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Things I Learned from Small Town Fitness Classes

Posted by on December 9, 2011

This last week I’ve had a chance to take two yoga classes and a jazzercize class in a small town atmosphere. I guess my big city ways give me snobbish tendencies and I expected the movement classes in this tiny mountain town to be lo-fi, but I was impressed with how much I was challenged and how much I had to work to keep up with a room of mostly middle-aged mountain gals and occasional guys.

The yoga class seemed drawn partially from Iyengar and some other styles I’m unfamiliar with. The instructor’s voice, clear like a bell, her enunciation perfect and intentional, she savored certain words of her invocation, drawing us into the space that she intends for you. Her instructions, so precise that I don’t even have to look up from my pose to know where to go next. The flow was continuous, even while we were holding a pose, she’d be reminding us of all the things to engage, to rotate, to open. Her coaching was gentle and encouraging without pandering. She offered several higher level modifications to easy poses. It’s a style of yoga I find very appealing and challenging.

Her beginnings and endings were like book-ends, asking us to breathe, to chant, to become more focused, and more relaxed. I’m not really much of one for new age schlock, but something about the chanting and the group ‘om’ in this class didn’t creep me out, even though it’s obvious she’s very much a yogi and very invested in the lifestyle.

The jazzercise class was like one of those things you might have seen on TV in the 80’s, only it was done in the wood-paneled Town Hall instead of a pastel studio with posters of the beach. Our coach with her head-set, fuscia sports top and tennis shoes was already bouncing around on the two foot high stage when I entered. She hit the decks and dance music assaulted our ears. I’m terrible with learning choreography on the fly, so I hung out in the back of the room, figuring I’d be one of the less coordinated ones, but she set up a couple movement patterns for each phrase and alternated between two patterns for the entire song. It made it so that each time she returned to a pattern I got better at it and was able to work deeper into the movement. Ingenious! Constantly changing orientation, moving in different directions and switching feet felt like it would be harder than it was. She knew the music so well that she’d sing out some of the lyrics totally kareoke style and would cheer us on. As each song ended, she’d set up a pose that matched with the theme of the song and made me crack up every time. Imagine a bunch of middle-aged women in leotards, posing super hero style, fists in the air.

I wouldn’t say that the floor exercises with three to five pound weights* were very challenging, but with an entire song of situps, I did feel my abs the next day.

If I had the chance to do jazzercise again, I probably would for the aerobic and coordination challenge. It was ridiculous and fun and I was completely out of breath after the third song while several of the other older ladies in class were still totally kicking ass.

In the case of both classes, it was obvious how much the instructors had prepared or were doing routines they were very comfortable with. This made such a difference to the flow of class. We were never stopping and watching, we were always moving. I’d like to find a way for partner dance classes to involve constant movement instead of constant breaks.

*As a side rant: I do have a major beef with women’s exercise equipment that’s pink and involves tiny little handweights that do absolutely nothing. Doing high reps of tiny weights is utterly useless. When the kettlebell fad started to hit, I saw mini-kettlebells at Target, in pastel colors and marketed for women. What a joke! There’s no reason a woman can’t lift like a man, can’t do pull-ups, dead-lifts, bench presses, rows, clean-and-jerks, squats, burpees and all of the other types of exercises that men do, particularly in the weight pit. This idea that if you lift with bigger weights as a woman, you’ll get big and burly is ridiculous. The only women who actually get big muscles like that, train brutally hard to get them, have naturally higher levels of testosterone or take steroids, and eat the kind of shredder diet that sheds bodyfat. The average woman isn’t going to become masculine looking just by lifting heavier weights. A few reps of higher weight will challenge your metabolism so much more and burn fat faster than all those tiny pink reps. If anything, REAL weight-bearing exercise is essential, especially as women grow older, and our bones grow more brittle. Stressing the bones strengthens them.

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