In February of this year I joined a gym. Let me say on the record that I hate exercise. Let me restate. I Loathe exercise. Sweat, exhaustion, aching muscles, being out of breath – these are not attributes that scream “preferred quality of life” to me. If I were a ditch digger or an athlete or a mover of furniture by profession, these are things that I would fully expect from life. But I am a stay-at-home mom, and instead of experiencing these things as by-products of a job I get paid for, I choose to pay to experience them. Believe me, I would much rather lie on a beach or my couch all day and not sweat or ache, but I like to eat and drink all kinds of things that are terrible for the health and wellness of a body, and I can’t really afford to buy a new wardrobe with every cheeseburger that I eat and box of wine that I drink, so I must exercise.
I joined this particular gym because they offer group exercise classes. Yoga, weightlifting, cycling, dance – you name it, they offer it. Because of my snarly attitude towards exercise, I am not generally a self-starter when it comes to it. I will not use weight machines or free weights that come without instructions or a plan on how to maximize the benefits of using. If I’m at the gym, I don’t want my time to be wasted. Once in a while I will tromp on the treadmill for a half hour or so, but for the most part, I must make a mental appointment to exercise, show up on time, and do whatever an instructor tells me to do. Then I go home and sit quietly for half an hour and wait for my muscles to stop twitching. I am so out of shape.
Recently, I did a class called Combat. It is a fast-moving cardiovascular workout, using a combination of martial arts – kicking and punching and the conditioning that goes with boxing like jumping rope and ducking. It is an anger-themed class, and it is set to angry pop/rock music with a good beat – songs from Metallica, Rage against the Machine, and Pink. The instructor tells us to focus on our target a lot. Like “Focus on your target, punch him in the face!” and “Focus your roundhouse kick on your target’s ribs!” In Combat, you punch an imaginary target in the face about 100 times, and then kick it in the groin, chin, or ribs, and then hold its head down and punch it into the ground about 100 times. I kind of like martial arts in terms of kung fu and ninjas, like in the movies. This Combat class is beyond the beautiful, floating Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon kind of martial arts I’m into. I’m pretty sure that military leaders should use this class to train soldiers to whip them into a killing frenzy immediately before going to war.
Combat is a little intense for 9:00 in the morning, especially for me. I am pretty pacifistic, believing that words and understanding are far more effective than killing and force. You know, “words are mightier than the sword” and all that. It goes along with my personality because I like to be calm and quiet. If you honk your car horn at me because I did something stupid while driving, I will flash you the peace sign rather than flip you the bird. Peace, love and understanding. That’s me. If I must exercise, my training of choice is yoga. It’s very serene, very internal, very smooth. In yoga, your muscles slowly stretch to achieve a more flexible, toned state. It might take years, but that’s okay with me.
Yoga wasn’t available that morning at the time I had carved out to exercise, so I did Combat instead. It was okay; I felt like I needed the cardio workout to flush out some of the harm I had been doing to my body in the name of junk food and liquor, despite my aversion to sweating. I showed up and took a prime spot on the floor around some people who were stretching and chatting up the instructor. One thing about any type of exercise class is that there will always be people in it who live, breathe, and will die taking this class. They love it, they are friends with the instructor, pick up on all the new moves right away. They are the rock stars in the class. If you’re not careful, you may even mistake them for the instructor, they look so good doing it. I usually position myself behind a person like this. That way, I can watch them if I can’t see the instructor. Today I found myself in back of two particular women who were obviously experts at Combat. As we warmed up and started the class, they ducked, kicked, and punched at all the right times, and had their own special extra moves that I of course tried to copy on the sly. I’m big and tall for a girl, and these two child-sized women looked like they could take turns kicking my butt with two hands tied behind their backs. The class went on; it was tough and I was sweating. As time passed, I felt I was keeping up and doing a pretty good job, shuffling across the floor, roundhousing the heck out of my target with my huge legs and feet, punching and ducking and speedballing as best I could. I was breathing hard and getting worn out, but I felt pretty good.
Until I glanced away from watching the Combat Rock Stars and saw myself in the mirror.
I was a mess. I started sneaking peeks at all the other participants, and couldn’t believe how off I was from the rest of the class. Awkward does not begin to describe how I looked compared to them. They were all punching and leading with their shoulders in tandem, and I was bending my wrists and elbows, punching with the wrong arm, twisting the wrong way, arms flailing when they were supposed to be protecting my face from my target, kicking when I was supposed to be shuffling, almost tripping when it was time to take a lap around the exercise studio. I stifled a laugh, and accidently punched myself in the face. Twice. Did a jump kick to the front when everyone else was squatting. I didn’t even try the three jab/one upper cut/front kick combo. And I was huffing and sweating. My pants kept riding up and sticking to me from all the sweat. My hair was falling out of the band that was holding it back and I kept stopping to fix it. I was determined to finish, so I tried to do the rest of the class by not looking at myself. It was ugly, but we all know that when there is a car accident, most of us will slow down to look. This wreck was relentlessly comical – I just couldn’t get it up to speed with the rest of the class now that my concentration was broken, and I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. I probably didn’t maximize my workout because of all the smiling I was doing at my own gawkiness, but I managed to finish the class, succeeded in not hurting myself or anyone else, and did my knees-down girl pushups while everyone else seemed to be cruising through the regular ones with no problem. I did ace the yoga stretches and down-dog position that we did to cool down, though. When it was all over, the instructor said goodbye to everyone and threw me a quizzical look and I just know she would be asking her fellow instructors just who the spastic, uncoordinated tall woman was in her Combat class. I flashed her the peace sign and got the heck out of there.
Yeah, maybe I'll stick to yoga.