IRVINE, CA -- Eight fitness club franchises made Entrepreneur magazine’s 2008 Top 500 franchise list, including two key-card clubs, a personal training studio and two well-known brands. Several of the companies also made Entrepreneur’s list for low-cost franchises and fastest-growing franchises.

Most startling, perhaps, was that Curves, the women-only fitness center founded by Gary Heavin, continued its drop in the rankings this year in a more pronounced fashion. It dropped from No. 15 in 2007 (after ranking No. 3 in 2006 and No. 2 in 2004 and 2005) to No. 185 this year. The company also showed a drop in U.S. franchise numbers. In 2006, the company had 7,865 franchises and in 2007, it had 7,269. However, the Waco, TX-based company increased its foreign franchises from 2,005 in 2006 to 3,185 in 2007, moving it up from No. 7 to No. 6 on the magazine’s list of top global franchises. Curves had ranked third in 2006 in this category and second in both 2004 and 2005. Although Curves fell off the fastest-growing franchise list this year (it ranked No. 23 on that list last year), it remained on the low-cost franchise list, coming in at No. 36.

Anytime Fitness, a 24-hour key-club franchise headquartered in Hastings, MN, not only ranked the highest for fitness clubs, but it also moved up the most in rank, jumping from the No. 353 spot last year to the No. 75 spot this year. The company, which started franchising in 2002, had 196 franchises in 2006 and 444 franchises in 2007. It also came in at No. 13 in the fastest-growing franchise list, up from No. 36 last year. It ranked No. 19 in the low-cost franchises category, up from No. 94 last year.

Fitness Together, a personal training studio franchise headquartered in Highlands Ranch, CO, wasn’t far behind on the Top 500 list, coming in at No. 78, although that represents a one position drop from last year when it ranked No. 77. The company, which has been franchising since 1996, had 355 U.S. franchises in 2007 compared to 261 in 2006. It also made the fastest-growing franchise list, ranking No. 41, which is the same rank it earned last year.

The second key-card club on the list also made a big move on this year’s list. Snap Fitness, Chanhassen, MN, came in No. 96 with 293 franchises, up from No. 206 last year when it had 141 franchises. Snap Fitness, which started franchising in 2004, ranked No. 24 on the fastest-growing franchise list this year, up from No. 51 in 2007.

One of the oldest franchisors in the fitness business, Gold’s Gym International (which has been franchising since 1980) ranked No. 183 on the list this year, a drop from No. 63 in 2007 and No. 76 in 2006. Even though the number of U.S. franchises listed for the company in 2007 was 467--a 159 club drop from 2006 when it had 626 U.S. franchises--the company still made the fastest-growing franchise list, coming in at No. 89. Gold’s Gym did increase its foreign franchises from 104 in 2006 to 116 in 2007 and its company-owned stores from 48 in 2006 to 53 last year. It did not make the low-cost franchise list. The total investment needed to start a Gold’s Gym franchise is $961,000 to $3.6 million compared to $28,000 to $286,000 for the fitness franchises on the low-cost franchise list.

Contours Express, a women-only franchise company based in Nicholasville, KY, ranked No. 329 this year, making it the fitness franchise with the biggest drop in ranking. It ranked No. 141 last year. Its U.S. franchise numbers dropped from 335 in 2006 to 251 in 2007. However, its foreign franchises rose from 120 in 2006 to 222 last year. The foreign growth was not enough to move Contours onto the fastest-growing franchise list, which it had fallen off of last year. The last time it appeared on that list was in 2006 when it ranked No. 91. Contours also was not included on the low-cost franchise list this year. The company, which began franchising in 1998, had ranked No. 33 on that list last year.

The last two fitness club franchises were children’s fitness companies. The Little Gym, Scottsdale, AZ, ranked No. 145 this year compared to No. 140 last year. My Gym Children’s Fitness Center, Sherman Oaks, CA, ranked No. 300 this year compared to No. 221 last year.

Two other fitness-oriented franchises on the list were Fun Bus, a mobile children’s fitness program, which came in No. 495, and Jazzercise Inc., the Carlsbad, CA-based dance-fitness program founded by Judi Sheppard Missett, which came in No. 44 on the list, a drop from No. 35 last year and No. 25 in 2006.

Rankings are determined by objective, quantifiable measures of a franchise operation, according to Entrepreneur magazine. The most important factors include financial strength and stability, growth rate and size of the system.