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A Gal in the Guys' Gym

I have been thrust, Spandex-clad, into a world of sweaty, grunting beefcakes. And I don’t like it as much as you’d think.

I’ve always enjoyed working out in the segregated sector of my gym: the walled-in “Women’s Gym,” a sunlit sanctuary for the sports-bra set. Here, floor-to-ceiling windows provided treetop views and frosted glass panes separated us from the facility’s sprawling — and somewhat intimidating — gender-neutral weight room.

For a place devoted to fat-burning, our room was surprisingly comfy: It felt more like someone’s living room, with gossip mags lying around, than a place to pump iron.

The real beauty of the all-girl fitness scene is going utterly unnoticed. No creeps to ogle us. No hunks to distract us. No reason to care if our butts really have no business in those stretch pants.

Sure, one of the reasons I exercise is to attract the admiring eye of the opposite sex. But just as I wouldn’t want that one hot Pilates teacher to see me wriggling into a Wonderbra or plucking my eyebrows, I don’t need fellas gawking (or giggling) at me as I attempt to bulk up my chicken arms.

I’ll proudly flaunt the outcome of my strength training, but the process should be private. It’s personal. It’s where the magic happens.

And the magic no longer happens in the Women’s Gym. I arrived recently to find our machines relocated to a tiny, windowless room down the hall and our spacious former haven filled with bikes for Spinning.

Perhaps you’re thinking, as I was, that if a person wants to perspire and pedal with a view of the outdoors, they ought to maybe go ride a bike somewhere.

In any case, my happy little workout bubble was popped. Doing squats in the cramped new room, with its clear glass wall between us and the surrounding gym, I felt like the star of a peep show. And I’m not one of those people who can pull off a great striptease in Reeboks.

So I stepped out of my comfort zone and into the foreign landscape of unisex-ercise. A place where the televisions thump and flicker with vulgar rap videos instead of Regis and Kelly. Where no one except me is reading a bright red pansy-ass paperback called Five Men Who Broke My Heart. Where men with bulbous triceps, swollen chests, and no sense of embarrassment grunt loudly as they hoist barbells the size of automobiles over their bulging heads.

If exercise hurts, I don’t do it. And the gals in the Women’s Gym seemed to understand that instinctively. We shared an unspoken tenet: If you drag your glutes out of bed and muster the confidence to leave the house in Lycra, who really cares if you do four reps or 40? And hell, who’s counting?

Not so in the wuss-free zone, where I am afraid to mount several machines (does one “mount” these things?) for fear a padded arm or steel bar will snap back and coldcock me. No one wants to be laughed at by people who are in far better shape than them.

There was a moment on the abductor machine when I thought I might learn to love this co-ed weight room. The equipment’s better. It’s less crowded. And I actually push myself to work harder knowing there are glistening fitness studs looking at me.

But then I realized something depressing: No one actually is looking at me. Not a single grunting beefcake. Hello? Female here!

So I think I’ll limp back to the diminished Women’s Gym. It’s one thing to go unnoticed. It’s another to be outright ignored.

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