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If you, too, have wondered if there is an alternative to gyms filled with the sounds of clanging barbells, where the only staff you see on a regular basis are the ones emptying baskets of trash or towels, read this workout journal about a writer’s first-hand experience at the Curves fitness and weight loss center for women.

March 10, 10:30 am

My first visit to the Curves gym on Court Street in Carroll Gardens. Introduced to manager Loni Markman, 26, a certified personal trainer. She quizzed me on my reasons for wanting to workout and was encouraging.

"If you workout three times a week, you will see a change," Markman assured.

One of the questions Markman asked me from the "figure analysis" form was, "What has been your heaviest weight?" (In my case, it’s the weight I am now, and never you mind.) After "When?" the options are: "After pregnancy." Ok that makes sense, but I’m childless. And "After Divorce." That’s sad, and it also makes sense, but I’m happily married.

But then there was "After Marriage." That’s me! Who knew that when my husband was whirling me around the dance floor for the first time as man and wife a year and a half ago, that I would rapidly swell like a water balloon?

Well, apparently the people at Curves knew. Markman sweetly told me that she too had gained weight after getting married. Although it’s nice that I’m not alone, she’s bounced back well, and I’m still all bounce and no tone. At certain ages, like 30, your metabolism slows down, explained Markman. The combination of variables apparently gave me a serious one-two punch - literally - in the gut.

In addition to explaining how Curves’ circuit training works, Markman also explained that all of this sweat and hard work wouldn’t pay off if I didn’t eat right. Dr. Slim prescribed adding eight glasses of water a day to my diet; a warning to keep an eye on my portion sizes; and to avoid bleached flour, sugar and those other menacing simple carbohydrates.

My goals, which Markman assured were attainable, were to lose weight, diminish stress, sleep well and firm up my body - which would be evenly toned by Curves’ hydraulic resistance machines.

Markman explained that the pricing policies depend on the ever-changing advertised promotions. (Without any discounts, there is a $149 signup fee and $49-a-month-plus-tax fee.)

I was so revved up to start slimming down, that rather than make an appointment to come back for my first workout, I had a first workout on the spot. Markman explained how to maintain good form on each machine to get maximum results. Two-and-a-half times around the circuit of machines, alternating with recovery boards, is a 30-minute, full-body workout followed by stretching.

Markman gave me tips on the stretching, too, ending with a pose lying on our backs on a mat, with our hands under our knees and hugging our legs to our chests.

"Here I tell people I like to close my eyes and give myself a little thank you," she said. "Thank you for doing something for you today."

I would have howled with laughter, but Markman was very sincere about the women being supportive of each other at Curves, and I wanted to fit in. (Although mostly I just wanted to fit comfortably into my pants again.)

The brilliance of the Curves workout is that you do as many repetitions, as fast as you can on each machine until a recording interrupts the pop music and tells you to change stations. Occasionally you are asked to step away from the station and check your heart rate. You are encouraged to do anything on the recovery boards - from marching in place to jogging in place to knee raises - to keep the heart rate up between machines.

I finished this strength training-aerobic workout, lightly sweating, thinking, "This is a piece of cake!" I went into the changing room, mopped up with a towel - there aren’t any shower facilities at Curves - and was on my way.

For maximum results, I should do the workout three times a week, advised Markman, and to burn even more calories, try the aerobic workouts.

March 12, 7 pm

This time, I’m on my own, although a Curves trainer is on the floor advising us about when our form needs to be adjusted. (I kept forgetting to swing one arm at a time, instead of both arms at the same time, on a machine that works the biceps and triceps.)

Although she was no longer at my side, I soon recalled Markman’s advice to scooch into the machines butt first, like sliding into a limo with a fancy dress on. But now that I had, for the most part, a handle on how the machines worked, I could concentrate on getting in as many reps as possible. Curves’ hydraulic resistance machines don’t have weight stacks to manage or change, which tend to slow down your workout and, frankly, make a lot of noise. I pulled and pushed at the machines’ levers, listening for the "swoosh" sound that told me I was working hard enough.

Markman had explained that this resistance training builds muscles that will continue to burn fat, even between workouts. (But since muscle is heavier than fat, Curves prefers to measure weight loss by inches lost rather than pounds lost.)

The upbeat music fueled my frantic running on the boards, but the women around me were generally older and weren’t moving as fast. Some women came with friends and chatted their way around. I felt like the kid in the class with ADD as dance moves from old Jane Fonda tapes came back to me and got my feet moving on the boards. I was encouraged, however, by the "tree of success" wall mural covered with leaves inscribed with the names of women and the amount of inches and pounds they had lost.

As I left, a Curves employee drew attention to her new client and said, "Hey everybody, another first workout!" The room of sweating women responded with congratulations and applause.

On this visit, I had an even better, sweatier workout than my first.

March 13

Feeling a bit of tightness in the muscles today. Will workout tomorrow instead.

March 14

Oops! Curves is closed on Sundays. Did crunches and pushups at home to make up for missed workout.

March 15, 7:15 pm

On Monday and Wednesday nights, between 6 pm and 8 pm, Curves has a power workout. On this night, there was excitement in the air among the women of all ages in attendance.

Because the usual instructor was out, Markman led the ladies through the tough, power workout from the center of the room. (Although we were free to not take part and do our own thing.)

In between reps on the machines, Markman had us raising our knees to our opposite elbows, raising our legs behind us, doing a tricky box step, running fast, boxing and more on the boards.

A cheerful, young Curves trainer pointed out a couple more of my missteps with the machines, and Markman sang out encouragement. "You can do better than that! Give me another one. C’mon!"

The trainers are like your sisters, but without mood swings!

On my way to the changing room, I noticed a sign over the scale that said that if a client comes to the club three times a week, she gets Curves dollars good for various Curves products. A workout that incorporates shopping! This really is a club for women!

Tonight the sweat was pouring down my face, and the machines were much easier to use as I am quickly getting the hang of ’em. Best workout yet!

March 16, 8:15 pm

Despite the blizzard-like conditions, 15 women, including myself, came to Curves to experience the monthly "Viva La Diva" workout, brought back by popular demand, which is led by the irrepressibly funny Kate Billingsley. After we moved the boards and machines to the periphery of the room, we took our places on the carpeted floor for a strictly aerobic workout.

Billingsley knew many of the women working out by first name, and with lots of humor and a great soundtrack including Elvis ("Ladies, I’ve seen some of you on the boards and this is for you: ’A little less conversation, and a little more action!’").

In addition to the traditional warm-up moves and stretches from the Curves diagrams, Billingsley, still wearing her knitted, winter cap, demonstrated her original, lighthearted routines to get the surprisingly resistant hecklers ("AGAIN with the floor?!," one whined.) to move their bodies.

When we weren’t sliding to the left and right doing the "spank that butt!" and "hail that taxi," we were sashaying down the runway like divas.

Billingsley wrapped up with an intense round of abdominal exercises alternating with pushups, all the while, keeping us laughing.

"Kate, you crack me up!" called out a young woman.

Billingsley, who has worked at Curves since May, tells me, "This is the best job I ever had." So far, this is the best club I’ve ever worked out in.


Curves is located at 455 Court St. between Fourth Place and Luquer Street in Carroll Gardens, (718) 852-8777; and at 375 Ninth St. at Sixth Avenue in Park Slope, (718) 788-0003. On March 20, from 2 pm to 4 pm, the Carroll Gardens location will celebrate its first anniversary with a free open-house party for the entire family featuring face painting, balloons, food, raffles and aromatherapy.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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