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THE CURVES APPROACH

And then there's Curves for Women.

It's not like gyms or personal training facilities. It attracts a different clientele. And while some experts express doubts about the long-term effectiveness of doing the same exercises at every workout, members swear by it.

In the Curves facility inside Ellicott Square, a scented candle burns as co-owner Susan M. Hoffman adjusts the fast-paced music. Over the tunes, a pleasant woman's voice says, "Change stations now," every 30 seconds, and members move from one exercise machine to a platform next to it, where they keep their heart rates up by moving in place.

"Most of the ladies who come to Curves have never exercised before," says Hoffman, who, with partner Joann Burns, owns Curves for Women sites on Olean Street in East Aurora and in Cheektowaga's Clinton-Rossler Plaza. "They don't like the atmosphere of a gym, or might find the equipment intimidating. This is great for every fitness level."

The company says its 30-minute workout program is effective even for older and overweight women.

"If you can walk through the door on your own, you can do the program," says Linda Feist of Williamsville, who works in Hoffman's local sites and is a corporate trainer for Curves.

Instead of weight plates, the Curves workout machines use hydraulic resistance, making it easier when the client moves slowly and more difficult when she moves faster.

At the Curves in East Aurora, Feist says, a grandmother, mother and daughter work out together. "The grandmother works out slower, but she's still getting benefits."

For motivation, the Curves owners make their workout centers fun, with weekly drawings, to which members get a ticket every time they exercise, and various parties and special promotions.

Sue Palmeri of Kenmore works downtown and appreciates the convenience of being able to work out on her lunch hour. "I do see results, and this helps me maintain my weight and I feel better," she says. "There's a camaraderie. You have to like what you're doing, or you wouldn't keep coming back. This is fun."

The most popular Curves program costs $29 a month for unlimited access, Hoffman says.

Derek Alessi of Alessi Personal Fitness Centers says circuit training, such as that offered by Curves, "is a good form to start with." But once the muscles become used to the circuit, its effectiveness may wane, he says. "You simply need to keep changing it up. You have to do different exercises, different orders, different weights, different sets, all different things all the time."

-- Anne Neville