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KEEPING FIT : No Room for Men in the Workout Place

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Donna Frizzell of Fullerton has nothing against men--she even married one.

But when it’s time for her workout, she doesn’t want them anywhere around.

“I used to go to a co-ed club,” says Frizzell, 44, who is now a member of Imperial Health Spa’s Whittier club, the chain’s only women-only facility.

“There’s less tension here,” she says. “At a co-ed club, usually the men are working on heavier weights, and there’s a tendency to think that because you’re working on heavier weights, you’re more important.”

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And at an all-female club, she says: “You don’t have to be concerned with men looking you over all the time. This place is free of those types of games.”

Bobbi Wolford, who lives in Buena Park, agrees. “I’m not embarrassed about exercising in front of men,” she says, “But I like it better in a women-only situation. Women are more understanding of other women.”

Wolford, 47, is a regular at the Venus de Milo Ladies Figure Salon in Buena Park, as is 26-year-old Karen Poirier, also of Buena Park. “You can wear anything you want here,” Poirier says. “You don’t have to worry about what you look like. I think at co-ed clubs, a lot of people just go there to look good in their little outfits.”

Both Wolford and Poirier speak from experience. They tried co-ed health clubs, only to decide they preferred a women-only atmosphere.

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“I think there’s always going to be a need for women to have a place where they can exercise without men,” says Sara Bayon, owner of Venus de Milo. “I think the fact that we’re women-only is one of the reasons we’ve stayed in business since 1977.”

“If they’re serious about getting in shape, I think it’s easier in a women-only situation,” says Iqbal, manager of the Femenique health club in Orange. “They don’t have to worry about their makeup or their hair, and they can concentrate on exercise.”

Imperial Health Spa’s other locations aren’t women-only, but all except the chain’s Pasadena location do have some separate exercise areas for women. Karen Lessard, the company’s corporate secretary, says that situation evolved in response to customer demand.

“It’s something we’ve learned over the years,” she says. “One of our clubs was co-ed, and we found that we were getting far more men joining than women. So we split the (exercise) floor in half and set aside an area for women, now we have about equal male-female membership.

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“The point is to try and encourage everybody to exercise,” Lessard says. “Women are sometimes a little self-conscious on a co-ed floor. Especially on the (weight) equipment.”

Imperial’s separate areas have identical equipment, Lessard says, except that the weights in the women’s areas don’t go up quite as high. “The men’s floors have Olympic weights; the women’s don’t. But the machines are identical.”

Lessard says women seem to need more privacy with weightlifting than with other exercise, such as aerobics. “All our aerobics classes are co-ed,” she says. “Women don’t seem to mind that. Aerobics is kind of their area.”

But with weights, it’s all too easy to feel dominated by men, Frizzell says. “In a co-ed club, women are usually in the minority with weights. You have to be more assertive, you have to compete with the men for the machines or the weights.”

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Julie Sanders, owner of J.J.'s Workout Aerobic Center in Placentia, agrees that in aerobics classes, women don’t feel as uncomfortable around men. “We have about 90% women,” she says. “The guys who do come in are here strictly to work out. We do have three male instructors, but the women seem to like that.”

Sanders says her own experience teaching in a large co-ed club helps her understand how many women feel. “It was uncomfortable for me, because guys watch you,” she says. When she stripped down to her workout clothes, she says, “I felt like I was taking off my clothes.”

Frizzell, who runs a court referral program for drunk drivers, has been working out off and on for the past six years, but she only got serious about it a year ago. “I’ve gotten more determined because the older I get, the more work I have to do to keep the same body.” Her every-other-day workouts last about an hour and 15 minutes.

In addition to weightlifting, Frizzell jogs 3 to 4 miles three times a week. Her husband, she says, “appreciates the benefits.”

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Wolford began working out seven years ago. She does aerobics five days a week and concentrates on smaller weights because “my intention is not to be Mrs. (Arnold) Schwarzenegger.” The women she exercises with, she says, help her with their support and encouragement. “I know I couldn’t do it alone,” she says. “I need the group. They really encourage me, and seeing good results on them encourages you to try and get those same results yourself.”


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