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If you are dreaming about competing against some of the fittest people in the United States in the 2012 national CrossFit competition, why not own the gym you work out at?

That’s the business decision Wes Staton reached when he decided to open Yellowstone CrossFit three weeks ago, the third CrossFit gym in Billings.

After warming up for 15 minutes, Staton tackled Tuesday’s CrossFit workout: one-arm swings, overhead squats and Turkish set-ups. While hefting a 45-pound kettlebell weight, he did 90 moves in just over eight minutes, proving you don’t have to work out for an hour to stay fit.

His gym at 902 Central Ave. is the 28-year-old’s first business venture into a highly competitive field.

Billings used to have only a few big exercise facilities, including the YMCA, the Billings Athletic Club and Yellowstone Racquet Club. In recent years, some 18 competitors have opened, including the “let yourself in” 24/7 fitness centers.

“Everybody is taking a little piece of the pie and that makes it harder for the full-service clubs to survive,” said Billings Athletic Club general manager Terry Doerfler.

Costs vary widely. Some basic gyms charge $19 per month. An individual YMCA membership runs $40 a month with a $100 initiation fee. And Granite Health & Fitness at 3838 Ave. B, charges $51 a month for individuals with a $125 initiation fee.

If Staton can attract 20 to 30 clients willing to pay $109 a

month for a handful of supervised workouts each week, his small gym can push a profit.

“My goal is to have 100 customers in two years,” he said.

With North Dakota politeness, Staton urged one of his first clients, Matthew McDonnell, to try harder, adding that a trainer’s personal touch helps people stick with a new exercise regime.

McDonnell and his friend, Nick Rodgers, were ready to join the Y when they ran into Staton, tending bar at Jake’s, who invited them to try the CrossFit gym he was opening.

“McDonnell’s got the look in his eyes. He’s addicted now,” Staton said.

The co-owner of Big Sky Collision Center said that during his lunch break, he can get a hard-core workout in and still have time to eat.

“When you leave here you are tired. You couldn’t do any more,” McDonnell said. “It’s intense and convenient.”

Staton, a North Dakota college football player, met and married Cass Collinson from Billings, who has earned black belts in two forms of martial arts. The two spent two years in Peru as Peace Corps volunteers.

“One day he just said, ‘I want to open a gym. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,’ “ she said.

One in five Americans now belong to a health club. But, joining and using are two different things, especially for the holiday hangover converts.

“Probably 70 percent of them who join in January don’t last and many don’t last more than 30 days,” Doerfler said. “It’s really sad and that’s why the obesity rates are as high as they are.”

Competition is forcing these businesses to offer new and expanded services, from child care to Latin dance crazes like Zumba, that sprinkle some fun into a workout.

And the economic doldrums sucker-punched health clubs.

“The recession cut out discretionary spending. It hurt everybody and across the U.S. the health clubs got hit,” Doerfler said.

Despite those trends, Granite Health & Fitness has attracted 4,000 members in three years, exceeding expectations, said Scott Schermerhorn, one of five owners. More people are realizing that exercise not only boosts mental and physical health, but it is a good investment, he said.

“One way to decrease medical expenses is to keep in shape,” he said. “If you want to control health costs, get people walking or exercising.”

YMCA chief executive Tina Postal, who attends the 6 a.m. Boot Camp three times a week, said the nonprofit Y doesn’t have to churn quarterly profits as other clubs do. Still, the Y sees direct evidence of the financial pinch hitting families today.

“We get a lot of requests for financial help for membership fees,” she said.

Free child care and free “get started” programs help lure new members, Postal said.

“Exercise is not easy. It’s always easier to go home and watch TV than hit the gym,” she said.

Oz Fitness, also a 24/7 gym, sells T-shirts proclaiming, “There is no magic pill.”

“It takes 21 days to build a habit. But the majority of the people don’t want to put in the work,” said Oz general manager Heather Bachler.

Still, all the current competition didn’t scare off Kim Davis when she decided to live out one of her dreams.

Last August, she bought the Circuit for Women Heights business at the eastern end of Main Street. Her sales pitch blends better health with vanity.

“Summer swimsuits N Spaghetti Straps. RU Ready?” asks a sidewalk sign out front.

Circuit charges an initiation fee of $88 (half that for seniors) and requires a yearlong contract at $34 a month because a long-term commitment helps women stick with the program.

“Many women say I have an appointment with my doctor in a few months and I have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. I want to get healthier,” Davis said.

A quarter of the members at Snap Fitness at 1780 Shiloh Road work out regularly, said owners Jim and Lori Malmstrom. They opened their first Snap gym in 2007 and then started gyms in Laurel and Sheridan, Wyo.

“We’re still profitable and we’re still cash flowing but are we meeting our numbers we want? No. And that’s because of all the competition in Billings,” Jim Malmstrom said.

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Contact Jan Falstad at or 406-657-1306.