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Curves: Works for Me

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I work out at Curves, a franchised, 30-minute workout studio for women. It consists of resistance training machines arranged in a circuit, with small, padded platforms ("recovery stations") in between machines. At 30-second intervals, a recorded voice (a woman's, of course) instructs, "Change stations now!" (You can just hear the smile in her voice as she says it.) Thirty seconds on a machine, thirty seconds on a recovery station. Twice around the circuit, a little stretching, and you're done.

Curves was the brainchild of a Texas man, and there is an air of Southern belle about the place. It aims to be welcoming to the over-40, less-than-buff set. There are no mirrors on the walls (although one is exhorted to get weighed and measured every month). You can work up a sweat if you try, most women don't. It's meant to be chummy and friendly; the staff get to know you, and one sees the same faces working out. There are always contests going on and prizes to win to help motivate you to come in three times a week, the recommended frequency.

The fact that I work out at Curves may sound unremarkable, but let me explain. While I'm over 40, I otherwise don't fit the image. I'm a jock! I was voted most athletic girl in my high school senior class. I played Division I field hockey in college. I earned a brown belt in karate. I was a tomboy growing up, and I still play softball. I am a Title IX baby, and proud of it.

So why did I give up the gym, where people really work hard on their bodies, and start going to the foofy girls' workout joint? One motivating factor was money. Curves, being no frills (there aren't even any showers), costs less than half the gym. I rarely used the pool or went to any of the classes they offered at the gym. But I also felt like I was getting fat there. I did the cardio workout machines (elliptical, bike, treadmill) quite faithfully, but I've always hated lifting weights and so avoided it, choosing crunches and pushups instead. Still I seemed to put on a few pounds each year.

So, I took the plunge and signed up for Curves. And I love it! I don't actually love going around the circuit and hearing the recorded voice or the same music over and over. What I love is that I do it. I show up, get on the circuit, and before I know it, I've gone around once. The no-brainer aspect is just perfect for me. No mental arm twisting or wrestling over what to do or how long to do it.

It has worked for me physically, too. I have not gained weight since I joined Curves 18 months ago, and I am stronger (playing a game of softball doesn't cripple me anymore). I keep my heart rate up, so I get both strength and cardio workouts. I like working hard and sweating and being an overachiever among this set, too. I do the "advanced workout," which means I count my reps. I love to count. It's measurable, and keeps me competing with myself.

I've heard the complaint that Curves is boring. Of course it's boring! Most exercise for exercise's sake is. But that doesn't bother me. I was someone who could run in circles around a track more easily than cross-country (had to give up running due to arthritic knees). I like an exercise where I can easily zone out, because it's a mental break for me. And working out just makes the body feel so much better.

Curves three times a week is good, but it's not enough. I walk and do other cardio in between as much as I can. I don't like the fact they are usually trying to sell you something (like the weight-loss program or their line of clothing) or get you to refer people. I almost didn't start at all because the woman I spoke to on the phone didn't want to tell me the cost; she wanted me in the door to get the whole pitch first.

All those things are minor concerns for me, however. I don't know if it is because I live in New England, but the staff are never overbearing; they let me do my thing and don't insist I get weighed and measured every month. I like that I'm not completely anonymous, either. I'm not just another body, but a customer who is given some consideration.

So, I keep going, even when I don't feel like it, because, however improbable the notion, it works for me.

[For an even-handed evaluation of Curves, see "A Gym for the Non-Lycra Crowd?" from the February 2004 issue of the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.]
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About Nancy Fontaine

Nancy Fontaine is a librarian and freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, and every four years during presidential primary season, the national press.
  • http://elsaelsa.com/ Elsa

    Your writing is excellent. I go to a regular gym (Ballys) every chance I get. I’ve never been in a Curves gym before, but have always been curious so thanks for demystifying this.

  • http://scrinanbbles.blogspot.com Nancy

    Thanks! I’m glad you got some good info out of my article. Now you know what you’re missing – or not missing! :-)

  • ostrova

    That nice Texan is anti-choice, and your membership dues support his politics. Have you noticed the Curves ads have dissapeared from Oprah’s magazine?

  • http://scrinanbbles.blogspot.com Nancy

    Ugh. I will look into it and then decide what to do (I didn’t notice the lack of ads in O! magazine becuase I never read it). I hate the idea of supporting that kind of politics; just makes my blood burn. But I’ll tell you, the owners of the gym I quit are AWFUL themselves. There are a few other options around here in my rural college town, but I’d hate to have to change, since it’s so hard to find an exercise regime that works and that one can stick to. I’m also afraid to start turning over rocks in my life because there will always be something more I can do, something else I can give up (should I give up TV because I don’t agree with the cable company carrying Fox News?). Unless we go back to subsistance farming, I don’t see a way to avoid all the potential problems of living in the modern world. So I vote, drive a car with good gas mileage, live close to work, support groups that are working for the betterment of this country and the world. And, at least for now, I’ll work out at the fascist gym owned by a nice local lady, keep myself healthy and out of the health care system.

  • Nancy

    Nancy, I hate exercise for exercise’ sake myself, as well as being intrinsicly lazy; I took to cleaning my house to the beat of music. That way the house is clean & I get a good workout at least 3 times a week. I also don’t have to pay ANYBODY for the workup or to do my house. I will admit tho that if I had the chance & the funds, I’d join someplace with a pool in a NY second, since (aside from horseback riding) that’s the best exercise in the world, even if it doesn’t accomplish anything except pleasure.

  • http://scrinanbbles.blogspot.com Nancy

    I hear ya. I wish I could make myself clean my house like you!

  • http://LOVINGIT! LOVING IT!

    Enjoyed reading your story. I myself joined Curves about a year ago now, and have lost 85lbs. I love curves. I feel stronger, stand taller. I just think it is the smartest program I’ve ever joined. I use curves to not only for the workout, but to socialize and meeting other women in the community. I have a supportive family and doctor, who say’s I have a pulse of an athlete this year! WOW! he would have never said that last year.

    All the Best!

  • Nancy

    Good for you! Congrats on your progress. And you’ve just encapsulated what’s good about Curves in about 3 sentences. :-)

    –Nancy

  • Joyce

    To whomever feels that Curves should not be supported due to their stance against abortion. First of all, I think it is very interesting that as i read this comment, I heard almost exactly these words in the background coming from something that i’m listening to: “before I formed you in the womb, I knew your substance”; and the man goes on to say how that we are all (every person ever conceived) is a “Purpose” placed in the earth at the right time. (well, something like that). Hmmm, was that a coincidence? This man was talking about something else, and the subject changed to this just a few minutes ago. Someone needs to hear and think about this. Be thankful this nice Texan man is fighting for the right to live. He would have done it for you, too.
    I know this is about curves, but somebody brought it up, and it wasn’t me. And by the way, who are we to say that somebody doesn’t have the right to live and fulfill their purpose and destiny in this world. God forgive those of us who have caused a little to be sent back, never to fulfill their purpose, which could have been to save you one day.
    Thank you, Nance for sharing your opinion on curves. I hope to start up a routine similar to it at home. And wanted to see what others had experienced. Thanks also for not being so dogmatic as to leave curves because of the pro-life issue; may God bless you, for every baby that you (unknowingly) help to fulfill their destiny.

  • Nancy

    For what it’s worth, I did look into Curves and its owners. I found that the Curves organization is only about women’s health and fitness and does not take a stance on abortion. The owners do what they want with their money outside of Curves. Since they make a lot of their profits on stuff like their clothing line, I’ve decided that I will not buy any Curves merchandise. The Curves clothing I do have was given to me for free (except a pair of socks I bought out of desperation at having forgotten mine), and I only wear it at Curves or at home.

  • Louise

    Here is a link to an article in Salon magazine a few years back about Curves and the owner’s political leanings.

  • Loz

    I work at Curves in England and loved what you wrote above! You have hit the nail on the head!! So many times I read people slating Curves (“You only burn around 180 calories per work out”-Utter rubbish, Im a regular 700 calorie burner, “Its boring”- der, its exercise, obviously not as fun a stuffing choccie cake in your mouth!! “Its for older women who live sedentary lives” -a load of crap! Im 28 and mum to two kids! We have swimmers and runners in their 20’s at my club!! ect…) But having been a ‘Curvette’ now for 3 years, I can’t ever imagine being any where else!! Thank you for your comments, its so nice to hear physically fit, athletic women who benefit from Curves, as well as ladies who haven’t exercised for several years!!! Keep it up!!

  • Elly

    Wow , great sharing about Curves!!!It has been my experience that although there is a certain uniformity about the curves franchise there are still a lot of differences in each location, for example the one I go to does indeed have a very lovely shower, change rooms, bathrooms, kind of a spa like feeling to it. The women who use it are every level of fitness and age from 9 to 86 years young.
    The intensity of your workout is dependent upon your personal dedication to getting and staying fit. I love the fact that for every 100 workouts we get a special T-shirt awarded to us celebrating the fact!! The main thing for me is that I can get in, work out and shower all in under an hour!!! There are no men,it is a different atmosphere from other gyms in that it is not a spandex barbie doll type competition, we are all women inspiring and empowering each other to get and stay fit and strong!!!