Pros: Simple, effective, fast.
Cons: Its reputation as a club only for certain types of people.
I want to address some of the 'cons' people have mentioned and also give information on the workout itself and pricing. This review is very long, so I hope it's worth wading through!
Too easy - if you are not pushing yourself, you will find it too easy. For ANY workout to help you lose weight, you need to be getting your heart rate up. YOU need to get your heart rate up, NOT the equipment. If it's too easy, work harder. The hydraulic machines will adjust to the pressure YOU exert. If you are not exerting much pressure, you will not get much resistance. It is not the equipment - it is you. Work it. For every person who says it's too easy or doesn't work, I can give you 10 people who understand the concept of 'you get out of it what you put into it' and 10 more people who have lost 2, 5, 10% body fat, and I'm talking women of ALL fitness levels and weights. I have to laugh whenever someone says it's too easy, or only for older, out of shape, fat women. I have worked at Curves for 3 years, I am not middle-aged, I have never been overweight, I run on my days off, and use Curves for my weight training. I STILL get my heart rate up into the 'fat burning zone' and sweat while I'm working out. It's because I adjust my workout to my strength - as I got stronger, I added reps, just as you'd do in any other 'normal' gym, and so therefore, it takes more to give me a good workout, but I DO it at Curves. If I, a fit person, can still get in the fat burning zone after 3 years, surely other women who find it 'too easy' can too. Most of them just aren't working hard enough to get there. That is not the failing of the circuit routine, or the equipment. Someone who says 'save your money and go walking - it's free' obviously doesn't understand strength training and why it's a necessary part of a well-rounded fitness routine. Walking is great, and it's free, but it's not a complete fitness routine. You need strength training too.
Canceling - there is a cancellation fee to get out of your contract. You should be able to break your contract for a maximum of $50. I believe this is a corporate policy, and if not, every club I am personally aware of DOES offer it. Ask. If you have to cancel for a medical reason, there probably won't be a fee at all. You won't get your money back for time already passed, but you WILL be able to cancel.
1-year contracts - these are STANDARD at gyms. Most gyms offer a 1-year contract monthly rate, and a month-to-month rate that is higher than the 1-year rate. Curves did NOT invent the 1-year contract. I have NEVER heard of another gym that will LET you cancel before your contract is up. In our area, the cancellation fee is up to $50, and once you have paid that, you are done. ANY OTHER GYM that I have heard of will make you finish out your contract, or charge a much higher fee. Again, ask.
Hours - all clubs are different. Just because one is open from 9-12 and 4-7 doesn't mean the one 5 miles away isn't open 6a-8p (like ours is). Check around.
Conservative values - yes, it's true, the founders are conservative Christians, and their personal donation practices have affected their clubs. The founders donate their own money to the causes of their choice, as should we all. However, not all franchise owners share the views of the founders. You can't lump all Curves under their corporate umbrella. And much of what you may have heard is wrong. Go to curversforchoice.com to read about what clubs and members are doing.
Music - each club is different. SOME of them do play religious or holiday music. Some do not. The owner of my Curves will NOT alienate anybody by playing Christian music, and it does seem very strange to me that some owners have decided to include it. If I walked into a club that was playing it, I would first ask them if they could please NOT play it, and if they continued, I would quit. It doesn't seem like a very smart business decision, but to each his/her own. The music is designed to be so many beats per minute because that rate will keep most people moving at a rate that gets and keeps their heart rates up. You can ALWAYS request music you like, or ask that religious music not be played - how is anyone supposed to know unless you ask for what you want/give them your opinion? Our Curves doesn't use CDs anymore - we use Muzak, which has developed a special station just for Curves, playing original songs that are fast enough to begin with or songs that have been remade and speeded up to fit the 140bpm. It is MUCH better than the CDs and Muzak knows not to play anything religious or holiday-related. They take our requests on a daily basis, adding and removing songs that our members love or hate.
Any complaints you have against YOUR club shouldn't be directed towards Curves in general. Each club is independently owned and managed. There are bound to be good ones and bad ones. If your complaint isn't addressed by your club, you can go to curves.com and send corporate an email. Getting charged after you've canceled is something that may happen accidentally and WILL be fixed. But if you don't address it, nothing will happen. Complain effectively and you will get your money back. Complain anonymously on a website that has nothing to do with your club or Curves corporate, and nothing is going to happen.
Now, as for the workout. Curves is a circuit workout using hydraulic resistance equipment. 8-13 machines are set up in a circle (or square, whatever) around a room, with cushioned 'recovery pads' set up between them. Each machine and each pad is a 'station'. You spend 30 seconds at each station, fatiguing your muscles on the machines, and walking or dancing in place on the pads. The hydraulic concept is 'the faster you go, the harder it is' so the machines can accomodate all fitness levels. If you are less fit (or lazy!) you will move more slowly than someone who is more fit (or paying attention to her workout). The machines look much like equipment at 'regular' gyms, but without the weight stacks. The hydraulics give you your resistance. So instead of moving the pin to increase your weight plates in the stack, you move faster as you get stronger. All major muscle groups are worked, and the machines are set up so that you don't work the same muscles on 2 machines in a row. The idea is to get your heart rate up on the machines, working your muscles to fatigue, then use the recovery pads to maintain your heart rate and 'recover' before you go to the next machine. Think of the machines as 'sprinting' - really work them for 30 seconds, then catch your breath on the pads.
As far as prices, they are pretty much the same throughout the country. The regular service fee is $149. You will pay this if you sign up for a month-to-month membership, which is $39/month, $49 in some high-rent areas. If you sign up for a year contract, your service fee will probably be $74.50 (50% off the regular service fee), unless there is some other special going on, which happens several times a year. A year contract monthly rate is $29/month, $39 in high-rent areas. People who sign up for a year have traveling privileges, meaning they can use ANY Curves club, wherever they happen to be. Full-time college students pay $99 for a 4-month 'semester', with no service fee. Teenage daughters living at home pay $10 for an 'add-on' membership, added to their mothers' fees, plus a $29 service fee. Rates haven't ever gone up, so who knows if these rates will change soon. If you are on the $29/month membership, it is a membership that continually renews unless you cancel, and as such, your $29 rate will NEVER go up, even when rates eventually do. Hope this information helps!