Curves: Gyms for Women Provide a New Way of Working Out

Signing up for yet another gym membership, at the start of yet another year, the person behind the counter asks if you’ll be signing up for six months, or one year — or maybe even two years.

Such a simple question has you stymied. On the one hand is your optimistic self — the one that tells you this year, you will actually stick to the diet, you will actually come to the gym, even after February, and you will actually lose the weight. Why not save money, too, and go for the long-term membership? On the other hand is your negative, cynical side — the one telling you to take the shortest membership possible, because you may not come after a month or two, and the gym is perhaps secretly hoping that’s what happens (after paying for the two-year membership, of course), making their profit margins will be even higher.

Your cynical side may go into hiding, however, if the gym you walked into is Curves. “If we don’t see them for about three weeks, we call them or send them a card to find out what’s going on,” explains Curves franchisee Lu Burton, who runs stores in Berkeley and Alameda. “In fact, my happiest day is when I see huge numbers coming through the door. That’s our goal. I want to see people working out.”

Nor is the preference for consistency just something Burton personally reinforces. “Curves Corporate looks at my traffic numbers. If we don’t meet those numbers, I get a phone call. Those are the numbers they look at,” she explains.

In fact, Burton’s staff frequently know the members so well, they contact them long before the three-week point. “Some of the staff members will know, and say, ‘You know, so and so hasn’t been here for one or two weeks. I’m going to call her now.'”
That goal — one that seems to stand conventional gym wisdom on its head — is just one of the big differences at Curves, a chain of gyms designed for women.

While most gyms that offer training and support — as Curves does — will focus on biceps, triceps, abs, or flab, Burton says Curves focuses on what is important to women.

“We focus on the ‘x factor’, on why they are really here, on what their deep-down goals are.'” Those goals include things like, “My daughter’s getting married, and my ex will be there with his new wife — I want to look terrific.”

“One lady couldn’t get on the floor,” Burton explains. “After coming to Curves for three months, she was on the floor, playing with her grandkids. That’s what was meaningful.”

In addition to a supportive staff that supports women and helps them with their own fitness goals, Curves also offers weight management assistance and nutritional supplements. All services are offered in the center of a gym that operates more as a community, with members supporting each other’s goals, posting notices on the Community Resource Board, and often, knowing each other by name.

And that, according to Burton, is the difference women crave. “Anybody can teach someone how to use a machine, but it’s the environment and motivation that keeps them coming back.”

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