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 The Learning Curve For Women's Weight Loss Programs 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by . View all columns in series
Dr. Westcott

Since the early days of the fitness movement, YMCA's health clubs and exercise centers have attempted to attract overweight women into their weight loss programs. Unfortunately, the exercise approach to reducing body weight has been largely unsuccessful, especially in comparison to the 35 billion dollars spent each year on various diet programs.

With a little introspection, we can identify several reasons why overweight women were reluctant to join exercise programs in fitness facilities. First, unlike fitness professionals who thrive on physical activity, most overweight women are simply not exercise enthusiasts. That is, given a choice of 10 things to do during the course of a day, exercise is unlikely to make their list. Some have had problems with school physical education classes, others have had unsuccessful experiences in sports, some have had disappointing results from previous exercise programs, others feel self-conscious in exercise attire, many prefer not to perform physical activity in the presence of men, and some just don't like to sweat.

Consider how you would feel auditioning in front of the symphony orchestra when your only prior instrumental experience was a poorly pitched flutophone in third grade. That's essentially the same perception most overweight women have when confronted with the thought of public exercise performance. Needless to say, it raises their anxiety level and reinforces their avoidance tendencies towards physical activity programs.

Second, many women face time challenges due to the cumulative effects of work, family and social commitments. They have very small time margins for exercise, and comprehensive fitness programs are just not feasible. And the after-exercise ritual of a shower, shampoo, hair-drying and make-up period is absolutely unacceptable for time-pressured women of the 21st century. Even the traditional warm-up, cool-down and stretching components of a standard exercise program can be problematic for busy women from a time perspective.

Third, although the process is unhealthy and the result is temporary, dieting is a more acceptable weight-loss alternative for the vast majority of overweight women. It has virtually no time requirement, and may actually save time by reducing eating duration. Dieting does not require physical effort, and represents a passive approach to weight loss. Dieting, unlike exercise, is typically perceived as a temporary tactic that may be discontinued when a desirable body weight is attained.

With three strikes against them, most fitness professionals have given up on exercise-based weight-loss programs for women. Enter Gary Heavin, founder and CEO of Curves® For Women. Gary understood the shortcomings of standard diet plans, as well as the physiological and psychological benefits of proactive exercise programs. He also recognized the importance of strength training for replacing muscle and recharging metabolism in middle-aged women. But he went one step farther than the rest of us in the fitness industry. Gary designed a combination circuit training program that alternated short bouts of strength exercise with aerobic activity for a relatively brief weight-loss workout.

Unlike other strength training programs, Curves® uses hydraulic resistance machines that are easy to perform, eliminate eccentric muscle actions that can cause delayed-onset muscle soreness, and facilitate time-efficient exercise programs. Although this type of resistance equipment might seem too soft for exercise enthusiasts, it feels just fine to inexperienced women who appreciate quick and easy bouts of strength training. Without question, the simplicity of the exercise protocol and the brevity of the training session are key factors in attracting previously sedentary women to the Curves ® program.

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 About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the......moreWayne Westcott PhD
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