One Woman’s Story

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This article by Caroline Calogero was prepared for the June 18, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

For Women: Shapes & Curves

For years I’ve suspected that my own fat content was

similar to that of whipping cream but it took a visit to ShapesUSA,

a West Windsor gym for women only, to confirm my intuition.

Thankfully my other measurements are more positive. My cholesterol

is 165 and my LDL/HDL ratio is close to one. My blood pressure hovers

at 106/72. Three out of my four grandparents were well into their

90s when they died. (Papa Tony passed on at 84.)

I walk two and a quarter miles three times a week and do 60 minutes

of aerobics and strength training twice a week. I am 5-feet-4 and

wear a size 10, not a twelve-ish 10 but a true 10, which means I can

occasionally squeeze myself into an 8, a comfortable buffer away from

the big gal department.

But I can’t confess my weight. My husband isn’t privy to this numerical

tidbit. I’d hide it from my doctor if I could. Only once in my adult

life have I voluntarily revealed this information. I was questioned

before boarding a very small aircraft and I thought it in the best

interests of all concerned to reveal the truth. I’ve never liked the

numbers screaming up at me from the scale and attribute them to dense

bones and a big liver.

My suspicion about my blubber content increased when a woman I know

from exercise class confided her body fat level was 20 percent. She

had just had it measured when she switched to a new gym. Having seen

this wisp of a girl in Spandex shorts, I knew my own stats might be


The ups and downs of trying to make time for exercise while pressed

by meeting the needs of a growing family mark my fitness history.

For the last few years, I have walked year-round and squeezed in some

sit-ups. I added the aerobics classes in September when my youngest

trotted off to first grade.

But all this exercise is time-consuming and the thought of paring

it down is very tempting. What better place to slim down my routine

than at one of the new "30 minutes and you’re outta here"

women’s gyms springing up all over.

Curves, part of a privately-owned nationwide chain of 5,000 franchises,

has five gyms in the greater Princeton area. Ladies Fitness Express,

another choice for those who aspire to be svelte, has 500 locations,

including two in Hamilton, and is planning to open another in East

Windsor. ShapesUSA is the homegrown contender with just two locations,

West Windsor and Hamilton.

The West Windsor branch of ShapesUSA is easy to miss. Located in the

same shopping center as McCaffrey’s food store, it lacks an overhead

sign, which gave me a bit of a start when I pulled in and couldn’t

find it. I checked the address and phoned from the car before finding

it sandwiched between the dry cleaner and the orthodontist. Cindy

Crea and a husband-wife team of gynecologists, Ellamarie and Gary

DeMara, are the owners.

I was intrigued by the fact that, in addition to Pilates and yoga

classes, laser hair removal and microdermabrasion treatments for face

and body are among the services listed on ShapeUSA’s website. Although

it might have been interesting to pop in for a workout and walk away

with newly-arched eyebrows and baby-soft skin, my dream went unrealized

since both the beauty services and Pilates classes are offered only

at the Hamilton location, where the doctors also have their offices.

The storefront gym is well-lit but not fancy. The set-up is more notable

for what it lacks than for what it has. There are no lockers, no showers,

no childcare, no barbells, no sweaty guys, and no Lycra-loving hard


It does, however, have a certain appeal to women who are beyond the

first bloom of youth and are not in training for a triathlon —

in other words, girls thinking solely about firming up or dropping

some excess pounds. Three such comrade-acquaintances were in attendance

when I showed up on a Thursday morning to try it out.

Eight machines are interspersed with eight boards, which are used

for jogging in place to keep the heart rate elevated between exercises.

The hydraulic resistance-based machines are supposed to enable cardiovascular

and strength training at the same time. Working them slowly is easier

than picking up the pace. The circuit is repeated three times during

a session.

The equipment is very similar to that used at Curves. Everything has

just one setting, and no adjustments need to be made for users of

different strength levels or sizes.

Each machine works a specific muscle group, such as the biceps and

triceps or the inner and outer thighs. The standard drill is to come

in three times a week and spend a half hour working out. Finish with

a cool down stretch or a few stomach crunches and give yourself credit

for burning up 400 to 600 calories.

One glaring omission in the routine — acknowledged by both the

Shapes manager, Darcy Dunaj, and management at Curves — is that

only one machine is dedicated to working the stomach, not a sure-fire

way to obtain those six-pack abs or even to just flatten out the pouch.

Extra abdominal work is a must for anyone looking to try on some hip

huggers or even to just give up wearing pleated pants.

On the upside, it’s not hard to get the hang of using the machines.

Every first time user works with a staff person. Dunaj, who led me

through my paces, was both fit and funny. The background music is

very fast and every 32 seconds a recorded voice prods exercisers to

move on to the next station.

ShapesUSA pushes its medical connection, although there’s no real

indication that the supervision here is superior to that at Curves.

ShapesUSA is open all day long. Curves shuts its doors during the

midday doldrums, from 10 a.m. to noon, and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on


On a newcomer’s first visit, her weight and body measurements are

recorded and — my own personal Waterloo — she’s subjected

to a seven-second electronic analysis of body fat.

Nutritional counseling is offered. ShapesUSA ads claim that participants

in the diet-workout combo will lose 24 pounds in 12 weeks. Dieters

meet with staff for a weekly weigh-in and a dose of encouragement.

A software package generates customized menus. Printouts include a

shopping list complete with the recommended brands of salad dressing

and low-fat breakfast strips. Losing inches as well as pounds counts

since gaining muscle mass does increase your weight.

The vibes are friendly and supportive, with success stories posted

on the walls. The stories read like headlines in a diet magazine,

"Jenny Lost 41 Pounds and 19 Inches in Time for Her Daughter’s


ShapesUSA offers both three-month and one-year contracts, but Crea

refused to reveal prices, citing a concern that they would be out

of date by publication and not reflect the constantly changing special


Crea is a Ewing resident and the mother of three. A graduate of the

University of South Florida, she had done accounting and bookkeeping

work for the DeMara’s gynecology practice before investing in ShapesUSA

with them.

Despite my history of regular exercise, I did hit 75 percent of my

maximum recommended heart rate after doing two circuits. Admittedly

I was trying to show off by pushing things a bit.

The routine does not vary and I wonder how it would feel doing these

exact same repetitions for eight or nine months. But for newcomers

to the exer-scene who may be overwhelmed by both the options and the

inhabitants of a traditional health club, no variety can be a very

successful formula. Fitness becomes inevitable, just a matter of deciding

what time to get to the gym.

ShapesUSA, Route 571 and Southfield Road, West

Windsor, 609-897-9007.

ShapesUSA, 2279 Route 33, Suite 510, Hamilton.


Curves for Women of East Windsor, 375 Route 130

North, East Windsor. 609-918-0700.

Curves for Women, 2214 Nottingham Way, Hamilton.


Curves for Women of Lawrenceville, 564 Lawrence

Square Boulevard South, Village Square Plaza, Lawrenceville. 609-587-7077.

Curves for Women, 660 Plainsboro Road, Princeton

Meadows Shopping Center, Plainsboro. 609-716-6262.

Curves for Women, 217 Clarksville Road, Village

Square Shopping Center, West Windsor. 609-750-1100.

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One Woman’s Story

In February 2001, Paula Beiger joined the Curves for Women fitness

center on Nottingham Way. A year later, she opened her own Curves

franchise in Lawrence Square Boulevard. Prior to opening Curves, Beiger

sold real estate in partnership with her husband, Jack Beiger. The

two are affiliated with Weidel’s Hamilton office, and Paula says she

will continue to work as a real estate agent part time. Even when

real estate was her primary vocation, Beiger says cheerfully that

she was doing "25 percent of the work, and Jack was doing 75 percent."

Her husband encouraged her to open Curves and supplied the $20,000

franchise fee and another $20,000 to get the business opened. Following

marketing advice she received during training sessions at Curves’

headquarters in Waco, Texas, Beiger announced the opening of her business

through a direct mailing to every Lawrence household. She designed

the materials herself and distributed them at a cost of $2,000. The

ads promised 60 percent off membership, and she says response has

exceeded her expectations.

Beiger, a 1978 graduate of Mercer County Community College, lives

in Hamilton with her husband, her teenage daughter, Katie, three cats,

and a number of fish, who swim around in the pond behind her house.

Her father, Bill Quackenboss owns Billy Q Snacks, and her mother,

Eileen Quackenboss, is a homemaker.

Every entrepreneur has a story. For Beiger, the road to business ownership

began with the quest to fit nicely into a dress she wanted to wear

to a St. Paddy’s Day Ball. She has a "five year rule" for

repeat appearances for favorite party dresses, and that dress’s time

had come. She turned to Curves for help, lost 10 inches and five pounds

in a month, and was hooked on the concept.

Her husband is helping out at Curves. The two now spend so much time

together that Beiger says, "It’s like we’re retired." And

is that a good thing? "Oh yes," the new business owner says.

"We’re a team."

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