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Almost every morning, a group of ladies from all over the Pittsburgh area gather at their morning hang out.
They chat, laugh, even trade beauty tips. But this is no tea time. Between friendly exchanges, the ladies throw jabs, hooks and kicks against heavy bags dangling from the ceiling. They run "suicides," dragging weights from one end of the room to another. They lunge, lift, stretch, all under the watchful eye of a trainer who's pushing them every inch of the way.
This is the Ladies-Only Life-Changing Fitness Academy at Fight Club Pittsburgh in Robinson. It's one of several local groups dedicated to helping women meet their fitness goals without the added pressure of doing it in front of the opposite sex.
"I find this much more satisfying," says Antriece Hart, 39, of Carnegie, a Ladies-Only member who used to work out at a male-dominated boxing gym. "We are all like-minded. Most of us are working mothers. We have a lot in common. This is just fitness, no drama."
According to a new report from an industry trade association, women are two to three times more likely than men to participate in group exercise classes. The 2013 International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association Health Club Consumer Report shows that while men and women are equally represented in gyms, men prefer free weights and resistance machines; women prefer working out in group settings.
The benefits include everything from finding friends to being less self-conscious, women say.
"I like that (trainer) Tia (Angle) pushes us while we're having fun," says Tayler Ondik, 19, of Scott, another Ladies-Only member. She works out at a co-ed gym, as well, but finds the motivation gained at her morning class carries with her during other workouts. "Working with all the people here helps me to push myself more."
Dr. Amy Yester, a physician with Seasons OB-GYN at West Penn Hospital, says women-only gyms and classes are ideal for people who haven't found the support they need in other facilities.
"When you have a buddy or someone pushing you, you make that extra effort," she says.
Women likely are more drawn to classes because they make exercising more fun, Yester says.
"They tend to be dance or music-oriented," she says. "There's a variety it adds to it. It's more enjoyable, and you're still getting the benefits."
Patricia Dunlap, owner of Female Physique's in Ross, says her clients like the ladies-only environment because they don't have to worry about clothing or appearances, they like the clean facility, and they enjoy the camaraderie.
"They do bond," she says. "They come here and have coffee and talk after class. They seem to always be working out with someone."
Kim Gregory, owner of Pure Fitness for Women in West View, has had a similar experience at her business. Her clients even organize a fundraiser for breast-cancer awareness and they collect blankets for the poor.
"I've watched new people walk in the doors having never been in an exercise facility, and, then, friendships form and relationships form," Gregory says.
Angle, who trains three ladies-only classes at Fight Club Pittsburgh, commends each participant by name as she coaches them through their workouts. They might groan when she asks for another full minute of kicks or lunges, but by the time class ends, they're all chatting cheerfully.
"There is no cattiness here," Angle says. "We're always texting each other and keeping each other accountable."
At the Leetsdale-Sewickley Curves, owned by Whitney Gresham, women ranging in age from early 30s to mid-80s meet every morning to work out with Jillian Michaels. A DVD featuring the famed fitness coach plays as the women rotate between the workout and several exercise machines in 30-second intervals. Dance music plays as Michaels and Gresham offer encouragement to the nine women.
"The women here are just wonderful," says Carole Battisti, 67, of Bell Acres. "This is the best thing I've ever done for myself at my age."
Gresham opened her business seven years ago with a desire to help women realize the importance of taking care of themselves.
"As women, what we generally do is care for others, and, by the time we're ready to care for ourselves, we're out of shape or overweight," she says.
Gresham says each woman comes to Curves for a different reason.
"Some want to lose weight. Some want to control their diabetes. For some, this is a social outlet," she says.
Her clients appreciate the fun, supportive environment.
"I always wanted some place with no men," says Rose Marie Calabretta, 76, of Moon. "I like not having to worry about anything else."
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or email@example.com