When Josephine Simmons retired from her demanding utility regulation and legislative career, she, like many women her age, wanted to remain active and healthy. The problem was finding the right place where she could feel comfortable working out and which was conducive to staying healthy.

Her answer: Combine her new business with her personal goal. The end product, Ladies Workout Express, a franchise of the nation-wide program offering quick 30-minute circuit training for active women in a gender-centric environment where the women can be themselves.

“Because I am getting older, I wanted to be in an environment that makes me want to stay healthy,” Simmons said. “I also wanted to send a message to older women out there that there are lots of things you can do when you are over 60.”

Simmons said she went to several other gyms post-retirement, but the typical gym did not offer the kind of environment where she could truly concentrate on her health and not on appearances.

“By taking away the intimidation factor that is common to most co-ed fitness centers, women can focus on getting lean by avoiding the ‘mean’,” said the Lady of America Franchise Corporation, which owns the rights to the franchises and the workout programs.

As Simmons was looking to get in shape, she was also looking to open a franchise to keep herself busy. Research into food-related franchises taught her she didn’t want to deal with food.

The same motivation that led her to look for good gyms, led her to this type of franchise and the marriage of the two goals has proven a success.

“I thought, ‘OK, they have it right.’ This is so easy, simple and fast,” she said.

A couple of trips to the company’s headquarters in Florida, some serious training and a few CPR certifications later, and Simmons opened up shop at 7744 Madison St., and women have already begun flocking to the center.

Circuit-training method

The circuit-training method and the machines, Simmons said, are what makes this program unique and able to produce quick results.

The workout, states the franchise corporation, is designed for “women to keep the heart rate high enough to burn at least 600 calories in a half hour, using only resistance training on a circuit of 24 hydraulic machines and aerobic stations.”

The women in the program begin at any station they want, although Simmons recommends warming up on a stepper or platform first. They then move on to a different piece in the circuit every 40 seconds, completing the circuit in 35 minutes.

“The stepper and the platforms are recovery equipment, and the hydraulic machines get the heart rate up,” she explained, pointing to the double-cylinder hydraulic equipment. “These cylinders have fluid in them and we have two cylinders in every machine, so when you work the leg lift, for example, the quads are worked out on the way up, and the hamstrings on the way down.”

The women also control the workout themselves, making the equipment easy to use and almost painless.

“Members don’t experience soreness,” Simmons said. “It is a very smooth motion. If they are sore, it is a body part that is sore and the technique is not right.”

Simmons recommends her clients work out at least three times a week and already has a somewhat rowdy crowd that comes in the mornings.

The shop has an infrared sauna that provides dry heat and is free for the first month.

“As you perspire, it is a good detoxing agent,” she explained. “It gets the skin clear and helps breathing, opening up the air passage.”

The sauna, said Simmons in her new-member packet, provides great health benefits by providing a cardiovascular workout to the heart.

“The heart rate increases when the body is exposed to high temperature, which consequently improves circulation,” the literature reads.

Of the location, Simmons said she can’t be happier.

“I wanted a community-based business,” she said. “It is a friendly, small town and my appreciation for small towns comes from growing up in Bellwood.

Another uniquely woman-friendly program Simmons offers is her mother-daughter packages and the Fit Teen program.

“Any teenager whose mother signs up gets a free membership for a year,” she said. “Also mothers and daughters who sign up together get the daughter’s membership at a discounted rate.”

Currently, she is also offering free memberships for spouses of active duty military men deployed overseas, for the entire duration of the deployment.

Simmons said the most rewarding part of the job is seeing members who come in with health problems and watching them recover.

“I have a recovering stroke victim who is relatively young,” she said. “You can see how it helps people.”

Currently, memberships for the first 100 to sign up are zero down, with a $39 per month charge; after the April 30 grand opening, it will be zero down, with one week free.

Memberships typically run $99 down with a $29.95 monthly fee.

The center is open 7 a.m. through 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The center is closed on Sundays. For information on call 366-1280.