Pros: It targets a specific population. The concept is simple.
Cons: The concept may be too simple. The knowledge of the owners is questionable.
There has been a lot of talk about Curves for Women . Two have been built near my house in two different towns. Very curious about this fitness center I took advantage of their one-week free offer. I will be reviewing both the concept and the gyms I used.
I exercised at Curves for Women located at 187 Summer Street in Kingston, MA, USA and also at 36 Cordage Park Circle in Plymouth, MA, USA. These centers are franchised although the two I went to were almost identical. I did learn that there are some variations, which I will mention later.
Before I decided to try Curves for Women I talked with one of the two women working there. (She was the owner as it turned out.) They were both very pleasant. The owner spent quite a bit of time with me explaining the concept and let me use a couple of pieces of equipment. I was intrigued. Entrepreneur Magazine has called them the Third Best Franchise Worldwide and they are in the 2002 Guinness World Records as the Worlds Largest Fitness Franchise. I will post the link to the website below. Reading about its beginnings is interesting and beyond the scope of this review.
What is Curves for Women?
Curves for Women is a program that allows you to perform aerobic exercises and strength training exercises at the same time with what is called their Quickfit Circuit. They call themselves "30-Minute Fitness and Weight Loss Centers." The machines are very unusual. They are made by Quickfit and use hydraulic resistance. There are no weights to add or pins to put into plates to change weights. The faster you move the more resistance you will feel.
There are 8 pieces of equipment in a circle. Each body part is worked and the goal is to not only use and build muscle (It has been proven, it is no longer a theory, that weight training does protect and increase lean tissue which raises metabolism allowing you to eat more. In addition we now know that it prevents osteoporosis as well as a whole host of other illnesses.) but also to raise your heart rate through aerobic activity, which burns fat, improves your heart, lungs and vascular system.
The equipment is very easy to use. It is the easiest equipment I have ever used. The first time I went in after I signed up for my week, I was shown how to use each piece. If I were to join, they would have taken measurements and my percentage of body fat. Since I am very familiar with gym equipment, there wasnt a need to spend a lot of time with me, but the first time I went in, the owner sat down and spent about ? hour just chatting about the program. There was no sales pressure at all at any time, which was very nice.
The equipment is designed to be pushed then pulled rather than lifting and lowering weights. As I turned 50 and even before that pieces of my body, like my shoulders, started to get injured. If you are prone to injury, this is a nice way to work out about as safely as possible.
I was told and it was clear by the clientele during my visits that Curves for Women is designed for the older crowd. That would be women over 40, however, I did see younger woman in there. What you wont see are women in fabulous shape in their 20s. At least I never did in the two centers I visited.
What they have and dont have:
The centers have a cooler selling juices like Gatorade and water. Also for sale is their fairly large line of nutritional products including shakes and vitamins under the name of Curves for Women. T-shirts are also for sale as are towels with their logo on it.
You will find a large room (The room sizes vary.) but it is one room with the receptionists desk and 8 12 machines. The rooms in the centers I visited are about 800 square feet. Looking at the website I found centers that were as large as 1800 square feet and those usually have 12 pieces of equipment.
Why the differences in number of machines? I was told that some of the larger centers have added a couple of more pieces of equipment but none has more than 12 pieces. There is room in both these centers to fit 2 more pieces of equipment and perhaps they will do that at some point. Right now, the 8 are intended to work all body parts.
There is a changing area with private rooms, restrooms and a decent-sized stretching area. They feel strongly (as do I) that warming up and cooling down is crucial to safe and effect workouts.
They are no frills. What I mean by that is that you will not find televisions, daycare, tanning booths, juice bars or a hair salon. There were no showers in the two centers in which I went. You will find an immaculate facility. Of course since it is small with no weights to be left on the floor, keeping it clean is a fairly easy endeavor. The centers were spotless though and the machines were in perfect condition, of course they are new.
I did ask two questions over the phone before my trial period. The woman who answered (It was early in the morning so Ill give her some leeway.) was not all that pleasant but I dont think she liked my questions. I asked what happens if one piece of equipment breaks. That would only leave 7 and what do they do? She told me that they would incorporate something else (Although what that something else wasnt clear.) and that since the machines are hydraulic, they rarely break.
I also asked about wait time. There are 8 machines. What if 8 women walk in at the same time to do their 25 minutes circuit (the 30 minutes includes stretching, give or take a minute or two) and I am the 9th person? Obviously I would have to wait 25 minutes for someone to be done before I could get into the circuit circle. The same person told me that there are actually 16 stations (Ill explain this in a moment.) and there are never that many women in at one time. When I pushed her on this saying that it is possible I would have to wait she did say yes.
Since it is a small space even the larger spaces have one room for the circuit machines- staff is always around if you make a mistake in using a piece of equipment which is a nice feature but they also sit back and do not hover.
What equipment works what body parts:
There is a squat machine (legs, hamstrings), an abdominal machine, a leg extension machine, a shoulder press machine, a back machine, a leg press machine, an abductor (outside thighs) machine and a biceps machine. Triceps apparently get incorporated with chest and calves with legs.
So how does this program work:
It is actually a simple concept and I wish I had invented it. A tape plays all day with music and instructions. Lets say I start at the bicep curl machine. I start it when the tape says to go to the next station and do as many bicep curls as I can in 30 seconds. Like a bike pump, the faster I curl my biceps the more resistance I feel. After 30 seconds, the tape will have you go to a springlike platform where you march in place or walk in place for 30 seconds. (Here is where the additional 8 stations come in. There are 8 platforms.) The theory behind this is to keep up your heart rate rather than increasing your heart rate.
The goal for most women is to work 60% of their maximum heart rate. To give you an example of what this means, I will use myself. I am 50 years old. Take 220 and deduct 50 from that. I now have 170. That would be my maximum heart rate. 60% of this (There is an easy to follow chart on the wall.) is 17 beats per 10 seconds equally 93 beats per minute. That may be low for me so I could work at 75% if I wanted to.
After what is called this recovery period for 30 seconds on the spring board we are told to move to another station so I move on to the squat machine and the same cycle happens. Every 8 minutes, the tape tells us to check our pulse (Which you will be taught to do if you dont know how.) If we are in our target heart rate, then great, if not, then we need to work harder.
The hours and fees:
The hours will vary by location. The center I went to most was open 9:00a.m - 12:00p.m. and then again from 2:00p.m.- 7:00p.m. That may leave out a lot of working women or women who want to work out during their lunch break. Other locations I found on the website: www.curvesforwomen.com have all day hours such as 8:00a.m. - 7:00p.m.
I was very surprised that when I walked in before I signed up for the free week, I was given the price of membership. My experience in the past has been to automatically be taken to a table for a hard sell.
There is a $49 one-time service fee and each month the cost is $29. There is a one-year minimum so you will be locked into a commitment. The great news is that if you have the money taken out of your checking account, then you can use any Curves for Women wherever you happen to be.
If you choose to pay month to month that will cost you $39 and if you can pay up front for a full year you will pay $278 which is about $24 per month.
My final thoughts:
There is definitely a market for Curves for Women but it is not for everyone. It will draw women who think they only have 30 minutes to spend and 30 minutes is better than not exercising, we know that for a fact. It is in my opinion terrific for women who are new to exercise. This is a great way to get used to equipment without the intimidation of body builders or dumbbells you dont know how to use.
I do feel strongly that an experienced gym rat will not get much out of Curves for Women. Thirty minutes 3 times a week (Which is what is recommended since you are doing a whole body workout and your body needs rest in between.) just is not enough for me to build the muscle and be in the shape I want. That is a personal decision. As I said on the flip side for women who feel they dont have enough time or are brand new, this is a wonderful program. (*See below)
I am also concerned with the lack of expertise on the part of the staff. Looking through the website, owners are not expected to be trained professionals. Since it is a small facility, many centers will not have staff other than the owner/salesperson and receptionist. From the website: "We assume that franchisees have no experience or knowledge in the operation of a fitness and weight loss facility. You're provided materials, text books and systems manuals at Club Camp, our comprehensive classroom training program.
For five days (held almost every month, in Waco, Texas) expert instructors will teach you: nutritional guidance, exercise physiology, sales & marketing and general business. You will be certified as a Quickfit personal trainer. You'll leave confident and have the tools to safely and effectively operate your Curves for Women? franchise."
I am not sure how valid a Quickfit personal trainer certification is but truly the machines are so basic that injury is unlikely and knowledge almost irrelevant!
Since this review is based on my experience, as a long-term exerciser I dont feel that one set is enough for me. I dont feel that 8 machines are enough for me and I like to mix free weights with machines. This program has merit though for the target population.
The music is loud so it is entertaining and for those who need motivation and help with discipline Curves for Women solves that because you are told exactly what to do and when to do it. It could get boring doing this daily so only going 3 days a week eliminates that potential problem.
In general I have mixed feelings about the effectiveness long-term of Curves for Women and the lack of experience of the owners. As long as you know what you are getting, I think it is worth trying. If you are new to exercise, really, 3 times a week for one year is not a huge commitment.
Please feel free to leave a comment.
*Wayne Wescott, Ph.D (http://www.healthy.net/scr/Article.asp?Id=519) is a huge proponent of fewer workouts and sets (The number of repetitions of an exercise you do. For example, one week I might do 3 sets of 10 repetitions each.) This is probably one of the most controversial areas in weight training. You will find research to support both positions. I have read research that shows that although Prescotts weight training methods do work, they only work for people new to weight training and then the affects that are seen slow down or become non-existent. I know very few serious weight lifters who only do one set. The owner with whom I met the first time mentioned Wayne to me so apparently Curves for Women is based on his research, which appears very good and valid. If you are new to exercise, as I said this is a great way to go and if you are not, then give the one-week free offer a try.
I am going to rate this 3 stars. Although a great comment, I see too many flaws: the possibility of having to wait, there are no frills, it isn't cheap considering the lack of frills, it may get boring, you may need more after 6 months than these 8 machines can give you and I question the lack of training. Are continued education units required? Is anyone CPR certified? Truthfully I tried all day to call about 12 centers all over Massachusetts to ask those two questions and not one answered the phone. If you are interested in knowing this, leave me a comment and I will get that information.
Please read the comments. There is a great discussion about injuries especially pertaining to the aerobic part of the circuit.
You may be interested in reading:
How to Choose a Health Club
Curves for Women