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Fitness Follies: My Life at the Gym

by Diane Girard

The powers-that-be allowed a fitness center to be built in my neighbourhood. I didn't know about this threat to my wellbeing until they put up the sign. This fitness palace is so close to where I live that there was no excuse for not going to the Grand Opening.

The tour guide pointed out the many state-of-the-art fitness machines; the beautiful group-exercise room, the whirlpool hot tub and the cycling room for spinning classes. People of all ages were busy using the equipment. The schedule showed the many classes available for beginners like me. Before I knew it, I had acquired a one-year membership.

It was the last painless thing I would do in the building.

I am an active person who doesn't drive and instead takes daily walks. Last summer, I painted my entire apartment in a week climbing up and down a ladder three million times. I've pushed 250-pound people in wheelchairs up inclines. I thought I was reasonably fit. I believed this before I went to my first basic no-bounce aerobics class.

Everyone knows that word, aerobics. It's a modest word that tells you little. The information sheet from the fitness center said "beginner level this class teaches you some simple low-impact combinations while keeping your heart rate in the training zone for about 20 minutes." I went to my first 45-minute class with enthusiasm. Mottoes from my half-marathon running friend rushed through my brain (sweat is good and feel the burn), "you'll feel so good afterward."

She lies.

I staggered out of the first class thankful to have survived it. My heart rate had gone beyond the training zone and into territory not entered since the days of labor pains. I had to go down the stairs from the aerobics studio sideways when my knees refused to bend but I learned to do the grapevine.

Three days later, when all my parts had almost returned to their normal places, I went to my second aerobics class. I discovered I couldn't rock to my heels, lift my toes from the floor and remain standing. Could I get a research grant to investigate this? We marched, raised our knees and lifted our arms for what must have been several hours. Then the instructor said we were finished the warm-up. When the class ended several years later, one person was missing, a teenager at the far end of the room had wilted and left. I smiled.

After several aerobics classes, my heart rate had reached the famous target zone and I became more ambitious. Someone mentioned Pilates classes. The fact sheet says Pilates is a "low stress method of physical and mental conditioning The focus is on core strength, stability, postural and strength imbalances." Someone hd forgotten to mention that core strength refers to abdominal muscles. The instructor, who has abs of steel, corrected my every movement. "Pilates is a very technical way of exercising," she said. I didn't have enough breath to speak.

I escaped to the hot tub after class and remained there until the instructor had left the building.

Better return to basic aerobics, I thought. There, I could yell at the instructors when they said jump. "It's a no-bounce class!" I'd holler.

They always apologised for forgetting. I could get through a complete class now without stopping for more than three water breaks. Why not try a dance-it class?

Notice the word dance. I should have taken that word seriously. The only dances I know are the waltz and what's known here as the Canadian shuffle. (Hold your partner tight, sway back and forth, foot movement is optional.) "Don't worry if you don't get it the first time," the instructor said as she dazzled us with three mambo variations.

I was just learning the first one when she shifted to another set of steps. "Get ready to samba."

I would have yelled, 'Mama Loves Mambo', but it was too hard to use my mouth and feet at the same time.

I moved right; everyone else turned left. I continued in a straight line; everyone else twirled backward. Fortunately, their mistakes did not cause any collisions. At the end of the class, the instructor suggested that anyone who had difficulty following the steps should consider waiting for the next ten-week session to start. Why was she looking at me?

It was time for something gentle — yoga class. The information sheet said, "Experience a new level of relaxation as you are guided through this wonderful stress relieving workout."

Before the first class, I was calm and reflective. This will be easy; I've done it before and some people in their eighties do yoga. Well, from now on, I'll genuflect to pictures of anyone over the age of forty sitting in the perfect lotus position with a serene face.

My lotus would not open.

It was neither serene, nor straight. Some of the other positions were somewhat possible. The sponge posture is my favourite because you lie on your back and breathe. After this gentle morning class, I went home and promptly fell into an exhausted coma for two hours.

It's been three months since the start of this adventure. I'm still going to my basic no-bounce classes and other classes. No one is telling me I look wonderful, but my stamina has improved. There was a one-week period when I couldn't go to the gym. I didn't miss it very much, but I've returned. My friend was right about one thing; some people at the fitness center are not as fit as I am. I plan to move up the ladder. There are still things to learn: the rowing machine and the other body-part toning machines on the main floor.

Maybe the great-looking older man who knows how to use them all will help me.

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