Women-only gym offers sense of camaraderie
AZTEC — Aztec resident Robin Lasater said she has two compelling reasons for opening a new gym just for women.
"I knew that there are a lot of ladies who were really wanting me to open up a place to work out," Lasater said. "I had a gym (in Aztec and, later, in Farmington nearly a decade ago), and the exercise equipment was just collecting dust in storage. So here I am."
The result is THE Women's Gym on South Park Avenue, the city's only workout space in a Zen-like spare, single room storefront in a plaza bookended by doctor's offices, a church and a pharmacy.
Lasater opened the gym without any fanfare last November and is relying on word-of-mouth to add members, she said.
The gym, which is available to members 24 hours a day — accessed by an individual numerical code on the front door — offers only the basics: circuit training machines in a whitewashed room with a few inspirational hand-painted signs on the walls like "Breathe" that keep the atmosphere soothing, non-intimidating and clean, she said.
"It should be a place that relaxes you and makes you feel good," Lasater said. "People need a place to come and get away from all the stress and chill out. Get your (door entry) code, come on in. Destress before or after work, lose weight and get stronger."
The gym is also a source of camaraderie for the female members she said range from a tween to a woman in her late 80s. Having a space without loud, thumping music and clanging barbells and weights of other gyms appeals to her members, she said.
Vie Hall, Lasater's mother, signed up early and now travels from her Bloomfield home three times a week for a 30 minute workout.
Hall has asthma and said working out on the circuit of 11 resistance machines helps her breathe more easily and helps her relax, she said.
"These machines are not for men. They're designed for women. They work out your entire body. But they're not intimidating machines," Hall said during a circuit workout, using each machine for 30 to 45 seconds, on a recent Wednesday morning. "You're at your own pace. That's what I like about them."
Lasater said she emphasized the first word in her new business' name with capital letters for a simple reason.
"Because there is not another one," Lasater said.
The nearest gyms that cater only to women, she said, are in Pagosa Springs, Colo., and Bernalillo, both unrealistic distances for someone in San Juan County hoping to maintain a regular workout schedule.
And though she's taken and enjoys Zumba classes — an increasingly popular aerobic workout class at gyms in the area — her gym won't likely offer them, she said.
Lasater said she is working on hosting a weight loss and body contouring class soon.
She is teaming up with Portia Sykes, a state-licensed doctor of alternative medicine in Farmington, to host the class. Sykes specializes in naprapathy, which focuses on treating connective tissue disorders with physical therapy, nutritional counseling and "therapeutic modalities," which treat body pain with a variety of properties like heat, water or ultrasound — administered without any surgery or prescription drugs.
Sykes has practiced alternative medicine at Harmony Naprapathic on East Main Street in Farmington for 10 years and feels teaming up with gyms like Lasater's is a natural fit.
She also hosts a free class at her practice each week to help encourage and educate people on choices that can positively impact their health like maintaining a diet without processed foods and an active lifestyle.
"People are heavier now than ever before," Sykes said. "People are really getting tired of being tired and of trying and not succeeding. People often have the best of intentions but their cravings and choices they make often undermine a healthier lifestyle."
A native of Chicago, Sykes said it wasn't until she participated in a focus group at San Juan Regional Medical Center in 2014 that she realized the degree of the health problems in the area.
"I walked out of that meeting thinking, 'I am not doing enough,'" she said.
To combat the alarming numbers of people struggling with obesity and diabetes, Sykes started offering the free informational classes on nutrition and weight control and challenging her clients to lose weight.
In one year, she said her clients dropped a combined 1,456 pounds, she said.
Sykes said that while obesity rates in the county are her focus, the Four Corners area is much like the rest of the country.
Around 70 percent of the country is overweight or obese, she said. Thirty years ago, one in 10 were obese. Today, it's one in three, she said.
Untreated, the problem could climb to 90 percent of Americans struggling with overweight and obesity by 2030, she said.
"The Vikings and Jesus did not have Hot Pockets, Cheetos and Coca-Cola," Sykes said. "What we eat today is not normal. We need more places for people to get active. I wish we could get healthy from our work, but many of us are simply tied to desks all day."
Though Sykes doesn't belong to a gym, she said she exercises usually about five times each week. She and her husband, J.R. Sykes, editor and owner of The Talon, a community newspaper based in Aztec, also accomplish daily cardio workouts simply by chasing their two young children, she said.
Kate Skinner said she recently joined Lasater's gym, and was especially glad to find a place catering only to women where she can up her fitness level.
The South African-born director of the Aztec Public Library said moving to Aztec a year ago from Hawaii has been rewarding, but she lacked a gym that appealed to her. She had belonged to a women-only gym before and was previously frustrated to not find one locally.
Her new gym is a mere block away from her work at the library and about a block from her home in the opposite direction, she said.
"That's why Aztec is the perfect place to live, work and play. Smaller communities do offer you the best quality of life," Skinner said. "Now I've found a gym that's steps between my home and work.
An early morning person, Skinner said she walks over to the gym about four or more days a week and works the circuit machines for about 30 minutes and stretches for another 20 before heading off to work.
"It's 45 minutes and you're done, at least 4 days a week," Skinner said. "You do this total mindless circuit and have your entire body exercised all over. I really like that about this circuit and the machines Robin has. It's that the machines do the thinking for me. I like that. It refreshes and rejuvenates me. Afterwards I'm feeling strong and happy and loose and relaxed."
She said Lasater's gym also provides a space to nurture female friendships that other gyms lack.
"There's a kind of camaraderie at women's-only gyms. We support one another," she said. "A lot of us women, we're more comfortable working out with just women."
James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.
What: THE Women's Gym
Where: 404 S. Park Ave. in Aztec
Hours: Open 24 hours every day
More info: Call 505-486-9248
What: Harmony Naprapathic
Where: 8100 E. Main St. in Farmington
More info: Call 505-327-0086 or go to harmonynaprapathic.com