We all have our favorite places to go, but one that really helped me put my life on track — and helps others do so as well — is Ms. Fit Health Clubs.

The women-only fitness center is locally owned and operated. It opened in May 2001 at 7788 E. Speedway, attracting gym-goers from all over the east side.

Owners Bob and Annette Simper aim to help women work out when it is convenient for each individual.

“I want women to be able to come in, get a great workout, take a class, focus on their goals, all within a 45-minute time frame. Afterward she can get out the door and back to her demanding life, better equipped to handle the stresses and the pressures,” Annette said.

Being a member of Ms. Fit Health Clubs since 2004, I know what the Simpers mean. When I joined the club, I hadn’t worked out in a long time, and I needed a change. I had previously run several miles several times a week, but I was now a busy college student trying to find time to juggle schoolwork, a fairly new relationship, church life, a job, and family and friends while attempting to keep up a healthy lifestyle.

I remember walking into the gym, dwelling on my current unhealthy ways. My mom and I met with Annette and knew it was the right gym for me. I have been a happy member there ever since.

Ms. Fit Health Clubs — or Ms. Fit — offers 45-minute classes designed to appeal to women of all ages and fitness levels. With 37 classes a week, women can typically find one to meet their needs. If you want to break a sweat, there’s Zumba, Step or Cardio Box. For more muscle-specific work, you can take Firm n’ Tone, Pump Zone or Pilates. Seniors or those looking for a beginning class can enjoy EZ Fit or Gentle Yoga.

You can check out the club’s website at www.msfit.net for more information on classes, schedules and descriptions.

Ms. Fit also sells women’s weight equipment, cardio equipment and free weights. Personal trainers are available to help with workouts, and Ms. Fit also offers massage therapy, acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatments.

Recently, Ms. Fit began working with women suffering from Parkinson’s as well as the bariatric unit at Tucson Medical Center. That’s post-op women get help exercising, some for the very first time. Annette is looking to expand this service to bariatric units in other hospitals throughout Tucson.

welcoming environment

I asked Annette what makes the gym unique.

“It’s the individual care that we give to each woman. As a follower of Christ, I want to create an environment that is filled with joy and healing. A place where women can try something new, make a mistake, get up and take a bow; a place where everyone else will give her a standing ovation for even trying. There should be no criticizing or judging, only a place where all are encouraged to give it their best effort.”

Every client can choose how much assistance she wants from trainers. If you prefer working out on your own, the staff is respectful of that. But if you need guidance each step of the way, trainers will provide it.

“If a woman comes in and says, ‘My goal is to fit in my wedding dress by February,’ my whole team gets on board with helping her accomplish that goal,” Annette said.

And knowing from personal experience, if you don’t make the gym part of your normal routine, you’ll get an encouraging phone call from a trainer, making sure you’re all right and seeing what they can do for you to help get you back in the gym.

Ms. Fit attracts women whose faiths may not allow them to remove certain public attire in a co-ed facility. For any woman working toward a healthier lifestyle, Annette has words of wisdom she hopes will help.

“The goal should be to create a healthy way of living … that includes practicing healthy eating habits. It includes the practice of making exercise a part of one’s daily routine. If one sets out with this as the primary goal, the body will begin to conform and shape up into the lifestyle that is demanded of it.”

Approximately 760 women are members at Ms. Fit. Of those, 80 (including myself) have received a lifetime membership with the gym. These passes are awarded for recruiting other members or for winning the gym’s annual “biggest loser competition.”

I’ve noticed a wide range of ages working up a sweat on any given day. Members range from 11 years old to those in their 90s. I talked with some to see what keeps them coming back.

A member for seven years, 60-year-old Brenda wants to stay in shape in a clean and friendly atmosphere.

“It just really is fun and a great stress relief for me. Everybody seems to be working on the same kinds of goals and interests.”

And 24-year-old Hannah has tried many gyms — coed included — and finds that Ms. Fit is her “home gym.”

She began working out at Ms. Fit after graduating from high school. Once Hannah joined a different gym after moving out of state for college, she lost the enthusiasm to work out.

“I found myself not going to the gym because I didn’t feel comfortable there. I felt so at home with Ms. Fit … . Nothing’s a competition at Ms. Fit. (The) environment is welcoming and encouraging … you always feel comfortable. Being all-women, I can get in and do my things with no distraction.”

Sharon, 70 and a member for nine years, likes that the gym isn’t crowded when she goes there. And she says Annette is welcoming to all women.

“Annette goes out of her way to provide incentive for all women, regardless of size, race. Anybody would feel comfortable coming here, I think.”

long history

Together, the Simpers have been involved in women’s fitness since Elaine Powers Figure Salons, a national chain of women’s exercise centers that originated several decades ago.

In 1982, the Simpers knew they wanted to provide a women’s-only workout environment when they heard an advertisement for a coed fitness center claiming to be the “new singles bar of the ’80s.” The Simpers wanted to offer something to women who weren’t interested in working out at a “singles bar.”

So they founded Naturally Women Fitness Centers in 1984. They enjoyed their time there, and in 1997, sold their portion to their partners. Afterward, the couple still felt compelled to provide fitness services to women in Tucson.

Over the years, Bob and Annette found that “lack of time” was the main reason women gave for canceling or not renewing gym memberships. That’s when they came up with a new facility that would provide maximum workout opportunities in minimal amounts of time.

The Simpers strive to keep membership costs affordable. Ms. Fit offers a free workout session with a trainer or a free day pass to work out and try out classes and equipment. The most popular membership is $30 a month, but other packages are available.

With this being their only location, the couple hopes the economy will turn around so they can open more Ms. Fit Health Clubs in other parts of town.

“As long as women want to exercise in a private setting, we want to provide the setting for them,” Annette said.

Sarah McKeown works at a local charter school and lives on the east side with her husband and son. Email her at east@azstarnet.com