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EXERCISERS STRETCH FOR THE INDIVIDUAL LOOK

When the aerobics craze hit it big in the 1970s, women turned to the dance world for clothes. Ballet leotards, tights and leg warmers were all the rage, and it wasn't uncommon to see people working out without shoes, modern-dance style.

Today, all that has changed.Women now want comfort, style and fun from their workout garb, according to local fitness experts.

Monica Bentrude, who supervises the aerobics program for Spa Fitness Center at six area locations, teaches seven aerobics classes per week and sells workout wear as a sideline. She said women have moved from the traditional to "anything goes."

By that, she means women are wearing what suits their individual tastes.

"They're going for what's comfortable and what looks good," Bentrude said. "A lot of the moves came from that (the world of traditional dance), but I think people are much more muscular now and much more toned. They want to wear things that flatter them."

Women used to wear leg warmers all the time, but not anymore. "I think they were too hot," Bentrude said.

She sees a lot of women in spandex biking shorts that stop a little above the knee or the slightly longer capri leggings. On top, they'll wear leotards that are cooler than those of the past, often featuring a thong strap in the rear and cut-out designs in front and back.

The really trim like to wear midriff-baring tops.

Sometimes women, especially those who are pregnant, will wear a T-shirt over workout clothes.

Men seem to favor biking shorts and either T-shirts or tank tops, Bentrude said.

Both sexes are wearing more cotton material. "It's comfortable, it breathes, and it absorbs sweat," she said. "The majority, men and women, wear white socks."

People also seem to want a psychological lift from their workout clothes.

"They're not wearing something to impress other people, but something that makes them feel good," Bentrude said. "When you get your hair cut, it's a boost. When you buy a new leotard, it's a boost. These are things that give working out a new lift every so often."

That approach can be an incentive for those who have a way to go to reach fitness goals and a reward for those who have made progress.

"If they've lost some weight or some inches, they'll get a new outfit, watch themselves in the mirror (while working out), and it's a psychological boost."

Paula Child, aerobics director for Body Talk Health Club, has taught aerobics for 14 years. She trains instructors for the two area Body Talk clubs and personally teaches six classes a week.

Child said that perhaps the most striking change she's seen is the fact that people really care nowadays about the proper footwear for aerobic workouts.

"When it first started, a lot of people did not wear shoes, even some of the instructors. Now everybody wears a cross-trainer or an aerobic shoe."

That is a good sign, she said, because it gives feet and legs necessary support. The most popular brands she sees: Nike, Reebok and Avia.

As far as clothes, "People used to dress more casually. Now they go out and spend money to look nice to work out," Child said.

That isn't to say they go berserk with the idea. "All clubs are a little different. Ours isn't pretentious. People want to look good, but they don't spend hundreds of dollars on what they wear."

She, too, sees a lot of women in biking shorts, made of cotton or spandex, and either midriff-baring tops or leotards. Often, the leotards feature T-back tops, thong straps and are high-cut at the legs. "It's a pretty sleek look," Child said.

Outfits often are quite colorful.

"Florals seem to be in right now," Child said, adding that she likes tropical floral prints.

She also favors short, one-piece spandex unitards that she said are especially comfortable.