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Jewish Journal

02Max puts a youthful spin on the gym scene

By Molly Binenfeld, Contributing Writer

September 24, 2008 | 11:28 pm

At first glance, the brightly decorated warehouse-turned-gym space of O2Max Fitness in Santa Monica may seem like your conventional workout space, filled with typical cardio and core training apparatuses (think treadmills, balance balls and resistance bands). But it only takes a few steps upstairs to figure out that this is no ordinary gym.

The loft portion of the space is filled with couches, lounge-style furniture, magazines, a television and a computer workspace. The walls are brightly painted and decorated with inspirational quotes from a variety of notable people.

And then look closer: Everyone here seems young -- really young. That's because O2 Max is designed just for teens and college students.

Thinking of everything from one-on-one personal trainers to Princeton Review classes for college entrance exams, entrepreneur Karen Jashinsky has created a full teen hangout, where fitness is just one component.

"We are creating a venue that empowers teens," said Jashinsky, a New Jersey yeshiva day school graduate who now lives in Los Angeles. "Obviously, fitness is an important part of what we doing -- it's a huge part of what we're doing -- but we're also creating a social environment."

Around 30 to 40 teens a month work out at O2Max, which opened last spring. Some kids pay by the day, others pay $80 a month for membership and some do volunteer work for the gym to pay for their workout time.

Jashinsky says that she got her inspiration to get into the teenage-fitness market after working as a personal trainer, which she felt was a fun way to earn money during graduate school at USC's Marshall School of Business.

"When I started working as a personal trainer I had a few ideas of the fitness industry and then kind of decided to focus on teens because they weren't being addressed," she said. "It really evolved into this sort of cool fun social venue that [the teenagers] could come to after school to work out, hang out, meet friends from other schools, rent it out for parties, events, lectures and workshops."

As a graduate of Frisch yeshiva in New Jersey, Jashinsky is also aware the students at Jewish schools might need an extra nudge when it comes to athletics and fitness.

Upon joining, teenagers are walked through an individual fitness test to assess their fitness capacity and are then given a food journal. After filling out the food journal for two days, students go over the journal with a licensed nutritionist, who gives them tips and pointers to make their meals more nutritionally valuable.

"Our goal is that by the time you graduate college you know how to eat properly, you know how to put an exercise program together," Jashinsky said.

Seasonal programming can also help with motivation. O2Max is sponsoring the Fall Fitness Fusion starting Oct. 1, a six-week challenge in which students team up with an instructor and earn points for various exercises. The challenge is free to all teens, and the teams that knock out the most points win prizes.

But while exercise is associated with improved physical and mental health, there is a risk that comes with targeting a group that is already thought to be thoroughly overworked and overbooked.

"The issue is that it can't be another part of the parental schedule," said Dr. Ian Russ, a psychologist who works with adolescents. "If it's the parents saying 'you should go to the gym' then you might get some exercise out of it, but nothing else. If it's something kids can do freely and have their life, it sounds like a nice thing."

O2Max has an interactive Web site with tips on how to eat right and how to exercise even if you can't make it to the gym, and a blog that all people, not just O2Max members, can access. The Web site also provides a safe forum for kids across the nation to chat about whatever is on their mind. People leave posts, ask questions and respond to each other all within the confines of the Web site.

Such social interactions are part of what make 02 Max "not your parents gym," as the advertising suggests.

"The way the fitness industry is evolving ... [the gym] is becoming your home away from home," Jashinsky said. "You have your work, you have your home, and you have your gym, and teens aren't that different, they just don't need a tanning room or a spa. They need a place to hang out and do their homework and get on the computer."

O2MAX Fitness is located at 3026 Nebraska Ave. in Santa Monica. For more information, call (310) 867-1650.

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