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A look behind Fitness First, 35 years young ...

A workout underway at Fitness First. / Marjorie Howard photo

UPDATED, Dec. 1: Enter Fitness First, and you’re likely to find Larry Cronin at the front desk, greeting members while taking a moment to offer a suggestion about what stretches will help someone with a back problem or advising about what class to take.

Cronin has been at the helm of the gym since he opened it 35 years ago. He will be celebrating its founding on Dec. 11, and his low-key, agreeable presence is part of what makes Fitness First a success. 

Fitness First held an open house Saturday, Dec. 2, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m, to celebrate its 35th year in business. The Center gym gave away guest workouts, T-shirts, chair massages, acupuncture, food and handmade crafts for sale as holiday gifts.

The gym has always been a relaxed, friendly place with a loyal following. Recent changes mean an even better experience for its members. In the last two years Fitness First has purchased brand-new equipment, upgraded space and added numerous new classes. To help reinvigorate the club Frank Goguen, a new partner, has come on board, bringing new ideas and insight for a refreshing change.

Fitness First prides itself on giving everyone respect and attention. “This is a welcoming place,” says one longtime member. “I always feel comfortable here. If I want to take a class there’s plenty to choose from. Sometimes I just feel like working out on my own, and I have a choice of lots of equipment.”

When Fitness First opened, the emphasis was on strength work with limited cardio equipment and classes. Today it is a different place. 

Sponsored content

63 classes a week include Zumba

“We offer 63 classes a week that are free with a membership,” Cronin explains. “We have a combination of traditional fitness classes, like aerobics or body sculpting, with more cutting-edge classes like Zumba and TRX, a resistance exercise developed by a Navy SEAL. We offer everything from yoga to high-intensity workouts, such as a boot camp as well as boxing, spin and rowing classes. So we’ve tried to keep the best of the traditional classes and add new ones.”

Frank Goguen, left, and Larry Cronin.Larry Cronin, right, with partner Frank Goguen.

Fitness First was the first gym to open in Arlington. Cronin says one of the biggest changes over the years is that while mostly young men joined gyms 35 years ago, today people of all ages sign up, and the mix is evenly male and female.

Another big change, he says, is that people are less interested in solitary workouts and enjoy group classes. So on any given day, you might hear dance music from the studio or see people working out on a punching bag in the revamped studio or practicing kickboxing.

And there are always members on the treadmills, elliptical, rowing machines and exercise bicycles. In fact, all the equipment is new. Within the past two years, the gym has added 30 new Cybex strength machines; 20 new treadmills, ellipticals, rowers and additional cardio equipment as well as a new free-weight area and kettle bells. The gym donated some of its unneeded equipment to Arlington HIgh school and a circuit of Nautilus equipment to Ottoson Middle School.

New equipment, added classes and updated facilities are great. But one of the biggest reasons Fitness First is so popular is the interaction among its members.

“We have an interesting group of people, and they make it fun for all of us,” Cronin says. “In addition to all that we offer, it's the type of person who joins here that makes the club what it is.” Still, there are plenty of people who want to do their own thing, and Cronin gets that. Some members are perfectly content to use their time completely on their own, spending time on a treadmill or bicycle or other piece of equipment at a time that fits their schedule.

Instructors take a personal interest

Why are the classes so popular? The answer is clear: Instructors take a personal interest in the members, they teach an invigorating and fun class and they have the expertise to keep the class safe. And of course they offer a good workout.

“People should leave the class happy, and they do,” Cronin says. With so many classes, there’s something for everybody. “If someone wants something quiet and meditative we have it. If they want vibrant and active, we have it.”

Whether taking a class, running on a treadmill or moving gracefully in a tai chi class, people enjoy themselves. “People are drawn to things that are fun, and the nature of the class and the personality of the instructor can make it fun and interesting.

“In Zumba, people laugh and in a boxing class they get the exhilaration of a tough workout. What we’ve learned is that if people can find their joy in a workout, and be treated decently, that’s what works. We have a good reputation in the marketplace for being fair with people and paying attention to our members, and that’s why we’re still here.”

This news feature by Marjorie Howard, which is sponsored by Fitness First and YourArlington, was published Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, and updated Dec. 1, to add open house. The top photo, by Marjorie Howard, shows a bootcamp class in the new Fitness First studio.



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