Female-geared gym sets itself apart with swag, grocery deliveries
In a 1,550 square foot room on Arapahoe and 30th in Boulder, Christine Neff is changing the way women exercise. In a room with yellow, orange, blue and exposed brick walls, she explains why one “cookie-cutter shape” is not right for everyone.
Classes in progress or coming soon:
Snowbettys: Ski and snowboard conditioning, four Mondays at 6 p.m.
Million Dollar Babes: Kickboxing for girls, Thursdays at noon and Saturdays at 9 a.m.
Lighten Up: Weight loss, strength and conditioning circuit, Thursdays at 5:30 p.m.
beFIT Women: Four-week personal training/group meeting/group hike program,
starts Jan. 9
Food For Thought: Four-week (once a week) eating behavior modification class
Photohike: Moonset hike at Chautauqua, 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3
Caminar: Conversational Spanish walking class
Nordic walking class
“I looked at Curves, because it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records, it has the most franchises of anyone, and what are they doing right? It’s not my style; I’ve been in, and it’s just not enough. So the things that they’re doing right is that they’re taking away some of people’s objections to exercise. So someone who gets to the gym doesn’t have to figure out what they’re going to do. It’s already set up,” Neff said. “So what I did, with a personal training background, is I said OK, so someone wants to lose weight, here’s a program I would write for that person.”
The gym also offers training programs, exercises designed around a specific event (like a wedding), programs to teach a skill (like a conversational Spanish walking class) and many others.
Neff has been a personal trainer for 14 years, but she wanted to “exponentialate” her influence. “My big why, for me, is hearing someone say ‘wow, I didn’t know I could do that.’ It’s when you feel good, you look good; you feel strong, you look strong,” Neff said. “I think physical strength leads to other strength, and that’s what I’m here for.”
Her philosophy finally materialized in Femme FITale on Feb. 14, 2006. She picked Valentine’s Day because it “is good for your heart.”
Jill Brammer, who has been a member since April 20, left 24 Hour Fitness because “they stopped being open for 24 hours” and “it just got stupid with all the college kids.”
She said it turned into a “meat market” where people try to find dates rather than get in a real workout. But at Femme FITale, she said, Neff is always there to help her, and she can come in any time she wants. She can get in a workout without being stared at.
“People who don’t want an audience feel really comfortable here,” Neff said.
Neff’s goal for the gym is to be different. So far, Femme FITale offers a wide range of classes, such as Lighten Up to lose weight, a Million Dollar Babes kickboxing class and Calling All Bettys, a conditioning class to get in shape for ski season. This spring, the gym will also begin offering outdoor classes.
Neff teaches some classes, along with other instructors – not staff members. Femme FITale’s trainers are independently contracted and more experienced than staff trainers found at many other gyms.
Many of the classes are modeled on circuit programs Neff developed for gym members. In the entrance to the gym, below a poster of Tour de France racers surrounded by sunflowers, a bookcase houses a row of white binders. Each binder in the quickly growing collection – Babes, Brides and Bombshells; My Knees Don’t Do That; and Lighten Up 1-3, to name a few – contains a grid listing exercises and times to spend on each. Inside are pictures of each exercise and a description.
“When you walk in, some people might be confused because there’s not a circuit where you plop down on a machine and go machine to machine. But really, in the athletic world, machine training is very outdated,” she said. “So I teach everyone. I go through a workout with everyone so they know what to do.”
What is even more unique about the gym is its extras. Each new member receives a swag bag with goodies from local business owned by or designed for women. The gym also offers a Consheerge service. Members can drop off their car at Jiffy Lube for an oil change while they work out, order groceries online from Aspen Grove Market and pick them up when they come to the gym, have dinner prepared by Chef Connie Gordon or have E-Services run errands for them.
Of special interest to many Boulder women, the gym also has a philanthropic side. A percentage of each membership fee ($450 for 13 months or $42 a month) goes to local charities.
Neff said she would like to see Femme FITale locations open in other communities. Her expansion goal is “finding someone else who has a similar mission, someone else who has the same ‘why’ . to help women, not just our members, but our community. That would be the ultimate dream. Helping women be in business for themselves and contribute to nonprofits in an unlimited number of areas.”
But for now, Neff is concentrating on growing the original Femme FITale location.
Financially, “when you design a business, you’re always overly optimistic,” she said. The gym is not at her target, but “we’re out of the danger zone, and that’s a good feeling.”
In the nine months since Femme FITale opened, membership has grown steadily, except during a small hiccup over the summer. Neff said she will combat the summer slowdown next year with the addition of outside classes.
“Everyone wants to be outdoors,” Neff said. “This way, they can still be in a group and socialize.”
Neff knew that for Femme FITale to be successful, it would have to occupy a niche in Boulder that was left empty when Strength & Grace Fitness closed four years ago.
“There are so many gyms in Boulder, and you really have to think twice before you go ahead, because it’s a small pie,” she said.
Like Brammer, many of Femme FITale’s members left other gyms when they joined Femme FITale. Most told Neff they made the switch because their other gym was crowded, not open long enough, equipment was frequently broken or dirty and they were stared at while working out.
Removing the men makes a big difference: The gym actually smells good, and members can “look like hell” while they workout so they look “hot as hell when they go out,” Neff said. Unlike Curves, the gym’s main women-only competitor, Neff has designed programs to help members advance their workout.
Curves helps people start exercising, Neff said, but people go through a circuit program there and say “I did it, and I lost weight, but there’s no where to go after that.”
24 Hour Fitness Worldwide is one of Femme FITale’s other main competitors in Boulder. According to 24 Hour Fitness, the Boulder location is open 24-hours a day Monday through Friday, and 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. on the weekends. Classes have around 20 members and are held in the mornings and evenings on weekdays and all day on weekends. Classes at Femme FITale have about 4 to 10 members and Neff schedules them based on what time works best for the participants.
24 Hour Fitness is the world’s largest privately owned and operated fitness chain. For Brammer, that is part of why it and other large gyms did not fit for her. At Femme FITale, which can be accessed 24-hours a day by key card, she receives personal attention from Neff.
“People will complain they’ve gone to the (Boulder) Rec Center at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday night and they can’t get on a machine,” Neff said. “That’s ridiculous!”