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Curves: A Good Fitness Choice?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006




Curves: A Good Fitness Choice? - Tuesday, November 21, 2006Curves is the most successful fitness franchise in the U.S. In fact, it is the fastest growing franchise in U.S. history. In 2005, there were over 8500 locations worldwide with approximately one Curves facility for every two McDonald's restaurants in the United States. In 2005, Curves boasted over 4 million members.

The concept for this fitness facility began in 1992, and the first center opened in 1995 in Paris, Texas. Curves focuses on women. The facilities have a “no frills” philosophy. There are no locker rooms, cardio equipment, or juice bars in these establishments. These clubs are designed to offer moderate intensity workouts in half an hour. They are inviting to those just starting on an exercise program, and who might be intimidated by the atmosphere in a traditional gym or large fitness center. Typically, there is a one-time service fee of approximately $149 to join, with a $29 to $39 monthly fee. At some locations, the minimum membership period is one year.

The Curves exercise program utilizes a basic circuit-training design. Within the facility, there are typically about a dozen exercise stations that are separated by springy boards or platforms. The hydraulic machines used for resistance train the major muscle groups in the body. Many of the machines allow for simultaneous exercise of antagonistic (opposite) muscles as pumping movements are done; for example, a station that requires pushing and pulling with the arms trains the biceps and the triceps. Music continuously plays over speakers, and there are voice prompts every 30 seconds to change stations. The exerciser spends 30 seconds on a hydraulic piece of equipment (such as the leg press or chest/back machine), then moves on to another 30 second time interval on the springy board doing calisthenic movements. After 30 seconds on the board, the person moves on to the next station. The cycle continues until all of the machines are utilized. There are usually about a dozen stations. Completing all of the stations constitutes one rotation. Most participants will complete two full rotations of the stations. The circuit of 2 rotations takes approximately 25 minutes to complete, and individuals often perform five minutes of stretching and cool-down at the end of the routine.

In 2005, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) put the Curves exercise program to the test. They conducted an investigation in La Crosse, Wisconsin using 15 healthy women between the ages of 26 and 55 years. The average age of the women was 42 years. The women did a circuit routine consisting of 2 rotations of the exercise stations, and caloric expenditure and exercise intensity were evaluated. It was found that the average woman in the study burned approximately 163 calories for the 25-minute workout and approximately 184 calories for the 30-minute workout. The workout was of moderate intensity, comparable to a brisk walk or walking approximately four miles per hour on a treadmill. As such, the Curves exercise routine does fulfill the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) physical activity recommendation for healthy adults of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week. Most of the participants in the investigation achieved a heart rate of approximately 75% of the maximum, which is desirable for an aerobic workout, and they were exercising at an intensity of approximately 60% of the their maximal oxygen uptake capacity (VO2 max).

A downside of the Curves system is that the machines used in the facilities cannot be adjusted for individual size. The machines may fit some body sizes and frames better than others. Tension on the equipment is provided by hydraulic resistance. By moving faster, greater tension (and more of a physical/muscular challenge) can be achieved, but there is a limit to the speed with which the exercises should be performed. Moving too fast on the machines will sacrifice proper form, which can lead to injury, so individuals should operate the equipment at a controlled speed.

The bottom line is that the Curves program does offer a time-efficient, moderate intensity exercise that is well-suited for many women, especially those new to exercise and those who are middle-aged or older. The workout is low impact and burns a modest amount of calories within 30 minutes.

For more about Curves and the ACE-sponsored study, see:

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