Amy Ramos with the training sled. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

The walls may be painted in sherbet tones, but the Women’s Athletic Club (WAC) is no pastel palace for conventionally feminine fitness. When I arrived for my first workout, a whiteboard behind the front desk exhorted, “You made it!! WAC is so happy you are here! Now … go kick ass!!”

If that doesn’t sound very ladylike, that’s kind of the point. Owner Alice Huang had worked in other women’s gyms and wasn’t necessarily a fan of the category, noting that many women’s gyms are owned by men. She founded WAC in 2007 with her own vision for women’s fitness and an emphasis on great customer service.

Amy Ramos trying out the surf trainer | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

That means you will find a push sled at WAC (something I’d previously only ever seen football players use). What you won’t find is body fat testing, which Huang notes is not reliable, depending on the method used, and also not a great predictor of fitness. She went so far as to cover up the display on one piece of equipment that purports to show the user’s body fat percentage.

To keep the focus where she wants it, Huang stocks the 3,500-square-foot space with state-of-the-art equipment, taking her cues from industry trends and sometimes from members themselves. She acquired a hip thrust (a k a glute drive) machine when she noticed members improvising the exercise using several pieces of equipment.

With the variety of equipment WAC features, an exerciser can design workouts to suit a wide range of goals and tastes: intensive weight training with free weights up to 50 pounds, cardio on the stair climber or rower, boxing drills with the heavy bag, myofascial release with a foam roller, and some retro ab work with a hula hoop — to name just a few possibilities.

I especially enjoyed getting to try equipment that I hadn’t found at other gyms. Never much of a downhill skier, I laughed at my technique on the Skier’s Edge ski simulator (complete with poles), but Huang assured me, “Skiers have the most trouble with this machine.” She put me through my paces on the Surfset, a small surfboard mounted on three Bosu balls — standing sideways, like a surfer, for a balance and core challenge; facing forward, paddleboard-style, to do squats; and using the resistance bands clipped to the front for lateral raises, bicep curls, and tricep presses.

Amy Ramos learning technique for an unfamiliar training machine

WAC also offers personal training and a small number of group fitness classes. I got a taste of Huang’s personal training style when she coached me through a chest fly set, instructing me to slow down and challenging me to increase my weight; my pecs were sore the next day. The dance class I tried had friendly people and great music (Earth, Wind & Fire) but elevated my mood more than my heart rate. I had better luck with Huang’s circuit training class, which had us throwing weighted slam balls to the ground, hula hooping, doing pushups on the Surfset, pushing and pulling the sled, and waving battle ropes.

Of course, equipment and classes are only part of the story. Ask Huang what sets her facility apart, and she’ll name several factors. She caps her membership at 200 in order to prevent the club from getting too crowded, which she says is a major turnoff for would-be gym goers. Because WAC is a key club, members can access it 24 hours a day. Huang cites one member who suffered from migraines and worked out in the blissful silence of the wee hours.

Women’s Athletic Club | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Having only women members creates a supportive, rather than competitive, environment, Huang says. She points out that some of her members quit coed gyms because they were tired of being hit on, condescended to, and even followed by male members. Huang was once threatened with a lawsuit about the gender restriction, but it was dropped and she’s confident she’s on solid legal ground. Gender restriction aside, Huang takes pride in the diversity of the club’s clientele, with members ranging in age from 13 to 85, and cis- as well as transgender women.

But the true distinction of WAC may be Huang herself, who jokes that it took her a decade to realize that she had “created a gym just for me” — an environment that wouldn’t generate the anxiety that other gyms can induce. Her touches are everywhere, from the design of the rooms to the ubiquitous notes with safety and operating tips for the equipment to the posting of the 988 hotline number. Seven-year member Kristen appreciates the atmosphere Huang creates. “Alice is so warm and welcoming and is constantly introducing everyone to each other. It’s kind of like Cheers in that way,” she says. Fran, a member in her seventies who’s been there since the beginning, says, “WAC is beautifully organized and clean, and Alice is a superlative trainer. Being a member here has been a huge gift in my life.”

Women’s Athletic Club, 4141 State St. (El Mercado Shopping Center), Open 24 hours; access by key. Membership is open to ages 13 and up; members under 18 can come solo during business hours, and must be accompanied by an adult member at other times. Changing room (no shower) and separate bathrooms. Cubbies provided for storing personal items. No towel service. Plenty of free parking. Masks are required for club staff, optional for members; doors to the outside are often kept open to promote air flow.

Amy Ramos on the ski trainer | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom


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