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‘A great time to start:’ Fitness centers prepare for a new year and new members in 2022

Les Carey is an avid walker, but with winter’s colder temperatures, he decided to join a gym: Sycamore Park District’s Pathway Fitness.

Carey alternates daily between walking and upper body exercises.

“The best part of exercise is that you compete against yourself,” Carey said. “You can see and track your improvement. I use my watch and an app on my phone. It tracks the intensity of my exercise, my steps, calories, hydration and more.”

An open house was held Thursday, Jan. 7, at the Sycamore Park District Community Center. Facilities Supervisor Lisa Metcalf described the event as “a way for the community to see what different services and fitness programming we offer.” Pathway Fitness offers 24-hour access to the fitness center, indoor track and gymnasium.

Metcalf said there has been an influx of members during the pandemic.

“It’s been difficult to really see a pattern,” she said. “We have partitions up and extra COVID safety measures in place, including wipes and sanitation stations throughout.”

Superintendent of Recreation Theresa Tevsh said what kept the community center open during the pandemic was its new facility.

“We have a new large facility with lots of spacing and capacity,” she said. “Since we’re a part of a small community, we were able to offer fitness and socialization options safely with plenty of social distancing.”

According to the International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association, roughly 9,000 health clubs – 22% of the total nationwide – have closed since the beginning of the virus outbreak and 1.5 million workers lost their jobs.

In March and May 2020, the International Research Group on COVID and exercise conducted an online survey, asking 16,137 individuals from 99 countries about their exercise frequency and patterns before and during the pandemic. The survey results showed that 44.2% of the participants reported no change in their exercise frequency, 23.7% reported a decrease, and 31.9% reported an increase, with 0.2% of missing values.

Carl Balentyne, owner of Sycamore CrossFit, 1330 E. State St. in Sycamore, said that offering outdoor group and one-on-one classes has helped during the pandemic.

“There was a point from March to May or June 2020 that we were completely closed,” he said. “It’s been great to get a little bit back to normal and offer all of our classes and programs again.”

Balentyne defined CrossFit as “a fun way to work out that incorporates Olympic weight lifting, gymnastics training and cardio.” Personal training is pay as you go, with packages of five, 10 or 20 at a discount rate. Group classes are offered on a monthly basis, as well as nutrition coaching.

“We have something for everyone, whether you’re just getting off couch for a walk to a competitive athlete, everyone can find value at our gym,” he said.

Balentyne said the first step is to walk into a gym’s doors and to not over-complicate fitness.

“Turn fitness into something simple: make it a goal to get up and go for a walk, eat a vegetable at every meal, buy some home fitness equipment like a couple of dumbbells,” he said. “Anytime is a great time to get started, not just at the beginning of the year with New Year’s resolutions.”

The Kishwaukee Family YMCA in Sycamore has a membership promotion for the month of January: pay a $1.22 joining fee with no membership fee due until February. The YMCA offers a wide range of fitness programs for youth, adults and seniors, as well as personal training, sports and swimming.

Heather Dunker, marketing and communications director, said the promotion is offered in January “because oftentimes, this is the time of year that health and fitness are on the minds of many, and this is a great way for us to support them in their goal.”

Dunker said the YMCA is not just for single adults, but for “the whole family to dive into healthy habits with the programs and services we offer.”

Kayla Heimerman, healthy living coordinator, said fitness goals “don’t have to start on Jan. 1 for you to make a difference in your life.”

“Whatever day you choose to resolve to be a better version of yourself is the perfect place to start,” she said. “Healthy active lifestyle means that you’re going to live a longer, better quality life. … That foundation of a life-long love of exercise can start when you’re a kid with sports and swim lessons. As an adult, it’s never too late. Now’s a great time to start.”

Jason Schlieben, fitness center director at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Health & Wellness Center in DeKalb, described his facility as “a high-end health and wellness center.” The center offers medical fitness programs, personalized exercise plans, group classes, lap and therapy pools and a spa services area. When purchasing a 12-month membership in the form of a yearly contract, the 13th month is free.

“Especially after the pandemic, people love going to classes, having expectations from an instructor that you like and having other participants in the class,” Schlieben said. “The social interaction, laughing and joking while you’re working hard and having fun, as well as the level of accountability, really helps you succeed at your fitness goals.”

Fitness Supervisor Davon Granderson said the biggest benefit for joining a gym and going in-person is “the personalization of face-to-face contact with a group exercise instructor.”

“Instructors can take a look at how you’re moving, correct any mis-movements or bad techniques, and you can share in the energy and comradery of those around you. If you are doing exercise at home, that’s awesome, but you won’t have individuals around you to help push and motivate you. Exercising together is an entirely different experience. It’s nice to have a little friendly competition and cheers from one another as you work toward your fitness goals.”