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December 29, 1992

BALTIMORE RACQUET & FITNESS CLUB

This is the only local fitness club that advertises a Zurich affiliate. But the name is something of a misnomer, as no racquetball is offered, only squash. "Squash is a racket sport," a staff person pointed out, and it's hard to quarrel with that.

Equipment: Nautilus and Eagle weight machines, free weights. Lifecycles, Stairmasters, rowing machines, treadmills. Full complement of aerobic classes.

Size: This two-story gym is a bit on the cozy side for my taste, but for people who like people, it provides a literal chance to rub elbows.

Extras: Pool, squash and a Gravitron, a machine that puts chin-ups within the reach of the muscularly challenged. Also work-out privileges (with gold membership) at affiliate clubs in Washington, New York and, yes, Zurich.

Cost: No initiation fee. Unlimited gold membership costs $52 a month; silver membership, restricted to non-peak hours, is $34 monthly.

Hard bodies: Medium-high. There's no one here who quite matches the perfect specimens in the club's print advertising, -- but then again, there's no one here who has the benefit of back-lighting.

Convenience: 218 N. Charles St., which is in Charles Center. Open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends. Will validate parking at Park Charles garage, off Liberty Street, after 3:30 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends.

CENTER FOR HEALTH AND FITNESS

, AT THE BENNETT INSTITUTE This is an unusual work-out facility, where 75 percent of the members are physician referrals, for cardiac and orthopedic problems. This may account for the experienced staff, all with four-year degrees in related health fields, and is definitely the reason for the "code blue" buttons around the room.

Equipment: Cybex weight machines, which are similar to Nautilus, but on a cable instead of a chain. Free weights (including weights for those who can't hold regular dumbbells). An array of the usual suspects for aerobic activity: Lifecycles, Stairmasters, treadmills, rowing machines, air dynes. Water aerobics along with traditional aerobics.

Size: The exercise center is a compact place but seems to have more than enough equipment to avoid delays.

Extras: Basketball, track, 25-meter pool, televisions and magazines in fitness center.

Cost: Three memberships: "lifestyle" ($195 initiation fee, $45 monthly dues); basic/no pool or pool-only (both $150 initiation, $35 monthly dues).

Hard bodies: Low. Membership skews a little old.

Convenience: 3835 Greenspring Ave. Members receive parking pass for Bennett Institute lot. Hours are 6 am. to 10 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. No Sunday hours.

DOWNTOWN ATHLETIC CLUB

This is one of the more expensive clubs in Baltimore and, lik most airplane flights these days, no two people seem to be paying the same initiation fees or monthly dues. Membership here entitles one to work out at the Merritt Clubs in the area, with locations in the Security Square area, Towson, Annapolis and Salisbury. But members at the Merritt do not get to use the DAC free of charge.

Equipment: Nautilus, Keiser hydraulic system, Universal Gym and free weights. Stairmasters, Lifecycles, rowing machines, stationary bikes. Full schedule of aerobic classes.

Extras: Basketball court; pool; racquetball, squash and handball courts; baby-sitting; bar and snack bar; shoe shines; beauty salon on premises; a fitness-center-within-the-fitness-center for those who like a touch of exclusivity.

Size: Enormous. But during the after-work rush, it can seem as if people are tripping over one another.

Cost: Initiation fee is waived if you pay for a year up front; varies depending on membership. Monthly fee ranges from $60-$70 a month.

Hard bodies: High, with a puzzling number of perfect-looking people who never seem to sweat.

Convenience: Centre St. and Guilford Ave., with two small parking lots. Open 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Two parking lots adjacent to the club; parking privileges in the adjacent garage during evening and weekend hours.

BALLY'S HOLIDAY FITNESS CENTER

In the 1980s, writer Aaron Latham caught the perfect wave of a trend, proclaiming that health clubs had replaced singles bars. Holiday Fitness-White Marsh reminds me of the prototypical '80s club -- lots of neon, a gregarious clientele, bustling atmosphere. Not a lecherous place, just a hyper-social one. But the state-of-the-art equipment is '90s, very '90s.

Equipment: This is an equipment-lover's paradise. Eight lines of weight equipment, including Cybex, Nautilus, Paramount and Camstar. Lifecycles, Lifestep, treadmills, Gravitron and Liferacer, a rowing machine that allows you to compete against a video pacer boat. Very gung-ho on weight-training, especially its "30-minute work-out," a circuit training program. Also has full schedule of aerobics classes.

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