- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Only men work out at JohnGennaro’s gyms, and there’s a reason: women. Mr. Gennaro borrowed an idea from Curves International for women, the fastest-growing gym franchise

in the world, and created a single-sex exercise franchise for men.

“I’ve done circuit training for men pretty much as Curves has done it,” Mr. Gennaro said. “A lot of my friends’ wives or mothers own a Curves. I said, ‘This is for women. Why not for men?’”

Mr. Gennaro is testing whether he can succeed by having men follow the trail blazed by women.

Curves founder Gary Heavin has his doubts. “Men are different from women,” he said.

Curves leaped from a standing start in 1992 to about 6,000 facilities today, and claims to open around 200 franchises a month. Cuts Fitness for Men is trying to get rolling, having started in February 2003 with one facility in Clark, N.J. It has 10 open now, with at least two more on the way.

As with Curves, Cuts offers a half-hour aerobics-and-strength combination at a low price in a facility that can be tucked into the space of a men’s store in a strip mall. It’s a bare-bones workout shop. There are no coffee bars, no dance floors, not even a shower. It specializes in fast fitness for time-pressured participants.

Like Curves, Cuts programs target beginners, with strength-training equipment that does not require anyone to do so much as load a weight onto a bar. The machines work on hydraulics — they resist the pressure of an exerciser pushing just as a car shock absorber resists the pressure of a car hitting a bump. Exercisers who want to work harder push harder, which creates more resistance in the hydraulics.

Between each machine is an aerobics station, where exercisers can run in place. In a nod to machismo, Cuts’ stations include a punching bag. Participants work by the clock: After a set period at each machine or station, they move to the next.

Such quick workouts can give benefit, said Dr. Doug McKeag, director of the Indiana University Center for Sports Medicine. “You do need at a minimum somewhere around 30 minutes,” he said.

A single-sex focus can be acceptable under federal civil rights law, although more stringent state and local statutes might require clubs in some areas to accept both sexes, said Tony Ellrod, a Los Angeles lawyer with a specialty in health clubs.

In both chains, the equipment is a key reason for the focus on one sex. Curves’ resistance is light by male standards. And most women could not comfortably handle the greater resistance of Cuts’ equipment, Mr. Gennaro said.

Not that Cuts is targeting hunks. Like Curves, Mr. Gennaro wants to attract overweight, out-of-shape people. “A person coming in here is not worried about how big his chest is,” he said.

However, this is not to say the unfit will commit at Cuts, either. Mr. Gennaro said a lot of men look over his program, agree they need it, and leave — a common problem for the industry. “You get people who come for a month and quit,” he said.

Mr. Heavin expects Mr. Gennaro to have more trouble. “There’s a need for it, but is that enough to build an empire? The physiology works but the business plan is terrible. I tried the men-only thing about 15 years ago, and I found men are different from women,” he said.

Women like the social atmosphere of a women-only facility. They will chat at a Curves shop and encourage their friends to join, but men “don’t gather together to chat on any regular basis,” Mr. Heavin said.

A 2000 survey done for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, a health club trade group, looked into whether people would prefer to start an exercise program at a single-sex club. The survey found that 63 percent of women but only 43 percent of men preferred single-sex.

If enough men don’t prefer a men-only club, Cuts will have to compete against clubs open to everyone that already are established in most areas, Mr. Heavin said. And those clubs could create crippling competition simply by adding Cuts-style equipment and workout stations.


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