Twice a week, I teach an hour-long class at a big box gym. The goals of the class, as outlined by the national headquarters are: strength, core, range of motion and caloric expenditure. We use hand weights, and I walk the class through about forty minutes of mainly compound movements, coupled with some body weight exercises – like push ups – and a few high intensity intervals just to keep it fun and shake things up a bit. Then, we close with some slow, deliberate, body weight work that focuses on a little stability in addition to strength and muscle recruitment. I always sprinkle in some alignment work as well.
About a year ago, two women stayed after class to chat with me. I always welcome comments and questions, so I met them outside the double doors to the group fitness room to address their concerns.
“That was a great workout,” one of them said. They were both new to the Sunday class, which I have taught since this location of the gym opened many years ago.
“Thanks,” I said and, noticing that one of the women was fiddling with a contraption on her workout top, I asked, “What’s that?” I thought it might be a diabetes pump, and, if she was someone with diabetes, that would be information I would want to know as her fitness instructor.
(An aside – You may think they don’t want to be bothered, but really, please do share with your instructor if you have any structural or medical issues. You would be shocked and amazed at the disclosures I have gotten from people only after I inquired about their condition because I could tell from their form that something was impacting their movement.)
She explained that it was a data device she and her friend both used in concert with a nationally recognized weight loss program. I told her I had never seen one, and we chatted a bit about how they used it. They seemed to like the challenge that it offered them and both enjoyed having access to all the information their devices provided.
After we finished that conversation, the second woman said, “The reason we wanted to talk to you is, we needed to know whether we should go do cardio now.”
I suppose at this point I should make clear that the class I teach on Sunday mornings is rigorous. We sweat. We fully articulate our joints. We move our bodies hard. These women were both dripping in sweat.
All the ways I could answer their question flashed through my mind. “Didn’t your heart pump that whole hour? Why do you worship at the altar of this dichotomy of ‘cardio’ and ‘strength’ when what we just did in there was whole body and comprehensive? And, didn’t you just bust your buns for sixty minutes? What are you thinking?”
But, in an unusual moment of clarity, I asked them, “How do you feel right now?”
They looked at one another, tilted their heads a bit, and replied, “Good. We feel good.” And, “Energized. I feel really energized.”
“And my guess is that at the end of a workout, you’re more accustomed to feeling beaten up, right?” I inquired.
I sidled up to them and lowered my voice, as if I were telling them a secret, and said, “So go out there and be energized. Go live your day today feeling good and strong and happy. Don’t give what you have left to the treadmill or the elliptical machine. Go give it to your family. Exercise less and move more. Go play frisbee with your kids. Go for a walk with your significant other. Go do stuff that matters. Or maybe just unload your dishwasher, but do it using your whole body. Engage your legs and your backside when you fetch the plates. Instead of killing yourself at the gym, go live your life.”
They looked at each other, said it sounded like a pretty good idea, and left.
Now, I’d love to say they’ve become regulars in my class. They haven’t. So this nice empowering story doesn’t get to be tied up in a bow with a lesson for us all to learn. For all I know, they’ve gone back to being slaves to their data devices, logging their hours of cardio and slogging through tough workouts so they can make their numbers and earn their calories.
But, I hope not. And, in the corner of the universe that I get to create in my very own mind, they’re not in my Sunday classes because they’re out walking their dogs. Or hiking with their friends. Or unloading dishwashers … very deliberately, and with nice, untucked pelvises and deep, full hip flexion.