Lost in Cyberspace
Virtual Workout
© 1999 by H.B. Koplowitz

Even though you'll never get in shape staring at a computer screen, you can still have a virtual workout visiting health and fitness websites, where you can read about diets and exercise, preview health clubs and learn about fitness gurus past and present.

With its signature line of clothing and association with celebrity, Gold's Gym, www.goldsgym.com, is the Hard Rock Cafe of health spas. Its website has information on bodybuilding competitions, tips on diet and exercise, recipes and lots of self-promotion. According to the website, the original Gold's Gym began in Venice Beach in 1965. A no-frills facility for serious workouts, it attracted bodybuilders from nearby Muscle Beach and soon became known as "The Mecca of Bodybuilding." In 1975 it was featured in the movie "Pumping Iron." In 1980 Gold's Gym began franchising, and now has 500 facilities worldwide. It also sells apparel, nutrition supplements, fitness accessories, home exercise equipment and athletic footwear.

What the website doesn't tell you is that Gold's Gym isn't owned by the guy who started Gold's Gym, Joe Gold. An attraction at the original Muscle Beach, Gold performed in Mae West shows and on the professional wrestling circuit before opening a gym in New Orleans and then Venice. After a few years he sold his gym and became a merchant seaman, while his namesake became a huge marketing success. With the encouragement of friends like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gold started a new string of gyms called World Gym, www.worldgym.com, "with the same serious atmosphere of his original club," and even has his offices at the location of his first gym in Venice.

The prototypical gym franchiser was Vic Tanny, who, realizing he could double his business by catering to both sexes, advertised specialized equipment for "bust development." Tanny was bought out by Bally Total Fitness, www.ballyfitness.com, which continues Tanny's tradition of busty commercials, but has erased all mention of the founder from its website. Besides its 320 North American gyms, Bally Total Fitness offers nutritional supplements, retail stores, personal trainers and all manner of aerobic, strength, yoga and other exercise programs. Its website aggressively seeks members with a club locator, newsletter and online signups for free passes.

Lately Bally has been in a legal squabble with "BallySucks," www.compupix.com/ballysucks, an unauthorized website where aggrieved Bally customers air their complaints. Created by a disgruntled customer and dedicated to "complaints, issues, problems, beefs, and grievances," the site offers advice on how to cancel your membership, avoid debt collectors, stop automatic deductions and "Scams to Look Out For." Last year a U.S. District Court judge dismissed Bally's trademark infringement lawsuit, allowing "BallySucks" to stay online.

Another gym drawing fire from consumers is 24 Hour Fitness, www.24HourFitness.com, which put up a billboard in San Francisco showing an alien with the words, "When they come, they'll eat the fat ones first." The fat ones didn't see the humor and picketed the gym, garnering 24 Hour Fitness a ton of free publicity. Noting that the advertisement was not meant to hurt anyone, and that "the fitness industry is in the business of helping people lose weight (fat)," the website lets you vote on the billboard. So far, "Offensive" was leading "Funny" by 51 percent to 45 percent.

The so-called Godfather of Physical Fitness is Jack La Lanne, whose '50s TV show quickened the pulse of many a housewife without her ever having to get up from the sofa. "The Official Jack La Lanne World Wide Web Site," www.jacklalanne.com, has an online catalog of his and wife Elaine's fitness products, exercise tips and healthful recipes. But it is mostly an homage to La Lanne's glory years, with stills, video and audio from his old TV shows, plus new videos that "enable you to actually exercise with Jack while you surf the web!"

Charles Atlas, "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man," used to sell his Dynamic-Tension® bodybuilding system in comic books describing "97-pound weaklings" getting sand kicked in their faces at the beach. Now you can buy the Dynamic-Tension® course and other Charles Atlas® products at a website, www.charlesatlas.com. At no extra cost, the course comes with an Official Atlas® Membership Card, Authentic Atlas® Diploma upon graduation and the Perpetual Lesson for Life. Sorry, decoder ring not included.

As the saber-toothed tiger evolved into the pussycat, so today's most famous fitness guru is the unabashedly un-he-mannish Richard Simmons. "Hi, My Webbies!" Simmons gushes at his website, www.richardsimmons.com. "I'm so excited, I could burst! ... We've hammered and nailed and painted and decorated, and it's finally ready -- my new Richard Simmons Club House, right here on my Web Site! Well, Mickey Mouse had his own Club House; I decided I should have one, too!"

copyright 1999 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.