Marisa Barrows, a 25-year-old accountant, has long been a yoga devotee, but recently she's switched to spinning and a pool-based cardio-fusion class at the LA Sports Club. She's not necessarily interested in lowering her heart rate or speeding up her metabolism; she just wants to feel prepared. "I'm paranoid," Barrows says softly. "What are two ways I can get out of the city if there's no transportation? I can bike. Or I can swim." She laughs uneasily. "I suck at swimming. The class can't hurt, right?"
Barrows isn't the only one feeling the urge to toughen up. Crunch estimates that gym activity is up by 10 percent; and during a special promotion on September 25, the New York Sports Club signed up 7,324 new members in Manhattan alone. "This was the single biggest day of sales in the company's history," says Bob Giardina, president of Town Sports International, which owns NYSC. Giardina says that while touring his clubs that day he heard hundreds of new clients talking about the need to be fit for whatever happens next: "One woman was saying, 'If a fire alarm goes off and I have to get down those stairs, I want to know I can get down them.' "
Getting in shape provides stress relief in the same way buying a gas mask might: It's one of the (precious) few things people think they can do to protect themselves. "People are telling me they want quicker feet, a quicker upper body -- they want to do more explosive stuff, so they can get out of the way," says trainer Mathias Narducci. One of his clients, Michael Colosi, general counsel for Kenneth Cole, admits that self-defense has been on his mind while working out: "Matt and I wondered, 'Are there things I could be doing to make myself better adapted to the physical challenges of escaping a hijacker or getting out of a building?' "
New York Sports Club's registration line for special camps was cut during the attack, but the club expects that its Outdoor Military Training Program will see a surge in sign-ups. Meanwhile, the four Marines who ran the classes have resigned. "It just didn't feel very patriotic to be doing that while my boys are overseas," says Al Caseres, a Marine reserve and the program's founder. "It seemed like a bit of a mockery."
Appropriateness aside, one of his star students, Rachel Frankel, says she's more glad than ever that she took the class. "If you work out every day but you're not doing the stuff that could get you out of tough situations," she says, "really, what's the point?"