I mentioned recently that my new doctor recommended moderate exercise to alleviate my pain. I’ve not had a stable enough life situation to have any kind of regular exercise for many years. I did a yoga class here and joined a gym there, but between having a baby, moving four times, and then being pregnant for two months, then not for two months, then pregnant again, then not, etc., I haven’t settled in to any routine. And it was my last yoga class that coincided with the worst pain I ever had, so when the pain came back I decided to avoid physical activity as much as possible.
When I told the doctor this, he said it was possible that exercise might hurt more than help, but that I should give it a shot again. He said that I should only exercise “up to the point of injury,” whatever that means. I can’t even walk without pain, so it’s going to hurt, no matter how little I do. I just took him to mean that I should not push very hard on those areas that give me trouble. And having “doctor’s orders” to exercise is just what I needed, since I was really feeling like a slug and needed that to change.
So I decided to look for the right kind of exercise, but I had the damnedest time. I looked for yoga classes, but there was nothing in the right time slots when Sam was in school. Or there was, but only once a week. What good would that do? Working out on machines in a gym bores me to tears, and I hate having to wait for a machine and remember the whole set of things I want to do. Anything outdoors is out because I won’t do it in hot or cold weather. (Poor Toby has had about two walks in the past three months.) Workouts on tape at home are good, but that takes a lot of discipline. The sirens of The Little Things always beckon. Swimming (indoors) would be perfect, but the transaction costs are too high – an hour of swimming seems to take three hours, what with all the changing and showering and wet clothes.
Then I remembered Curves.
I had used Curves briefly after Sam was born when I was told that exercise might help with my mild post-partum baby blues. I have no idea if it helped because I had to quit just a couple of months later when we moved from Michigan to San Diego because Adam became too busy at work to watch Sam even for a few hours a week. (Curves does not have babysitting services.) And the hell of moving and living out of boxes with a 10-month-old (and a mostly absent husband) made me much crazier and angrier than I had ever been due to hormones. Or maybe it was the hormones that made the moving such hell, or maybe it was that I stopped exercising…but I digress.
Curves is a place filled with little old ladies with short, puffy white haircuts. It’s for women only, which I guess matters to some people. I could care less. I guess the old ladies are there because you can do the workout in just about any physical condition. The little old ladies probably keep out the younger set, but I think that is a big, secondhanded mistake.
Curves is a circuit of about 15 strength-training machines, with cardio stations in between each. You arrive at any time you want and jump into the circuit at any point. You use a machine for 30 seconds, then you do whatever cardio activity you choose (running in place, jumping jacks, leg lifts, squats, etc.) for 30 seconds. Then you move to the next machine. And so on. There is lame but bouncy music on in the background and a voice-over that tells you to “change stations now” every 30 seconds. You do two circuits, then you stretch. The recommended stretches are posted up on a wall. The whole thing takes about 35-40 minutes.
What I like about Curves the most is that you don’t have to think about it at all. The first time you go, you need about 10 minutes of instruction on the machines, and that’s it. (If you want more coaching, I think you can get it.) After that, you show up and go. There is nothing to calculate, measure, or count. Once you get in the groove of it, it becomes very routine. I suppose this might get boring for some people eventually, but I’m pretty good at setting my mind to thinking about other things, so I find the time at Curves to be doubly productive.
Also, the workout is as intense as you want to make it. If you want intense, you push yourself to do more reps in the time allowed, and you do something difficult for the cardio. You can also “double up” on the machines or do more circuits if that floats your boat. I’m sure fitness fanatics scoff at this, but if your goal is simply basic exercise for general heath - cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility – I believe this workout can be challenging enough for anyone. The only exception would be people who simply can’t focus independently without an outsider pushing them. Plenty of the little old ladies at Curves push lazily at the machines and walk in place as they gossip and chatter and never break a sweat. But Curves has a solution even for them, if they choose to use it. Every 10 minutes or so, the voice over prompts you to “move away from your station and find your heart rate.” Then a 10 second count is marked for you so that you can calculate your heart rate. Another poster tells you what your target heart rate should be for your age. How easy is that?
I like that the workout is fast, and that I can go at any time on any day. I can drop Sam off at school at 9, go straight to Curves, come home and shower, and be done by 10:15. That leaves me an hour and a half of continuous me-time before I have to pick Sam up. A formal yoga or cardio class might start at 9:30 or 10 and go for an hour, which would leave me a few minutes on each end. Great, more fractured time – just what I need. (Now, during the summer, Adam stays home with Sam three mornings a week so I can go. It really was a difficult and unusual situation when we were living in San Diego.)
The Curves workout is also compatible with pregnancy, so I won’t have to drop it when the time comes - or comes and goes, as the case may be.
I’ve modified my Curves workout for my pain situation. I realized that jogging in place was making the pain in my feet worse so I switched to low impact cardio only. Usually, I do the elbow-to-knee crossover leg lift, if you know what I mean. One of the machines put a lot of pressure on a tendon in my arm that was sore, so now I skip that machine and double-up on the next one, which happens to be one that I need more work on. I think I’ll want to add in a bit of extra abdominal work once I’m in better shape and I always do extra stretches because having a strong core and being limber are helpful in many situations involving pain.
The Curves franchise is HUGE. There are Curves everywhere! When I travel, I can go to the local Curves if I want. There always seems to be one nearby.
I have to admit, I also kind of like the little old ladies and the gossip. There is a friendly, non-competitive culture at Curves, and it makes for a more pleasant workout.
So, laugh if you will. I get the feeling that Curves is seen as an “exercise for dummies” kind of workout. But my firsthand judgment tells me otherwise.