12/15/1997 at 01:00 AM EST
WHEN STEPHANIE JACKSON used to work out at home with conventional weights, Bad, her fluffy mixed-breed cat, tended to live up to her name: "I'd put on my clothes, turn on my music and she would start intertwining her little legs around my body." One day, Jackson was holding a dumbbell when Bad, wanting to be held, began mournfully meowing at her feet. Suddenly, inspiration struck. "I picked her up and I just used her as my weight," says Jackson, 39. "And she didn't flinch. Not only did she not flinch, she started purring!"
Call it feline intervention. The author of Catflexing: A Cat Lover's Guide to Weight Training, Aerobics & Stretching, Jackson ultimately landed a $10,000 advance to write a humorous how-to about such exercises as the Kitty Push-Up and Tricep Cat Extension (she suggests sweating to music by—who else?—the Pet Shop Boys). The book, says Jackson, is "tongue-in-cheek. Bad and I have fun, but it comes off as serious. She gets so excited [when we work out] that she runs around in a circle, then I chase, and I pick her up and do more."
A native of Milton, Pa., Jackson (Dad was a steelworker; Mom, a homemaker) is no stranger to animal attraction. "She would always find injured birds and squirrels or mice and try to nurse them back to health," says sister Alicia, 44, owner of the lighting company where Jackson works in the showroom. Now living in a three-bedroom 1930s house in Terra Linda, Calif., with husband Jonathan Snyder, 36, a sales manager, Jackson—pregnant with their first child—still does a lot of non-cat exercises such as biking, jogging and hiking. But her goal is to get strong enough to incorporate her two other cats, Masi and Cochise, into her regular routine. "Masi is a great weight," she says. "He's just a little too heavy for me."