Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Fitness & Exercise

Font Size

No More Gym Intimidation

Fitness centers work to help beginners feel at ease.
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 people?'"

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 bodies.

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.

Healthy Living Tools

Ditch Those Inches

Set goals, tally calorie intake, track workouts and more, all via WebMD’s free Food & Fitness Planner.

Get Started

Today on WebMD

Wet feet on shower floor tile
Slideshow
Flat Abs
Slideshow
 
Build a Better Butt Slideshow
Slideshow
woman using ice pack
Quiz
 

man exercising
Article
7 most effective exercises
Interactive
 
Man looking at watch before workout
Slideshow
Overweight man sitting on park bench
Video
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply

pilates instructor
Slideshow
jogger running among flowering plants
Video
 
Teen girl jogging
Article
Taylor Lautner
Article