Short circuit workouts with your own creative spin.
It seems that each week there’s a new 30-minute express circuit facility popping up. Curves®, Ladies Workout Express®, Liberty Fitness Centers®, Butterfly Life®, Why Weight?®, Slender Lady®, PACE®, It Figures! Fitness® . . . the list goes on and on. Why all the hype? “I’m busy and I don’t have a lot of time to exercise,” says Stephanie Smith of Rutland, Massachusetts. “I go to Curves because it’s convenient and quick. And I’ve seen results.”
Curves, which now has more than 7,000 clubs worldwide, bills itself as the largest fitness franchise in the world. According to the company’s website, Curves currently serves more than 2 million women worldwide. The set-up: a fitness circuit that alternates hydraulic resistance machine training with cardio activity. Oh, and it’s for women only. “I like a club that is just for women,” adds Smith. “I’m more comfortable in that environment. I don’t want to work out in a sweaty, noisy gym with grunting men and blasting music, or in a place where the women look like they’re in a modeling competition. And I like the supportive environment.”
While many fitness professionals don’t argue that the Curves environment is appealing to women and that such a workout can be beneficial, they point out that eventually the . . . yawn . . . boredom factor can set in. “Some of my students have tried Curves,” says Maria Jacobs, owner of the Valley Forge Dance School in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, “but they found it too easy or ineffective for losing weight . . . or just boring.”
Some fitness professionals, like Bonne Marano, certified personal trainer and author of The Complete Bride’s Workout Guide (Career Press 2004), have a love-hate relationship with the current trend of express workouts. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to ‘express’ your workouts because you are busy,” says Marano. “I think quickie workouts can be effective, but I feel that they portray a skewed message: Exercise is a chore, and the faster we get it over with, the better. Take a look at magazine covers and video titles: 8-Minute Abs, Quick Fix, 10 Minutes to a Better Body. When did we get so busy that we can’t find an hour for ourselves three times a week?”
“Thirty-minute circuit workouts fulfill the ‘corporate’ mentality of our society,” explains Michele Olson, PhD, FACSM, professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. “You can get in, get out, get it done and your objective is reached. In terms of its benefits, if done nearly daily, it does fulfill the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/American College of Sports Medicine criteria of performing 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. This is enough to improve health and quality of life.”
So how can private, full-service clubs compete with the specialized, franchised facilities that are acquiring a large percentage of potential members? Cert-ified exercise professional Kim De Lutis decided to meet them head on. “When Curves got 500 new members because [women] thought they could get in shape in only 30 minutes, I recognized the need for a quick, full-body workout that would increase membership compliance,” says De Lutis, a personal strength trainer certified by the International Association of Resistance Trainers. “I also wanted to prove that strength training requires less frequency when it is done correctly.”
Other clubs, like FitCity for Women in Vancouver, British Columbia, have been offering 30-minute circuit classes for years, but for different reasons. “We put our most recent circuit class on the schedule for variety,” says Amanda Vogel, MA, vice president of FitCity for Women. “We also wanted to offer a workout that fulfilled cardio and muscle conditioning in a different format from the usual warm-up- followed-by-cardio-followed-by-muscle-conditioning class. A lot of members want workouts that are time efficient or fast-changing enough to hold their interest. The circuit class meets those demands.”
De Lutis designed her class, named “FasTrak,” with the circuit training model in mind. Allowing up to 13 participants at a time—due to the number of stations—she holds her classes in the fitness room of the Four Seasons, a privately owned club in Lisbon, New Hampshire. She plays upbeat music throughout the class and uses a variety of modalities and equipment, including weight machines, free weights, medicine balls, a cable-crossover machine, minitrampolines, treadmills, step machines, rowing machines, elliptical trainers and bikes. “There is minimal resting time between sets. I personally monitor each trainee, motivating, pushing the envelope and correcting form as needed,” De Lutis says.
The entire class, with cooldown and stretching, is about 40 minutes. “But a lot of participants are strapped for time and don’t stay for the stretching at the end,” she says, adding that some come in a few minutes early to warm up on one of the cardio machines. “If they don’t get in early to warm up, I have them start on a cardio station.”
For some clubs, dedicating a room specifically for express circuits isn’t practical. This provides a great opportunity for group fitness instructors who can create their own classes using existing equipment and a few simple additions. “Just pull in a couple of bikes, set up some steps and minitrampolines, create some weight stations with the Body Bar™ and dumbbells . . . and voilà! You’re circuit-class ready!” says Olson.
You don’t need access to typical gym equipment to create a circuit. Jacobs’s circuit consists of a smorgasbord of gear: a NordicTrack®, a Cybex-style machine, a Pilates reformer, Gyrotonic® equipment, a BOSU®, a minitrampoline, stability balls, dumbbells, a balance beam and balance boards. “I’m trying to encourage mothers who are sitting in the waiting area while their youngsters take a dance class [to use the circuit]; I also encourage my adult dancers to use it to supplement their strength training,” she says.
One of the advantages full-service clubs have over cookie-cutter franchises is in the flexibility and options they can offer members. For example, De Lutis changes the exercises often in order to keep participants challenged and motivated. A circuit doesn’t have to be doomed to weight machines and never-changing cardio activity. It also doesn’t have to be confined to four walls. Parks, trails and playgrounds make great environments for circuit training. Monkey bars and pull-up bars challenge upper-body strength. The ends of slides, park benches—even old stumps or large rocks—are good “equipment” choices for triceps dips, step-ups or incline and decline push-ups. Got a hill? Run sprints up and down it. Throw in a jump rope or two and a Hula-Hoop™ and you’ve got yourself a circuit, without the need to transport a lot of bulky equipment. This is also a great way to add a kids’ or family fitness class to round out your offerings.
With the obesity epidemic and our society’s overt lack of activity—not to mention lack of time (a topic for another day!)—it appears that express workouts are here to stay. Circuits in particular offer a bigger bang for members’ bucks and time, since they can potentially get cardio, strength training and stretching in one workout, all within 30 or 40 minutes. While everyone may not agree that a Curves-type workout is the optimal choice, it can ignite women who are otherwise averse to or uncomfortable with exercise. And if they have success with a simple circuit, they may ultimately tap into the joy of movement and become comfortable with their bodies. This will make them more likely to move on to other activities. In the long run this means more revenue for clubs, instructors and personal trainers—not to mention greater job satisfaction—as we reach out to a population that has long been missing in the traditional club setting.