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Back in the 1960s, there was an abundance of women-only gyms. Even the co-ed gyms of the time, such as Jack La Lanne, featured "men's nights" and "ladies nights." At the time, these women's centers were usually pretty small. Some did not even have showers, because the idea of women sweating during exercise was considered "unfeminine." The names of these women's fitness clubs reflected the philosophy of the times. For example, names such as "Elaine Powers Figure Salon" were popular. These clubs also featured some rather humorous equipment, such as vibrating belts to "vibrate the fat away," and rolling machine to "roll the fat away."
Within the same time frame, there were a number of "men only" gyms, such as the New York Athletic Club. CEOs and other upper level executives often used these fitness centers for corporate networking. However, with the rise of the feminist movement, many women entered the corporate marketplace. There was justifiable concern that since many of the mega business deals were done at these fitness clubs, women were at a disadvantage. After all, if they were not allowed to literally "swim with the sharks," how would they advance their careers? Eventually, due to pressure from the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other organizations, these clubs were liberated.
In the past decade, women's health clubs have made a comeback. Many have appeared in the form of franchises that focus on circuit training for women. Others are full-service gyms that are independently owned and operated. Why the sudden reappearance? It's hard to say. Some of the franchises were actually started as a conservative reaction to what fundamentalists see as "an increasingly immoral society." The owners of these franchises believe that women should not be exposing their workout-clad bodies in public, when men are present. Rumors, which have yet to be substantiated, suggest that portions of the franchise fees from these women's fitness centers are donated to anti-choice organizations.
Ironically, feminists who once opposed the all-male fitness centers developed many of the other women's health clubs. These women's fitness clubs often have added perks, such as babysitting, prenatal exercise classes and exercise equipment that is specifically designed for women. They may also have extensive spas services.