Focus on Programming

Physical and Mental Fitness for Women

Talk to any woman and you'll see how she struggles to fit all of her responsibilities into a single day. Women act as primary caregivers, juggling the needs of job and home — overlooking their needs in the process.

Stressed and short on time, women often neglect themselves, and, as a result, their health suffers. Epidemiological reports continually reveal that a high proportion of women suffer from cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity.

Fortunately, exercise and nutritional education can significantly reduce these preventable conditions. By meeting women's needs at every stage of life and providing education within a fitness environment, clubs can take a proactive role in women's health. This, in turn, empowers women to take care of themselves.

Fortunately, programming to keep women mentally and physically fit doesn't require complex strategizing. Clubs must start by providing the three Cs: comfort, confidence and camaraderie. If a club welcomes and caters to the needs of women, then women will gain confidence in the club and remain faithful patrons.

In addition to making women feel at ease, the club must provide an all-inclusive exercise program involving fitness education, cardiovascular conditioning, strength training, flexibility/balance and mind/body programming. This may seem like too much, but, as recent scientific studies have demonstrated, the amount of physical activity need not be excessive or strenuous to reduce morbidity and mortality risks, and increase longevity. All it takes is consistency!


A woman already involved in a fitness program is probably aware of the benefits of regular exercise. New members, however, will require an introduction to physical activity.

To teach female members about exercise, entice them to participate in educational seminars. Give them incentives. For example, women who participate in four consecutive monthly lectures can earn points for new workout clothes, a nutritional consultation or a massage.

Cardiovascular Training

Group fitness classes are a mainstay in fitness centers and primarily frequented by women. Great music, spontaneity and fun can generate a party-like atmosphere that makes group exercise a successful activity.

Cardiovascular workouts like hi/low impact and indoor cycling remain popular, especially when updated with trendy new music. Challenging classes such as kickboxing can appeal to elite female athletes. Adding multiple steps, circuit intervals and funky choreographed combinations reinvigorate step classes. Some of the most popular classes perfect dance routines over a five-week cycle. These challenge the mind and increase endurance while staying fun.

Strength Training

Strength training tones the body and improves mood. Published reports have demonstrated that clinically depressed individuals who received antidepressant medications and took part in a strength-training protocol had better outcomes than those who did not exercise. Furthermore, in some cases, patients responded better to exercise than to the medications. In fact, after following the weeks of exercise, they no longer met the classification for clinical depression.

Since women are more likely to suffer from depression than men, strength training should be a component of their regimen. Unfortunately, the weight room can be a daunting place for women.

Clubs can bring their female members into the weight room and increase their comfort level through group strength-training classes held during light traffic hours. Not only is it a terrific way to introduce women to strength training, it acts as an icebreaker for new members.

Body sculpting classes provide a strength-training option that continues to draw predominately female members. A challenging workout that includes fun props — such as elastic resistance bands, weighted bars, Swiss balls and balance boards — keep classes interesting.

The Mind/Body Connection

The popularity of yoga, Pilates and tai chi programs has been astounding. These classes are superior for women as they promote flexibility and balance, which establish core strength. Furthermore, these classes include deep breathing techniques that reduce stress.

Often older women who have practiced these techniques over a lifetime become positive role models for younger, less physically disciplined women.

Adrienne Stevens Zion, M.Ed., is an exercise physiologist and researcher in the department of rehabilitation medicine, College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University. She is the director of ASZ Consultants in New York City. She may be reached at (212) 305-1044 or

What Women Want

If you know what women want, you'll be able to attract them to your club. Here are some interests that clubs should target.

Family-focused services
  • Childcare/babysitting

  • Children's classes

  • Kids' activities (e.g., camps)

  • Teens' club

  • Maternal care

Personal services
  • Physical therapy

  • Personal training

  • Day spa indulgences

  • Health consultations

Educational lectures
  • Menopause and beyond

  • Learning the medical jargon: Dealing with medical issues/support groups

  • Nutrition for weight management, diabetes, heart disease

  • Teaching children good habits

  • Complementary and alternative medicine

  • Stress management

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