With the first days of warm weather we begin shedding layers of clothing and searching through closets and drawers for warmer-weather clothes, one of the most dreaded annual rituals because it also means exposing flesh that has been safely out of sight in sweats and jeans for the past six months.

“This year,” we growl, vowing yet again to be in shape before the search begins for that piece of seasonal attire that becomes the nemesis for people from coast to coast – the swim suit.

It’s the time of year when area health clubs and gyms see another batch of fresh recruits, eager to step, stomp, pedal and push their way into a smaller size. But starting and staying are two different things, say local health club and gym owners and trainers, who see the return to the gym as regularly as the seasons, only to lose many of the determined at the first sore muscle or lazy morning.

Starting a fitness plan should be part of each individual’s lifestyle, and area clubs have options and hours for that meet every need. But staying with a healthy work-out routine long enough to see results becomes increasingly difficult for busy people with busy lives.

White Rock Athletic Club owner Robert Creel says the goal should not be about fitting in that piece of clothing.

“If you focus on the benefits of exercise, that swim suit will fit and the inches will start to fall off,” Creel says, adding the Surgeon General’s warning that living without exercise is like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Creel, who has owned White Rock for four years, says a health club or gym should give you a sense of direction and goal setting.

“People looking for a place to work out should look for an atmosphere that is conducive to coming in on a regular basis — and a place that says they will have fun.”

The White Rock Athletic Club, on Buckner, gives each new member a personal assessment and introduction to options for strength conditioning and cardiovascular workouts. In addition to weight equipment and free weights, the club has racquetball courts, a heated swimming pool, an indoor track, and a large multipurpose room for classes. Childcare is also available.

“A popular aspect of White Rock is the specialty classes for seniors,” Creel says. “We have seated aerobics and Fit for Life, a more active program for seniors. Clearly, the benefit here is more than how you look; it’s lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, and coping with stress.”

Lakewood resident Diane Kitzman, first violinist with the Dallas Symphony, started working out 10 years ago, and today does weight training and cardiovascular at Lakewood Gym at Mockingbird and Abrams..

“As a musician, I never got out of the practice room, and I wanted to try something physical,” she says. After five years of aerobics, Kitzman wanted a new challenge and began lifting weights under the guidance of  a personal trainer.

“I didn’t know anything about weights and wanted to be very careful that I didn’t injure myself,” she says.

Since beginning with weights, she has noticed a lessening of the tendonitis that is an occupational hazard for violinists.

A personal trainer provides expertise, guidance and motivation, and, for those who have trouble getting to the gym, can mean an extra incentive since someone is waiting who has been paid — from $30 to $50 for an hour depending on experience and the number of sessions purchased. But it’s more, says Kitzman.

Kitzman works with trainer Michele Hearrean, a trainer for 11 years and an award-winning bodybuilder.

“I have had a couple of trainers and Michele is a great motivator and I find her very knowledgeable. She actually came and watched me play a concert to see the position of my body and the next day began addressing exercises so I wouldn’t injure myself. She is very intuitive.”

Kitzman likes the small, neighborhood feel of Lakewood, which provides weights and cardiovascular machines. “Everyone knows everyone and it’s never crowded when I work out.”

For those who want to begin working with weight machines, navigating the mechanics, positions, needed weight and repetitions is confusing and can be daunting.

“My clients want someone to be there waiting for them who can direct and guide them. People new to the gym can be overwhelmed by the crowds and machines. But once they have paid a trainer to be there with them, they will have the personal motivation. A lot of times people want to do it differently than before. They bought a membership to do it on their own and they go for a week or two and get sore and say to heck with it — soon they are taking off more and more.”

White Rock Athletic Club, Lakewood Gym and the new YMCA at White Rock on Gaston all have fitness personnel who will do basic instruction on the machines; White Rock offers one complimentary session with a staff trainer. They also have personal trainers, who are independent contractors they can recommend, but Hearrean says it’s important to talk to the trainers, hear their philosophy and watch them interact with clients before choosing the one you would like to work with.

“A good trainer will, first of all, be certified and should have a physiology of exercise degree. They should provide a consultation  that would include listening to your goals and setting a plan. There should be a relationship. And they should have some flexibility with your schedule.”

Hearrean says weight training can build and develop muscle that will help burn fat more efficiently than just doing cardio workouts — and that those who are afraid of becoming muscle bound won’t unless they want to. Adding nutrition is the third component that can result in a healthier lifestyle and form, she says.

“You have to do cardiovascular, pump weights and do the diet. If you have all three going six days a week, you will transform. When people commit and not deviate, they will see results sooner, and that will inspire and that makes them commit.”

Those who have fewer problems with motivation or don’t feel they can afford a personal trainer can always shape up at the new YMCA on Gaston.  The Y’s workout machines are connected to Fitlinxx, a computer program that keeps tabs on your personal training regimen. One central computer tells you which machines you need to work, the weight needed, the chair setting and how many repetitions. Each machine then reiterates the information on a small, attached screen.

The treadmills and bikes have small, personal displays for television and a CD/cassette player that can be used with headphones.

The White Rock Y (formerly the East Dallas Y), which renovated the old Gaston Bazaar, plans to expand its facility, enclosing the pool and adding a basketball court, gym, teen room, computer room and indoor track. They are in negotiations with the city at present to connect with the Katy Trail at White Rock Lake, and are waiting for the installation of a roller hockey rink, made possible by Stars player Mike Modano, Pepsi and Mountain Dew.

Membership Coordinator Angela Garoutte said the club has a definite family feel with nursery care for smaller children and the usual Y activities for all ages.

Deciding to work out should be a life-time commitment, so shop around for the right feel, says Kitzman. If you are considering a club or gym, visit during the time of day you will be working out. Are there machines in good repair and available, or are there waiting lines? Do you like the ambiance? Is the staff friendly, helpful? Does the space feel right? Do you need childcare or classes for children so you can work out? All of the clubs offer packages and pricing for families beginning as low as $29 a month for an individual with special membership costs offered periodically.

Last but not least, like the grocery store, church or community meetings, working out at a nearby gym gives you another chance to run into your neighbors, united for a common cause. Health first … though it’s hard to forget about that swimsuit in your crystal ball.