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Sisterhood shown to be powerful incentive at women’s gyms

NEW YORK: Women-only gyms, once seen as the exercise alternative for out of shape women of a certain age, are actively shedding that reputation, fitness experts say.

Young, professional women are discovering that female-only fitness zones can be what a morning of golf or shooting the hoops is to their male counterparts: a chance to network, negotiate and bond while working out.

“Men have been combining fitness and a social aspect for ages, doing business and creating relationships at the same time,” said Leanne Shear, trainer and founder of Uplift Studios, a boutique women-only venue in Manhattan.

“Women have not, to their detriment,” she added.

Shear said her studio, which opened in 2012, attracted professional women in their 20s, 30s and 40s and aims to provide a social atmosphere where they can come together as a community.

As for the workouts, Shear believes that while women are certainly capable of doing everything that men do, many find the gym equipment in weight rooms bulky, off-putting and ill suited to them.

Equipment in Shear’s studio includes an elliptical machine with a smaller stride better suited to women, and instead of huge plates and bars, there are lots of dumbbells, balls, balancing equipment and body weight exercises.

A 2014 report by International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association showed that, while health club members are equally likely to be male or female, what they do when the visit the club differs considerably.

Women are more likely to gravitate to group exercise classes, Pilates, stretching, yoga, boot camps and cardiovascular exercise machines, while men are drawn to free weights, resistance machines and sports such as racquetball and squash.

Curves International, Inc., the large chain of fitness centers for women, is known for its 30-minute circuit of cardio, strength and stretching training.

Hannah Karass, vice president of programs and science for Curves, said the circuit was a circle for a reason.

“The members face each other, help each other,” she explained.

Karass said Curves had initiated a rigorous, high-intensity interval training workout designed by trainer Jillian Michaels, of the TV reality show “The Biggest Loser,” to attract younger women.

Karass, 50, believes women’s gyms are simply less intimidating than co-ed clubs.

“I think of myself in a big co-ed gym,” she said. “If I work with a 10-pound (4.5-kg) dumbbell and I see men lifting 25, there is an emotional reaction.”

Dr. Barbara Bushman, of the American College of Sports Medicine, said both sexes required a balanced exercise program of aerobic activity, resistance training and flexibility and, for older adults, balance and agility.

“To me, the women-only gym fits into the enjoyment aspect,” she said. “If someone feels more comfortable in that environment and that helps them to stick with their program better, it’s a great thing.”

She added that women tend to lag behind men in resistance training, which is important for bone health. Being properly fitted on standard machines can also be difficult for smaller women.

“At university, I was the only female in the weight room,” said Bushman, whose 1.8-meter height mitigated the size issue. “It wasn’t an environment that welcomed women.”

Shear sees women-only venues as a place where women can work their hardest without feeling self-conscious or trying to impress the opposite sex.

“The workouts are just as hard and intense as any man’s,” she said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 04, 2014, on page 13.

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Summary

Women-only gyms, once seen as the exercise alternative for out of shape women of a certain age, are actively shedding that reputation, fitness experts say.

As for the workouts, Shear believes that while women are certainly capable of doing everything that men do, many find the gym equipment in weight rooms bulky, off-putting and ill suited to them.

Curves International, Inc., the large chain of fitness centers for women, is known for its 30-minute circuit of cardio, strength and stretching training.

Karass said Curves had initiated a rigorous, high-intensity interval training workout designed by trainer Jillian Michaels, of the TV reality show "The Biggest Loser," to attract younger women.

Karass, 50, believes women's gyms are simply less intimidating than co-ed clubs.


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