He's a big cheese. But does he cut it in the gym?

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The Independent Online

Like many of us, gym bosses can't wait to put Christmas behind them. That is because they know that for the next few weeks we will be flocking to their weight machines and treadmills to try to shed what we gained over the festive period. But how many practise what they preach to their new recruits? Do the big gym bosses pump iron as well as push pens?

Like many of us, gym bosses can't wait to put Christmas behind them. That is because they know that for the next few weeks we will be flocking to their weight machines and treadmills to try to shed what we gained over the festive period. But how many practise what they preach to their new recruits? Do the big gym bosses pump iron as well as push pens?

Fred Turok, the 46-year-old chief executive of gym chain LA Fitness, is famous in the industry for his ability to find the time to teach two weekly aerobics classes. "Teaching keeps me young, fit and in touch with what members want," he says. From humble beginnings as a PE teacher, Turok now hopes to have 78 clubs by 2003, and believes the success of any health and fitness group depends on staying in touch with the shop, or rather, studio, floor.

This is how some of the other health club bosses keep themselves and their membership numbers looking good:

The boss Stewart Miller, managing director of David Lloyd Leisure
Age 48
Height 5ft 9in
Weight 13st
Clubs 48
Members 250,000

Miller once dreamt of being a professional footballer and played for his local side, South Shields, while hoping to play for Sunderland. He now manages to fit in four sporting activities/exercise classes a week, mainly tennis, squash and step aerobics. He was at his most unfit about two years ago, when he weighed 14st, but is now able to climb Table Mountain in Cape Town whenever he visits South Africa.

By being one of the first to try a new fitness programme which in tests has dramatically increased exercise adherence among members at other clubs, Miller is road-testing a scheme himself before unleashing it on his own members. It works by scientifically examining the reasons why a particular person might quit an exercise programme and, with the information gained, provides them with a new regime to support their needs and fitness levels.

The boss Douglas Waddell, operations director of Esporta plc
Age 37
Height 6ft
Weight 13st 7lb Clubs 38
Members 169,000

As a regular mara-thon runner who tries to run five days in every seven, Waddell has tracked routes round most of his clubs. He is also a former triathlete, and when short of time uses the treadmill as well as enjoying stationary-bike classes and swimming.

He ran the Glasgow half-marathon last August and since starting to train seriously again earlier this year believes he is in his best shape ever for next year's Flora London Marathon. His best time for the London race so far is 3hr 09min 58sec, and this year he managed 3:15:00.

Even though as a new parent Waddell says he sometimes struggles to find time, he could not contemplate life without exercise.

"Not only do I see it as an investment in my health for the future, but it really helps me re-energise and cope with a hectic work and family schedule," he says.

The boss Mike Balfour, chief executive of Fitness First
Age 52
Height 5ft 7in
Weight 11st 11lb
Clubs 200
Members 400,000

Balfour works out regularly and enjoys sailing. A great believer in hard work being the route to success, he did not discover the world of health clubs until he was into his late thirties.

A colleague at the time had suggested an early-morning run round a short, hilly jogging track. "I was exhausted afterwards and couldn't believe how unfit I actually was," Balfour says. "It was then I vowed to start exercising and joined a gym."

He is now realising the benefits in the form of better sleep and reduced levels of stress. "If people could only understand and recognise these benefits, more would exercise," he says.

The boss Allan Fisher, chief executive of Holmes Place plc
Age 59
Height 5ft 10in
Weight 11st 4lb
Clubs 52
Members 230,000

Fisher goes walking in the Alps every year and works out three times a week. He believes that because exercise has been medically proven to reduce stress it should, with today's hectic pace of life, be a part of everyone's life. His body has been in better shape during the second 30 years of his life than the first, he says.

The boss Sir Richard Branson, chief executive of Virgin Active
Age 51
Height 6ft
Weight 12st
Clubs 165
Members 350,000

Branson trains as often as possible, and his routine will be made easier when Virgin Active open a club in Acton close to where he lives. He enjoys tennis and tries to play several times a week, even though this often means having to be on court at dawn. Being fit makes him feel better and gives him the energy to cope with work, he says.

"Like any busy person, it's hard to find enough time to exercise, but I think it's important to make an effort to get balance in life. Because I love working and partying, I need to set aside exercise time to recharge the batteries."

For membership information and details of clubs in your area, contact: David Lloyd Leisure, www.davidlloydleisure.co.uk

Esporta, 08000 377 6782, www.esporta.com

Fitness First, 01202 845125, www.fitnessfirst.com

Holmes Place, www.holmesplace.com

Virgin Active, www.virgin.com/active

Other major gym chains worth checking out include: Cannons, 0870 780 8182, www.cannons.co.uk Dragons Health Clubs, 020 8663 4900, www.dragons.co.uk Topnotch Health Clubs, 0870 600 2333, www.topnotchhealthclubs.com

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