Going For the Burn

(One of my columns from The Beach Reporter 10/22/92. Still going to classes 25 years later!)

The other day I was quivering and sweating through a new class at the health club called “sculpt and abs,” and it dawned on me: I was there voluntarily, of my own free will. In fact, I was actually paying a monthly fee for this torture. Wouldn’t I rather be eating pastries?

Your mind starts doing weird things when you are on your 5,000th stomach crunch. You start thinking about how nice it would be to just settle comfortably and plumply into middle age. You realize you are fighting a losing battle with gravity. You would kill for an apple fritter.

People used to be able to age gracefully. Now there are white-haired women in my exercise classes and on the Stairmaster – on level ten, no less. Whatever happened to soft, cushiony grandmas with bosoms the size of a shelf?

Now they are all in exercise classes. They wear bright pink or purple leotards and tights. They are not baking pies or knitting in their rocking chairs. They are making the rest of us look bad.
I figure that I have been going to exercise classes for twenty years now. I usually take three classes a week, let’s say for fifty weeks a year. Over time that translates into over 3,000 classes. You would think that by now I might win the Mrs. Olympia contest. The problem is, it took those 3,000 classes just to maintain. Just to fight gravity and to make up for eating ribs and Nordstrom chocolate truffles.

In my previous life (before children) I was actually an aerobics instructor myself, something my children now find vastly amusing. I somehow lacked the fortitude to mix child-rearing and teaching exercise classes, but many teachers out there do both with no sweat.

These teachers are almost mythical in their stature. For example, there is a teacher at my gym who has four boys, her body bends like Gumby, and she has more energy than a power plant. If I had four boys, I would be locked in my bathroom speaking in tongues. I think there should be a special award for exercise teachers who are mothers. They have truly gone beyond the call of duty, and we mere mortals bow to them.

The most stressful part of class is not the stress on your muscles and joints; it’s the stress of finding a spot that hasn’t been staked out by someone who has had that exact same spot for three years. I compare this to the phenomenon of when your are married and you always sit in the same chair for dinner and sleep on the same side of the bed. The same people are always in the same spot in exercise class. I have actually seen women fight over this.

The classes I go to are mostly attended by women like me – women who are fighting the battle of the bulge and who need a little stress release to make it through the day. It’s either endorphins or heavy drinking.

Exercise classes are a great equalizer. In a leotard and tights, there’s nothing to hide. You’re not there to judge or be judged. Some women come in full makeup with perfectly coiffed hair and designer exercise wear. Others wear gray sweats that must have belonged to their husband in college. Some smell like Giorgio perfume, others smell like cigarettes. I never stand by them. Sweat, perfume, and cigarettes don’t mix well – especially at 8:00 a.m. The worst is garlic.

We try to do everything the instructor tells us, even when she lies to us and tells us it’s the last squat, and then says, “Eight more.” We do bicep curls, push-ups, lunges, and squats. We boogie and rock out. We shake, we shimmy, we whoop, we curse. We sweat, we strain, we go for the burn. We’ve Jazzercised, we’ve danced to a disco beat, we’ve worked out with rubber bands, and stepped lively. God forbid, there are even men in some of our classes now.

We are not going gracefully into our middle and older ages. Every year on my birthday, I always make it a point to go to a class. It seems not only fitting, but also the right place to be to celebrate.

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