A Writer Reconnects with a Childhood Passion as a Window to the Perfect Workout
As a kid I liked to sit. Sitting meant converting my living room into an apartment complex for the spandex-clad Barbies I’d fought to own. It meant watching a VHS Tape of Professor Harold Hill wooing Marian the librarian and recording the songs on my clunky tape recorder, then giving the tape to friends.
It meant reading about Hobbits or Babysitters or Anastasia Krupnik, challenging myself to beat my record, to read faster than I had before. I have no idea whether other kids on my block went out to play after dinner; I’d tug at the front window curtains, anxious to keep the night where it belonged.
I was eleven before I learned to ride a bicycle and I only did it then because I hated to walk. Walking was like writing longhand; it couldn’t keep up with my brain. But on a bike, as fast as I could think of a place to ride to, I could be there (my suburb was only one square mile). Even better, I could do it sitting down.
My childhood affinity for biking did not initially inform my adult life. I did not become a bike commuter, not a bicycle messenger or even a weekend rider. Even as a (sometimes unhealthily) fitness-focused adult, I lost touch with my love of biking, first by living in LA where, I’m sorry, but you’d have to be insane to compete with drivers, and then by having my bike stolen once I’d settled in Chicago.
Throughout that time, I struggled with my relationship to exercise. Unhappy with my body, I’d started working out at age twelve. Working out meant discomfort. It meant slow jogs on a treadmill, Jane Fonda leg-lifts in my cinderblock dorm room, and one unfortunate aerobics episode. (I walked into an in-progress class, kicked my leg once in the air, decided I would rather eat dirt, turned and walked out.) It meant forced movement and barely discernible results.
Then I found Spinning. I must have gawked my way past the Spin studio at Gold’s Gym LA for three months before I opened the door. The riders wore skintight shorts and bikini tops. Yes, even the men. Not really, I’m joking. But not about the shorts. I hadn’t worn spandex since sixth grade. Not because I don’t like it–I fucking love spandex–but because I was ashamed of my thighs. From behind fogged-up glass doors music pounded. People hooted and cheered and when the door opened, I could see sweat pooled on the floor.
At some point I did what everyone poised to change does: I walked through a door.
For many, Spinning is like one of those combustible cinematic love affairs: first you hate it, then your hatred ignites into love. I loved it right away. It combined all of my childhood interests: my attraction to biking, my solitary nature (unlike in an aerobics class, each Spinner rides alone), my love of mix tapes and spandex, and my compulsion to compete with myself.
After six months of bi-weekly classes, not only did my body change, my mindset did as well. Running, something I’d previously feared, began to compel me. I ran faster and for longer, eventually I even ran outside. Yoga, a discipline I’d dreaded, seemed intriguing. Even lifting weights suddenly had its allure. If I was tough enough to Spin, what couldn’t I do? Three years after taking my first class, I became a Spin instructor. I teach three to five classes a week, run on a near daily basis, practice yoga at least three times a week, take Pilates (which I believe is Greek for ‘Slow Hell’) and lift weights.
When I discuss my exercise regime (which I do only when asked and NEVER on Facebook because what’s more irritating than reading someone’s exuberant brag about their ten-miler when you’re still trying to figure out which package contains the coffee and which the dog food?), invariably people shake their heads. “I could never,” they say. But the thing is they’re wrong. I tell them to look to their childhood. “What physical activity brought you joy?” I ask. Some say, “Somersaults on the front lawn.” Some say, “Dancing in my bedroom,” some say “Punching my brother.” Here’s what I say: “Yoga. Zumba. Boxing.” Start with what most closely approximates your childhood passions. That’s your Gateway Exercise. From there, your confidence will grow; your comfort zone will expand. Simply, you’ll evolve.
There are limits, of course. You will never find me in an aerobics class. But to change yourself you must first know yourself. And if I’m honest, lately I’ve been dawdling outside the Werq class at my gym. The room bursts with ecstatic gym-goers following music-video choreography; exuberant gay men; determined, whippet-thin women; a zaftig blond rocking purple spandex; two women in their 60’s who grin against their palms when the stereo blasts provocative lyrics. Another six months and I might open the door.