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Fitness class review: Koko FitClub

Koko FitClub's virtual trainer puts our tester through her paces

04/20/2012 11:53 PM

04/20/2012 11:53 PM

Think of the "fittest" person you know.

This person probably has a lean, toned physique ... and he or she is most likely spending several hours a week (or maybe a day) in the gym to look that way. This person might even have a personal trainer.

You want to look like that. But who has that kind of time? Or money? Personal training sessions can be pricey. With your job, family and other obligations, you definitely can't consistently commit to that lifestyle for long enough to see results.

Koko FitClub, founded in 2007, might be a solution to this dilemma. It is an atypical gym that touts total body strength and cardio results in 30 minutes or less. After just half an hour, three times a week, the gym says, members can see results in just eight weeks. "We like to call it 'automated personal training,'" says Barbara Doweidt, who owns centers in Fort Worth, Keller and Southlake. The technology mimics the instruction of a personal trainer, at a fraction of the cost.

The Koko technology guides members through personalized workouts designed to fit preset individual goals. Unlike a normal gym workout in which you switch machines to work different muscle groups, all of the Koko strength workouts are performed on one machine that targets all the muscle groups simply with a change of body position.

The technology makes sure you are doing the right exercises, with the right form and momentum, every time. You get feedback and scores for your performance on each exercise. The technology that guides the workouts is structured for maximized benefits in the shortest time possible. The benefits of a 30-minute Koko Smartraining workout are comparable to those of a typical 90-minute gym workout, the company says.

Personal goals are set for members when they join the club. Celebrity trainers who work with stars like Jennifer Aniston, Bruce Willis and Naomi Watts developed the programs, the company says. Fat Burner Plus, Beach Body, Strength and Power, Born to Run, Sports Conditioning and Beautiful Bride are just a few of the 20-plus programs offered.

"Weight training typically takes around 15 minutes. Cardio on the elliptical or the treadmill also takes about 15, and you can choose from several different programs depending on your fitness level and goals," says Doweidt.

Each member is equipped with a personal key card, called a Koko Key, which is essentially a USB card that stores workout information. To access personal training instruction, the key card is inserted into the machine at the beginning of the workout. Results can be seen online on private Web pages that track the member's progress.

Trying it out

I recently tested this state-of-the-art workout. Admittedly, I was a little unsure of what the routine would entail and whether I would walk away feeling like I just had a solid workout. When I entered the Keller location on a Tuesday evening, I was greeted by the smiling faces of the owner and one of her trainers. The gym, equipped with six Smartrainers and several Smartrainer-enabled cardio machines, had a clean design in a studio-size space.

Doweidt ushered me toward a nearby Smartrainer to get started on weight lifting. The machine is unlike anything I had seen before. It was similar to one of those "total gym" machines, except on steroids, with the added technology of the "trainer" on the attached screen. As I worked different muscle groups, I moved around the machine with the instructions guiding me. During each repetition, I watched the screen to match my momentum with the one suggested by my virtual trainer. At the end of each exercise set, I was scored on a percentile scale of 0 to 100 on my performance.

Next came cardio. I selected the elliptical trainer for my 15-minute cardio session. As an avid spin class attendee and elliptical addict, I thought to myself, "This will be a piece of cake." My legs were tired from spin the day before, so I selected an intermediate level option.

Doweidt hooked me up to an MP3 player, selected the correct program, and I was on my own. A man's voice came through the headphones and directed my ride, from warm-up, through hills, sprints and back to the cool-down. The 15-minute cardio session that I had scoffed at kicked my tail. I stepped off the elliptical machine sweating and breathing heavily. The program pushed me harder than I would have pushed myself alone, and I burned almost twice as many calories as I usually do in the same time.

By marrying innovation, technology and efficiency, Koko FitClub is changing the way that people work out all across the country. The clubs continue to evolve and recently introduced a new exercise program called "HealthTracks," a new series of exercise plans designed specifically for the treatment of chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer recovery, back pain relief and men's health issues. The full-year HealthTracks program takes participants safely through two to three customized workouts each week. Like other programs offered at Koko, the HealthTracks plans progress in difficulty as participants gain strength and stamina.

A perk to joining is the ability to use the three locations at any time, getting a workout in Keller one day and in Fort Worth the next, if that is most convenient for your schedule. Typical hours vary slightly from location to location; however, Doweidt allows her members to get in earlier and stay later if they choose with special members-only access.

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