PHOTOS BY RUTH LITTMANN
Working out doesn't have to be
an exercise in frustration.
RUTH LITTMANN STAFF WRITER
arsha Barnett, 46, of Farmington Hills, describes
herself as a large-size woman.
She had never made fitness a key part of her
life, in part because she'd never felt welcome at
, "I remember being in a special nutrition pro-
gram years ago," she says. "The group tried to
arrange a deal with one of the local workout
places, but they didn't want anything to do with
Ms. Barnett assumes the facility worried that too many
fat people would tarnish its thong-and-beefcake image.
"You didn't have to be fit to join the club," she says. "You
just had to look like you had potential."
Enter Laurie Gornbein, 23, Amy Finsilver, 23, and Jen-
nifer Mills, 31, owners of and instructors at Fitness Factor,
located on Northwestern Highway in Farmington Hills.
Former employees at large-scale fitness clubs, these three
young women became familiar with the angst felt by many
people like Ms. Barnett. To accommodate the needs of the
overweight, disabled and sick, they opened a facility de-
signed to make exercise less intimidating.
"We're not about how you look or how much you weigh.
We're about health," Ms. Gornbein says.
Fitness Factor, ironically located behind the Pizza Hut
near 14 Mile Road, features an aerobics gym with mirrored
walls, a floating wooden floor and weights. It offers step
classes, healthy-back classes, cardiovascular line-dancing,
even street groove. Routines are customized to each client's
needs and capabilities.
"When I began, I felt uncoordinated. I would bend a knee
and have pain. I had no flexibility," Ms. Barnett recalls. "If
they'd ask me to tighten a
muscle, I would have to find
a muscle first. It sounds
funny now, but it was the
B'nai B'rith Women (now called
Jewish Women International) take a
Ms. Gornbein, a longtime
healthy field trip to Fitness Factor.
exercise aficionado, has a
bachelor's degree in psy-
chology from the University
Jewish Women International
member Barbara Geller takes part. of Michigan. Ms. Finsilver,
a dancer since childhood,
studied exercise physiology
at Eastern Michigan University. And Ms. Mills landed her
own workout show on ESPN-II cable.
"We try to do everything really basic. It's still a great
workout. It's just not as complicated," Ms. Gornbein says.
"It's a different approach to exercise. It's a safer approach.
It's a softer approach. It's not a do-til-you-drop or get-shin-
The women encourage their clients to obtain a doctor's
OK before taking to the exercise floor. They caution against
using scales to measure success because muscle, though
firmer, is heavier than fat. In addition, the instructors pro-
mote comfort by dressing down, always in casual wear. A
T-shirt, shorts or maybe a pair of baggy sweatpants.
"It's not a fashion show," Ms. Barnett says. "It's serious 0")
business, but while we're doing what we need to do for
ourselves, we're really having a good time."
The instructors say most of their clients are women.
Many, though not all, are overweight. Some attend classes CO
once a day. Others, like Ms. Barnett, work out more CO
"You don't instantly drop all kinds of weight and inch- LLJ
es," Ms. Barnett says. "The first thing is feeling good and
having increased energy. Women take care of everybody
but themselves and if there's any time left over, they're
lucky. Exercise is something we can do for ourselves."
Laurie Gornbein instructs the class.