Pros: No counting repetitions, no remembering which machine comes next, fun and quick
Cons: Quality and Staff Experience Varies by Location
I was a little skeptical of Curves when a friend of mine joined seven months ago, figuring it was another "passive type" exercise fad. After watching her lose 59 lbs. (she was 220 lbs. to start), I decided it might be worth a try.
My favorite thing about Curves is that following the workout is a no-brainer. You walk in, start anywhere on the circuit and every 30 seconds you move to the next station (alternates between a hydraulic resistance machine to work your muscles and a springboard to march or walk in place to cool down your muscles and keep your heart-rate steady). The music includes a recorded voice that tells you when to change stations and take your heart rate (to compare to a chart on the wall to let you know if you are in the "burn" zone). Some might find it annoying, but I love it. I can walk in half asleep (seriously!) or totally brain dead after work and just follow along. Because it's only 30 seconds at a time, just as I'm getting tired of the machine, it's off to the springboard and so on. Thirty minutes is up before I know it and I feel great!
My last experience with a larger gym was counting repetitions, changing weights, waiting for machines, etc. It zapped my motivation by keeping me focused on how much I had left to do before my workout was over. Exercise has never been "fun" for me, so Curves is the perfect solution for people like me who want to work their bodies while not having to think too much about it. It's a nice break after a hectic day.
Since each Curves is individually owned, each owner seems to run their business differently.
Luckily once you join Curves you are able to "travel" to any center you choose if you want to compare. When you join you are given a key tag card (similar to CVS, Blockbuster or grocery store loyalty cards) that you scan into a computer when you walk in the door. This makes it easy and non-obtrusive to walk into any Curves location. There are usually sign-up sheets for both regular members and "travelers."
My 14 year-old-daughter (who plays field hockey and is a cheerleader, but is otherwise a tv-watching snacker) and I joined my friend's location. I have asthma and a few medical issues and am 40 lbs. overweight just to let you know what fitness level I am at. We had very different experiences at the two Curves locations we tried.
This location was small room, but had 12 machines, which seems to be the maximum number from what I've read. There was a curved desk to talk about your membership in the same room that everyone was exercising in and a separate bathroom and stockroom. The music was very loud, which can be motivating, but reminded me of a club atmosphere where you can't hear your friends talking! There were lots of colorful displays everywhere of Curves merchandise -- t-shirts, towels, cups, protein drinks, etc. Almost all the walls were covered with displays. It was also very crowded most of the time and there was an older crowd (seniors), but that is to be expected in the town we attended where there is a large senior population.
The major negative was that it was in a building with a nail salon across the shared foyer. When we first walked in, the chemical fumes just about knocked us out. Walking into the Curves door, it was not as strong, but definitely still present. Having asthma, this really bothered me. Each time a member walked in the door, a big burst of these fumes would follow her in. We tried it the next day earlier in the morning to see if we had just come at a bad time, but it wasn't any different. I did not want to commit to exercising in a place with such bad air quality, since both days I had wheezing and breathing issues after leaving Curves.
The owner told me that if it became a problem, she would let me out of my contract if I obtained a note from my physician. Reading the fine print on the contract, however, I found that there is a law that allows consumers three days to cancel the contract if written notice is giving. (This is true for any contract you sign to purchase something -- Avon, Tupperware, etc.) I gave her written notice on the 3rd day without a problem. Although the staff was pleasant enough, they wore regular street clothes, even flip flops, which didn't seem professional. They stood or sat around talking, not paying much attention to members.
The second location was in a strip plaza with a door leading directly from outside into the Curves center. It was more than twice the size of the first location, walls were painted white with large paintings and a few displays here and there. It was much less busy visually and less cramped than the other Curves. It also had a separate office for the owner, another office for membership sign-ups, a coat room, a hallway with two bathroom/changing rooms and a professional receptionist counter with the desk area behind it. The office areas all had glass paned doors. We really liked the open, airy feel and the professional look compared to the "bargain business" feel of the last one. The staff all dressed in Curves t-shirts and shorts or tights and actually participated in working out and motivating members if needed. They also talked about nutrition with members and provided a few extra things to try after your workout -- jump ropes, exercise ball with wall chart of exercises and some resistance rubber band type equipment. They had one less machine than the previous Curves we tried. The age group was more varied at this location.
Quantity of Machines:
I've been told that each new Curves receives a set number of machines when they open. When they reach a certain level of new members, a new machine is added and so on. Since the main company receives a percentage of each center, it seems to be a reward system -- the center makes more money, therefore they get another machine.
Also, the one-time joining fee is based on how long a Curves has been open and how many members it has. The quoted price is $149 to join and then you can pay by the month (typically $39), pay less per month ($29) by signing a 1-year contract and having it auto deducted from your checking account, or get a 10% discount by paying the year in advance.
When a new Curves location opens, they offer the joining fee at only $49. When a certain level of membership is reached, the location advertises 50% off the fee ($74). I don't know if you ever need to pay the full $149, but I'm assuming they would charge this amount in an area where the membership is already very high and in demand.
Some Curves accept teen members over 14 and others do not. For only $10 more per month, my daughter was added on to my membership at both locations. However, the first Curves charged me only ONE joiners fee ($74) and the second charged me for TWO joiners fees($148) but was advertising the first month free. Different policies for different locations.
Other than the actual 30-minute workout, it's difficult to get an accurate picture of what the Curves in your are is like until you make a visit. Most locations will sit down and share information with you and allow you to do the work out to see if you will like it. There is no obligation. Also, they all offer "free workout" cards for members to give to friends if you want to try it that way.
As a franchise, you can think of Curves like Burger King. The logo is the same, the products are mostly the same, but each location has a different look and a different level of customer service. It's up to the individual to choose which location she prefers.