Ahead of the Curves
The ubiquitous gym with a suburban soccer-mom rap wins over a TOC editor in five sessions.
I tend to avoid gyms—too many decisions. My plate is full enough when it comes to that, so when I see all of the machines, weight settings and class listings, I want to cry like a reality-show character. But because I know being fit is a top priority, I signed up for the uncomplicated, 30-minute, full-body workout at Curves, which promises to turn lives around. That was six months ago. I went once. But in the spirit of a New Year’s shape-up resolution, I ventured into five Chicagoland locations to give it a real shot, and to find the one that suited my groove.
Curves prides itself on being nonjudgmental, but in my first visit six months ago, that’s not the attitude I got at the Wicker Park outpost. As I filled out the “Goals” part of my membership form, the woman behind the counter said I didn’t need to lose any weight. Don’t tell me what I need or what I don’t need, bitch, I thought. But when I went back on a Saturday at the end of December, I blocked that experience out. Curves is a circuit of 30-second stations, alternating user-friendly hydraulic machines (sans confusing settings on regular equipment) and “cardio squares,” where you get your heart rate up. As I was high-knee jogging on a square to Madonna’s “Open Your Heart to Me,” I glanced at a poster that said, YOU COULD BE HANGING OUT. BUT YOU’RE WORKING OUT. YOU RULE. Yeah, I do, I thought.
I wanted to go again the next morning, but I was super–bummed to find out Curves is closed on Sundays. So on Monday I went to Wicker Park again, and afterwards was inspired to invite my mother for a free workout. When they surpisingly said no, I went into the West Loop location where the co-owner Sherrie happily handed over a free pass. Each Curves is owned independently, so each location has different policies—and personality. The West Loop space was bright and open, with colorful abstract paintings by a local artist on the walls; the owners rotate artists every two months and have plans to redo the wood floors. And Sherrie even mixes some of her own tracks into the music loop. That evening, my boyfriend smacked my butt and I asked, “It’s smaller, isn’t it?” “Tighter,” he said. And it was. Hallelujah.
A few days later I headed to Pilsen (the location is called University Village), and walked into a cozy living room–like storefront with Latin beats playing over the stereo system. As I pulled the handles from side to side on an upper-body machine, I chatted with a friendly member who was baby-sitting the owner’s newborn. “Man, I like how the music gets you going,” she said, and added that she also liked not having any men around. My gut was still shaking as I ran in place, but I felt really good.
The next week, I stopped into the Uptown South locale, where it was bumping like an ’80s dance party. I jumped in on some talk about gypsies in Sweden, and checked out member weight loss achievements posted on the wall. I noticed how each person used the cardio squares really differently: Some did boxing moves, others ran in place. There was one larger woman in particular who motivated me—she may not have been able to jog for 30 seconds, but she had some mad dance moves.
I decided that it was time to get down with my own dance moves, as running in place was starting to suck. I heard that the Bronzeville location has trainers who do aerobics moves with you (it’s one of the few in the city that staffs trainers), so I checked it out and soon I was doing the chicken to “Shake Your Groove Thing.” I was having fun so I stayed longer than 30-minutes. I met a delightful woman named Linda, who said things like, “Oh thank you, sister,” to the trainer correcting her form. Linda told me that seeing a young person (me) work out inspired her. But she was the inspiring one—she’s a 60-year-old great-grandma and breast-cancer survivor. “I’m fighting to stay alive—and I am!” she smiled. I was just happy I could cross my legs more easily at work that day. Then she said, “If you can get one foot out the door, you can get the other.”
To find a Curves near you, go to www.curves.com.