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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Rising to the head of the class

Originally published May 13, 2006, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

I’ve never been what I would call a gym bunny. You know the type — the women who show up bedecked in spandex with a full face of makeup and perfectly coiffed hair. Thankfully, the trend of wearing thong leotards over spandex shorts went out of style sometime in the ’90s.

I am more of a gym rat, somebody who rolls out of bed in the morning, grabs the nearest T-shirt and lounge pants, fills up a water bottle and heads out the door. No makeup, no brushing of hair. Aside from the careless regard for appearance, I used to differentiate myself from the gym bunnies by what I did when I got to the health club. I favored cardio and weight machines. Gym bunnies took classes. I hate classes.

My first foray into group exercise was when I signed up for a beginner aerobics class in college. We did step aerobics — the going trend. I have never been blessed with coordination, but the routines were simple enough for me to figure out.

I enjoyed that class so much that my roommate and I joined a gym the following semester so we could take step aerobics together. I was shocked the first day of class to see a room full of gym bunnies wearing butt-floss leotards. The instructor was about seven months pregnant and looked too cute in her multicolor thong leotard ensemble.

At first, I thought I was doing well. I was keeping up with everyone else and felt like I had really accomplished something. And then the instructor announced that the warm-up was over. For the next 30 minutes, I got more of a workout from trying to figure out the choreography than I did from the exercises. I don’t think there is a way to feel worse about yourself than to have a very pregnant woman run circles around you in an exercise class. I never went back.

That is, I hadn’t visited another class until Tuesday.

My workout buddy, Marie, has been telling me about this class she found at In-Shape Sports Club on Tracy Boulevard called Straight-Up Strength. She loves it. She loves it so much she got rid of her personal trainer and takes the class twice a week for strength training. She raves about how powerful she feels, how wonderful the instructor is and how much weight she’s lost since she started it a few months ago.

Last week, Marie convinced me to try the class. I spent part of my weekend dreading it. I didn’t want to be the loser in the back of the room who couldn’t figure out the routines. But I promised Marie, and I keep my promises.

Straight-Up Strength, which is a high-energy total-body resistance class, requires a bit of set-up. Getting there early is important. Each person needs to grab a step (to use as a bench), mat, barbell, dumbbells and weight plates. As I was setting up my workspace, I took a look around the room. I was surprised to see a few familiar faces in the all-female crowd and not a single gym bunny. Sure, there was quite a bit of spandex, but I think that’s a pre-requisite for most people when it comes to workout wear.

The women ranged in size from very fit to moderately overweight, and you could tell that most of them were regulars. Some women were already drenched in sweat from the class that precedes Straight-Up Strength; others were like me and had just done a little cardio beforehand.

Loretta, the class instructor, is a fierce force to reckon with. At least that’s what the regulars say. She has the type of figure that I’m sure keeps many people coming to her classes in hopes their bodies will soon follow suit. But what I liked is she took time before each segment to explain the moves and modifications. She also walked around the room to correct form and movement, ensuring everyone got the most out of class.

The class was an amazing mix of squats, dead lifts, lunges, rows, triceps kickbacks, biceps curls and other exercises of which I don’t even know the names. We went from lower body to upper body to lower body and back to upper body, ending with a serious ab routine. In all, the choreography wasn’t that tough. I got mixed up quite a few times, but with Marie and Loretta, I didn’t stay off track for long.The workout was tough. My legs shook, and there were times I didn’t think I’d make it through, but I did. And when class was over, I knew I had been through the wringer and would be sore the next day. But as Marie says, it’s a good sore. The type of soreness that reminds you of how much you accomplished the day before and how strong you really are.

That soreness is so intoxicating that I went back for more, and I might just continue with the class twice a week. Who knows? Maybe in two months, I’ll be just like Marie, raving about it to everyone I know and dragging one of my reluctant friends to join us.

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