No More Gym Intimidation
Fitness centers work to help beginners feel at ease.
Joann Goodman remembers the first time she ventured into a gym. It was in
the 1970s, when leotards, tights, and leg warmers were in vogue. But it wasn't
just the fashions that made Goodman feel like fleeing.
"I hated getting undressed in front of other women," says Goodman,
now 55. "And I looked around and wondered, 'Where are all the fat
Goodman not only hated that gym experience, she also says she loathes
exercise. Yet the former social worker began working out regularly about 1.5
years ago, after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. "I've dropped 75 to
80 pounds, my diabetes is in check, my arthritic knees are better, my blood
pressure is down, and in terms of my emotional health, I can't even describe
the change," she tells WebMD.
Her success has come from working three to four times a week with a trainer
in an Austin, Texas, exercise studio called Goddessfit. Studio owner Connie
Barron describes the purple and turquoise décor as "colors that would make
a man run for cover." Sessions are private and tailored to individual
preferences. For example, once Barron learned her exercise-phobic client
enjoyed dancing, that became the basis of Goodman's aerobic workout.
Barron's studio is just one exercise emporium that is working to help take
the intimidation out of fitness, especially for beginners. That's quite a
change for an industry long known for its ads showcasing perfectly buff
Redefining the Market
One catalyst for this change, experts agree, has been the runaway success of
the Texas-based Curves for Women gym franchise.
Business analysts had proclaimed the fitness industry oversaturated when
Curves began franchising in 1995. Yet Curves has since redefined the market by
catering to a group that previously shied away from gyms: overweight,
middle-aged women -- no men (or mirrors) allowed. Today, the chain that made
the 30-minute workout famous, boasts of more than 7,000 locations.
The circuit training program at Curves alternates 30-second intervals on
resistance machines with bouts of light aerobic exercise. The full workout --
twice around the circuit -- takes 30 minutes.
"Several larger gyms have circuit approaches similar to Curves,"
says Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American
Council on Exercise in San Diego. And yes, he says, beginners can get health
benefits from the 30-minute workout -- especially if they add half-hour walks
and/or bike rides around the neighborhood as they become more fit.
But the lure of Curves goes beyond the workout. "A large part of the
appeal," Bryant says, "is working out with people who don't look like
the spandex-clad women you might see in other facilities. You can feel you're
amongst a peer group you can relate to."
That's the feeling the 24 Hour Fitness chain is aiming for, says Kevin
Steele, PhD, vice president of sales. "We go out of our way to create an
inclusive environment," he says. "It begins with our ads, which show
people of all ages doing different kinds of activities. When you enter one of
our facilities, you'll see a spacious, wide-open area with high ceilings, and
relaxing, neutral colors -- not an intimidating cave-like area where buff guys
are lifting weights." Further more, he says, "[their] newer facilities
have pools, which are very good for people who are severely overweight because
water neutralizes their weight as they do aquatic exercises." Even Gold's
Gym, the bodybuilders' haven made famous by the movie Pumping Iron with
Arnold Schwarzenegger, is working to accommodate nonathletes. Some locations
provide child care, and programs such as Pilates and yoga.