Catering exclusively to women, Curves franchises generally occupy a more intimate setting than gyms -- usually about 1,200 to 2,500 square feet, according to the Curves Company Fact Sheet, only part of which is for exercise. The program is a simple circuit that alternates resistance machines with in-place cardio. Members normally complete the circuit about 1 1/2 times per 30-minute session. With upbeat music in the background, members are prompted to change stations every 30 seconds but otherwise work at their own pace. In addition to standard workouts, some Curves franchises offer diet plans, Zumba and customized workouts.
Defining Good Exercise
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of intense cardio per week. Losing weight may require as much as twice that amount. In addition, everyone should work all the major muscle groups -- chest, shoulders, back, arms, legs and abs -- a minimum of twice per week. Generally, gym goers separate their cardio and strength training. However, circuits, like those offered at Curves, combine the two.
At Curves, you get out of your cardio what you put into it. While that's true with any program, not everyone is motivated by jumping around on a 2-foot x 2-foot square. On the good side, you can make your cardio as high or low-impact as you like -- and if you're good at self-monitoring, you can make it as moderate or intense as you like also. Assuming you work fast enough to keep your heart rate elevated when using the resistance machines, you'll get in 30 minutes of cardio per session, but that's it. That means you'd have to attend five days per week to get in just your minimum required cardio or else fit in cardio sessions elsewhere on your own. Getting enough cardio at Curves to actually lose weight might be difficult.
Hitting Some Resistance
According to the Curves Fact Sheet, their resistance machines hit every major muscle group. Curves machines work with hydraulics as opposed to weight plates, levers and pulleys. Supposedly, the more resistance you apply, the more you get back. They also work muscles in the eccentric as well as concentric phase, meaning you work opposing muscles on each machine, such as the biceps and triceps on the curl machine. However, as American Council on Exercise physiologist Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D. notes in Shape, with no way to add weight, the resistance increases only so far. After a point, it will no longer present a challenge. You also need to change the exercise you do for each muscle every few weeks or so. At curves your only choice is to use the same machines over and over. The lack of free weights and isometric work, like planks, means you'll miss out on significant core stabilization.
Putting It All Together
Health care professionals will tell you the best exercise is the one you'll do. The Curves website points to a study conducted by the Exercise and Sports Nutrition Lab at Texas A&M showing that the Curves Complete diet and exercise plan burns more fat than diet alone. That's true of any exercise plan. But if you prefer Curves' more intimate women-only environment to a gym or simply don't have an hour to spend working out, Curves can be a good way to jump-start your fitness plan. However, at some point you'll have to supplement your Curves workout or move on to something more challenging to maintain muscle and cardio health.