Fitness Center, appeal to those who want a more diverse approach to exercise. The 3,800-square-foot center offers a wide range of fitness classes plus cardio equipment, weight machines, free weights, mats, exercise balls, barbells, a gymnasium, basketball and volleyball leagues and on-site child care.

“We have everything you need to exercise,” Fitness Coordinator Danette Livingston said. “Whether you’re a beginner or experienced, our instructors make everyone feel comfortable so they can work out safely and to their potential.”

Most clients are between the ages of 28 to 40 but she also has a number of seniors and high school students. Last September, after the district eliminated higher nonresident fees, membership jumped about 20 percent. New members include those who work in Huntley and want to exercise near work and those from surrounding communities, such as Marengo and Hampshire that do not have a fitness facility.

The center has about 325 members. Individual membership options include $23 a month for classes only, $25 a month for the fitness center only and $39 for both classes and fitness. Different fees apply for families, students and seniors. Livingston said evening fitness classes particularly are popular with those with tight schedules and/or finances.

“The fitness industry is really interesting,” Walters said. “It just keeps growing and evolving. Health is on the forefront. It always will be. People want to live longer and they want to be healthier.”

• McHenry County Business Journal Editor Kurt Begalka contributed to this report.