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New Year's Resolutionaries Face Off Against Fitness Stalwarts in Gym Rush

By Caroline Jumpertz | January 19, 2012 3:26pm
A soul cycle class. Soul Cycle is a spinning class which takes place on stationary bicycles inside a gym-style environment.
A soul cycle class. Soul Cycle is a spinning class which takes place on stationary bicycles inside a gym-style environment.
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Soul Cycle

MANHATTAN — Randy Witherspoon has been working out for three decades and every January, he sees new faces in the gym. Yet it's not the crowds of weights room newcomers that bother him, it's their unfamiliarity with proper etiquette.

"They don't return the plates [weights] to the racks, they are not wiping down the seats, and they stand in front of the mirror, in front of other people," Witherspoon, 48, said of the new recruits.

Every January, rain, hail, snow or shine, the highly prized real estate of gyms across Manhattan is suddenly over populated with so-called "New Year's Resolutionaries," people who have vowed to get in shape and undo the damage caused by overindulgence during the holiday season. While gyms across the city certainly welcome the new business, for a core group of regular fitness fanatics the influx must be endured.

Witherspoon, a grandfather of three, has been going to Gold's Gym at 250 W. 54th Street for three years, and understands that the newbies mean no harm. Yet Gold's, with branches across the city, has gone as far as to publish a New Year's gym crunch survival guide, giving tips to newcomers on gym etiquette and also reminding regular patrons of how to deal with overcrowded gym floors. 

Managers at Gold's Midtown branch, however, were unavailable to comment on overcrowding, or their survival guide, on a recent weekday, because they were "too busy" to talk.

For the dedicated minority like Witherspoon who must endure the January onslaught, fitness is more than a post-new year fad, it's a year-round commitment.

Amaury Gonzalez and Carlos Aramboles, both 28 and friends since college, have been going to J’s Big Gym on 181st Street in Washington Heights for years, long enough to notice a pattern: just after new year, the place suddenly gets crowded with people hoping to work themselves into shape.

For the early months of the year, the gym floor fills up, making it more difficult to navigate find space on the weight machines and treadmills. And then, gradually, the newcomers stop showing up, and things gradually return to normal.

"The new people, they come and go," Gonzalez said as he and Aramboles warmed up on a recent frigid morning. "People think they’re going to look perfect in a month, three months, but it doesn’t work like that."

“You have to have a goal and stick to it," Aramboles said. “We all gain weight over the holidays, and we all need to lose it."

"You’ve got to keep it up all year long," Gonzalez added.

Michael Romero, 34, the general manager of the New York Health and Raquet Club on 21st and Park Ave., says the industry sees the pattern each year, with people dropping off around March.

"The fitness industry sees a lot of 'check ins' in the first two months of the year," Romero said. "You see a lot of treadmill occupation. People occupy the cardio machines generally, but for the smart ones that are serious about their goals, they opt to go with a personal trainer, that's where the quality is."

To cope with the increase, some classes in January require sign up sheets, Romero said, and staffing — including personal trainers — is adjusted. 

"For the industry as a whole, we hire fresh blood for the new year."

At Crossfit in Chelsea, founder and coach Joshua Newman says he's seen a 100 percent increase in attendance in beginners classes since Jan. 1, 2012. Crossfit is a workout regime that is fast growing in popularity and emphasizes variety, agility and resistance, but it's not just newcomers signing up in January — it's the regulars, too.

"We've seen about a 15 percent increase in attendance frequency by our members — even a relatively hardcore group apparently ups its intensity at resolution time!" he said.

Further uptown, Greg Henits of Soul Cycle, which runs stationary bicycle classes (also known as spinning), said traffic had definitely picked up in January at the East 83rd Street venue.

"All of our wait lists have gone through the roof. Some of our classes that tend to be empty, like our 1 p.m., are filled," he said. He estimated that waiting lists had gone up by 25 to 50 percent between December 2011 and January 2012.

"Right around the New Year and Christmas more people started coming," he said. "People are really focused and the energy is really good."

"The instructors are more motivated because it's a full class, so it's a full circle."

"People are calling at 6 a.m., at 7 a.m., to see where they are on the list. They're asking what can they do? What can we do?" Henits said. He added that he didn't expect the newfound energy to last all year. 

"For three months after the New Year there's a big influx of people," Henits said, but it usually tailed off after March.

Bill Kanas, 30, the director of membership and healthy lifestyles at the Harlem YMCA, says that due to the 6 to 10 percent increase in membership that regularly occurs each January, the Y increases its classes by this percentage. 

"In a normal schedule with 70 classes, we might add about 5 classes," Kanas said. The Harlem YMCA also changes staff schedules, and adjusts its laundry requirements due to increased dirty towels, with its complimentary towel service. The Y is waiving its initiation fee for January.

It's not just gyms and cycle classes that are feeling the squeeze — YogaWorks on the Upper East Side has a gentle yoga class on Mondays at 3 p.m. which for 11 months of the year is open to all comers.

In January, however, according to Upper East Sider Camila Viegas-Lee, 39, it's a different story.

"The last time I tried to go, I arrived on time and the class was full already. They apologized but there was no space — people were lying down right next to each other all the way to the door," Viegas-Lee said.

"Crazy. In yoga, new students tend to start with these basic classes. But Monday at 3 p.m.? I would never expect it to be that full!"