The West Ridge YMCA's Women's Night allows religious women to work out comfortably. Credit: Courtesy West Ridge YMCA

WEST RIDGE — The West Ridge YMCA has started a new program that will allow the neighborhood’s community of religious women to more easily work out.

The High Ridge YMCA, 2424 W. Touhy Ave., has debuted “Women’s Night,” which restricts access to the fitness center to only women. The recurring event allows the Far North Side’s population of Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women to exercise without worrying about their dress.

If Muslim or Orthodox Jewish women are to work out in the company of men, they would have to adhere to modesty standards cover most of their exposed skin. And while there is a budding industry seeking to address this, the issue of dressing modestly makes exercise more difficult for some women.

That led the staff at the High Ridge YMCA to seek a local solution. Previously, the fitness center had a women’s only swimming night, but the program was still difficult logistically, since staffers were male and the pool has windows where passersby can look in.

Now, the YMCA has gone female-only on select Saturday nights. All staff members present will be women, and shades have been put over the pool room’s windows. The gym will be open only to women, and it will have its regular offerings of fitness classes and child care services, said Jackie Keane, director of the High Ridge YMCA.

“We wanted to break down the barriers to working out for people in the community,” Keane said. “We thought a women’s evening would best serve the community that we’re in.”

The women’s night is currently a pilot program that started in October and runs every other Saturday. Support has grown for the evening, with about 20 religious women using the facilities on those nights (on top of other women gym members), Keane said.

The YMCA is operating the service as a pilot program as it seeks ways to best cater to its religious clients. The Jewish observation of Shabbat, for example, forbids exercise until after sundown on Saturday. So the hours of women’s night will likely have to be amended as daylight hours change in Chicago, Keane said.

“We want to be respectful to these community needs,” she said.

While sporting apparel giants like Nike are introducing more work out clothing items for Muslim athletes, fitness centers around the country are working to be more inclusive to those who adhere to religious beliefs on modesty. In places like New York City and Virginia, gyms and even yoga studios catering exclusively to religious women have opened and found success.

Keane said the YMCA’s new women’s night is less of a business decision and more an attempt to be as inclusive as possible.

“There’s so many unique things about this community,” Keane said. “We want to be more inclusive in terms of what the facility could offer.”

The High Ridge YMCA’s next women’s night will take place from 5-7 p.m. on Feb. 1 and will run every other Saturday through at least February. The facility is open to members and to the public, who can buy a one-day pass for $10. For more information, click here.

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