New Breed of Women's Only Clubs
by Phil Kaplan
This is an article based solely on the opinions I've formed
as a result of limited interaction with select staff members
and members of the new "women's only" fitness clubs.
I welcome and encourage any feedback. As I continue to amass
feedback, both positive and negative, my opinions become more
valuable in helping others make wise decisions.
Curves for Women is the fastest
growing franchise. They’re popping up everywhere and they
continue to receive the highest accolades from Entrepreneur
magazine. Before you use those accolades to assess the reliability
of their exercise routines, realize that Entrepreneur is driven
by advertisements for business offerings and it is possible
for a business to be profitable without delivering the promised
result to customers and members. The fitness industry, unfortunately,
is an example of an industry in which customer results are
not always in direct correlation with business success.
A more valuable consideration than
whether or not a company is fast growing or profitable might
be whether an exercise regimen will win the acceptance and
approval of those who sit in judgment of exercise program
efficacy. To date I haven’t seen an overwhelmingly positive
response among established fitness industry professionals
in regard to the new "quick circuit" women's clubs.
Curves is one of several new “quick
non-intimidating weight-loss exercise center” offerings, and
if revenues are the sole factor upon which they’re being judged,
they certainly can be considered the leader. Financially,
the business model works, and clubs can maintain upwards of
500 active members.
They use their own line of hydraulic
equipment which allows for rapid movement from machine to
machine. This allows them to handle significant volume of
exercisers throughout the course of a day even with limited
exercise equipment. The clubs are non-intimidating as they
attract primarily a female deconditioned market with little
education in the area of exercise, and they are quite affordable
with memberships in the $25 per month range after an enrollment
fee. Usage is limited, but their “program” justifies the
limitation as being aligned with optimal exercise volume.
This week alone I received over
100 questions via email related to Curves, and while many
were curiosity based questions (is it good?) from those who
have yet to enter their doors, others were sent because of
perceived failure, injury, or disappointment. Before I share
some of my preliminary opinions related to Curves, and I’ll
admit the information upon which I've formed these opinions
is limited, allow me to say most commercial health clubs fail
most people if customer satisfaction is measured by achievement
of desired results. Most health clubs are nothing more than
“facilities” and while they may have trainers on staff, they
are not logistically equipped for any level of service that
would help non-exercisers find clarity. If Curves fails to
deliver results among the majority of their membership base,
that doesn’t make them any worse than the major health club
Facilities that employ highly qualified
fitness professionals with a focus placed on educating members
are a rarity in this industry.
Curves is different than mainstream
health clubs for two primary reasons. Firstly, it is a franchise,
so while the underlying operating strategy may be consistent
from club to club, ownership and staffing is anything but.
Secondly, while other clubs are simply facilities with the
potential for upselling their in-house programs, at Curves
the membership connects you with “a program.” In fact, everyone
who enrolls gets the same program. They move quickly from
machine to machine in a ‘circuit’ to stimulate both an aerobic
heart rate elevation and muscle stimulation.
In my opinion, while the concept
of “eating right and exercising” does apply to everyone, when
we get into the specifics and consider the idea of bioindividuality,
the “one routine fits all” mentality is flawed. For many,
30 minutes of exercise three times per week may be a bare
minimum in order to facilitate a measurable improvement, and
many will quickly adapt to the repetitive stimulus and plateau.
It's also important to note that individuals with specific
limitations might find some of the movements in the circuit
potentially aggravating to injured joints or pre-existing
connective tissue damage.
I’ve found, based again on my limited
view, that many of the franchised “women only” clubs have
unqualified personnel playing the roles of fitness instructors
without any credible credentials. The 30-minute circuit idea
(or 15 minutes in some newer replications of the Curves concept)
can bring about physical improvement in individuals who have
been sedentary, but most fitness professionals would agree,
it’s not the optimal exercise routine to help people shed
fat and increase metabolism as much of the promotional literature
I’ve seen enough flawed information
come out of these clubs to raise some red flags about the
consistency and efficacy of the advice being disseminated.
The information I’m about to share is second hand, as it came
to me via email, but with that in mind, here are a few of
the snippets people who enrolled at the newer “women’s only”
clubs told me they received from the staff:
- “You have to gain fat first
before you lose any.”
That’s just ignorance.
- “If you workout more than
three times a week you’re never going to lose weight.”
That would be an inaccuracy.
- “Some people can’t lose weight
but the exercise is good for you.”
Anyone can improve body composition
and if someone is overweight, they can absolutely lose
weight in the process. Exercise is “good” for you as
a vehicle toward achieving a goal and/or improving health
and function, however, if that exercise is not matched
effectively with the person and the goal, it can be
detrimental or impotent.
- “Your shoulder hurts because
you’re not drinking enough water.”
This sounds like a diagnosis,
and a ridiculous one at that.
What’s good about these new
women's exercise clubs? They help people who might be
intimidated by the more conventional exercise options bring
the exercise habit into their lives, and if that’s the role
these clubs play, in today's society I believe they have value.
What’s questionable? The
credentials of the staff. The supervision. The willingness
to accept “special populations” with limited screening. The
failure to match the routine with any specific goal or need.
The limited and sometimes flawed information being disseminated.
is not to steer you away from Curves or a similar facility
if it is in fact a valuable option for you. My intention
is simply to raise a few flags, and make sure you make an
educated decision. Here are some things you might consider
before making an enrollment decision in these new clubs, or
any health club for that matter.
Question the credentials of
Are they equipped to recognize
risk factors? Are they prepared to deal with emergency
situations? Are they certified through a credible certification
agency with accreditation through the National Organization
for Competency Assurance (you can check the NOCA approval
list at http://noca.org/ncca/accredorg.htm)?
you haven’t exercised regularly in some time set up an appointment
for a complete physical with your doctor before beginning
an unsupervised program.
you have any medical condition, I’d encourage you to have
the facility give you a written description of the exercise
program so you can bring it to your doctor to get clearance.
sure to establish a reasonable gauge for measuring progress
(bodyfat testing by an experienced tester with a skinfold
caliper is such a gauge if fat loss is a goal), and if after
6-8 weeks you don’t see any change, consult with a qualified
fitness or nutrition professional to find out what modifications
are in order.
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