Feminine fitness a fast growing trend

Date: January 1, 1970
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Gym. A word that often conjures up stereotypical images of sweaty men flexing their muscles in front of full-length mirrors and of perfectly shaped women in teeny gym shorts gliding on treadmills. In the meanwhile, those of us who prefer to go to the gym in our oldest sweatpants and T-shirts, try to hide the fact that we have no idea how the exercise equipment works.

The growing popularity of gyms for women is changing women’s perceptions about exercise however. Particularly about the environment they choose to exercise in. Karen Clinton owns a Flex Ladies Health and Fitness Studio in Stellenbosch. “Flex is far less intimidating than a larger, both-sex gym,” she says.
André Janse van Vuuren who owns a Shapes for Women franchise in Bryanston, Johannesburg, echoes her viewpoint. “Gyms geared towards women fill an important gap in the market. There are many women who do not feel comfortable in mainstream gyms,” he says. “We provide an exercise environment that is not intimidating. With this I mean that women can come to exercise without feeling they are being ogled at by men.”
Curves is the largest fitness franchise in the world, with over 10 000 franchises. According to its website, it was also the pioneer in the field of women’s gyms. Greg Sweeny is the Curves sales representative in South Africa and responsible for selling all Curves franchises in the country. According to Sweeny two to three Curves branches are opened in the country each month. There are currently 70 such clubs in South Africa with roughly 25 000 members.
The Flex-concept currently operates on a much smaller scale. “There are three Flex gyms in South Africa,” Clinton says. Two more branches will be opening within the next few months. Unlike Curves, Flex is not a franchise. According to Clinton it is operated under license from a parent company. “This allows each to be creative to a certain degree, when it comes to decorating, marketing and giving each gym its own personality,” she says.
Yet, despite the different approaches to business by these groups, their philosophies regarding their clients are similar. “In general women are much more comfortable in a gym where only women are allowed,” says Clinton. “No need to put on makeup and show off or worry about one’s size or looks.”
According to Clinton and one of the trainers at Flex, Melanie Brandt, they perceive the women exercising at Flex to be far more accepting of other women than they might have been in a normal gym. According to André Shapes is much the same. “Because the gym is full of like-minded people, the environment is friendly and social.”
“Our mandate is no mirrors, no makeup, no men,” says Sweeny about Curves. “It is about feeling comfortable and at ease. It does not matter what you wear or how you look, there is no judgement on our circuit.”
Clintan first began exercising because she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, and “had no option but to start exercising, but was soon an avid supporter. She explains, “I had never been in a gym in my life, but I joined a ladies-only gym and was so impressed with the idea, that I started to think about owning one myself!”
“It did so much for me, I wanted to share this fantastic concept with as many women as I could,” she says. Flex opened its doors three months later, on August 1 this year, and has since gained a steady following. “What is so fantastic is that anyone can do it,” Clinton says about the gym. “From the age of 16, and younger, to someone in their late 60s can exercise here.”
An additional benefit of the female gymnasium concept is the easy exercise programme, André says. “Our programme is specifically targeted at this market; therefore they easily grasp it, seeing results quicker.”
Most gyms for women have a toning circuit that takes 30 minutes to complete. Van Vuuren says this is because few women have time to spend hours in the gym. “Each major muscle group in the body is exercised during the 30 minute cycle and cardiovascular exercises are included,” he says.
According to Clinton Flex differs from other gyms for women because of the equipment they use. “It has various settings, so every day is different.  We change the settings as well as the routine daily, so one never gets bored,” Clinton says.

“We have 12 hydraulic resistance exercise stations and 12 recovery or cardiovascular stations,” she explains. “Each machine uses hydraulic cylinders that provide a double-positive resistance – think of it as twice the work in half the time.”
“One spends 30 to 40 seconds on each station and then you move on to recovery station for the same amount of time. The result is a combination of cardio, strength and flexibility exercise that matches your level of fitness,” Clinton says.
Another distinctive factor of gyms for women only, is their interiors. Stepping into the Flex in Stellenbosch was initially a surreal experience. The equipment, arranged in a neat circle, is pink and white. A comfortable couch, a coffee table with pretty flowers, magazines and the absence of an overpowering smell of sweat is unusual for those who have seen the inside of any other gym.
Flex‘s signature colour is Fuchsia or Magenta Pink,” says Clinton, who designed the interior herself. ”I wanted a place that was feminine,” she says “Most gyms go for darker shades – the grey carpet is soothing and practical and the pink complements it perfectly.”
The dressing room is carpeted and equipped with a shower that has clearly been designed with women in mind. “Everyone likes privacy hence the large changing rooms that are private. Some come before work in the morning, like to shower and then carry on with the day,” says Clinton. 
“I have tried to imagine what I would like from a gym and then I have based it on that. I treat it like a home away from home, so I expect it to be a place where everyone is comfortable,” Clinton says about her approach to business.  “I want it to be a sanctuary for that half an hour, away from business, kids, husbands and homes – a time for oneself!”
Riëtte Grobler is a student in the Department of Journalism, Stellenbosch University. This article, produced during a Gender Links “Business Unusual” training workshop, is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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