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My mom recently began working with a personal trainer.  I found this puzzling because my mom has always worked out on her own in our living room or at the gym, and she taught group fitness classes for many years.  When I asked her why she thought she needed a personal trainer, she said, “Because sometimes I just don’t wanna do it anymore.”

Uh oh.  My mother, the aerobics queen, doesn’t want to exercise?

Okay, there are a couple of reasons for her sudden gym stubbornness. First, some of her old gymnastics injuries have come back to haunt her, which means that a lot of body parts hurt when she moves them.  Second, she no longer has to live in full-steam-ahead mode, so I think checking 50 things off the to-do list every day, including the exercise check box, just isn’t necessary.  She’s obviously grateful that her life is calmer, that all of her children are grown up and self-sufficient (we hope!) and that she has a comfortable home to relax in at the end of each day.  But suddenly working out just isn’t as urgent.

So I give her credit for going to the wellness coach and finding herself a personal trainer.  She knows how important it is that she stay in shape and continue to live a healthy life.  Even if she doesn’t have the same motivation to do the workout on her own, she is going to find a way to get it done.  If that means someone else telling her what to do, then that’s the way it has to be.

I can tell you one thing though — my mom loves Body Jam.   That’s one workout you’d never have to force her into.   Every time my trip to the Midwest is approaching, Mom calls to make sure I bring home my Body Jam music so she can have a private class.  We dance until we can’t dance anymore!  Then we go home and put our feet up.  And, because she’s my mom, she makes us each a salad to sit and eat together.

Recently one of my Back Bay Healthworks class participants came up after class to thank me for that morning’s workout.  I’m proud to report that this isn’t uncommon.  People often give me a “thank you” shout out on their way out the door, and it’s a fabulous farewell until we meet to workout together again.

But this thank you was different.  This wonderful woman, who always comes into the studio with a smile on her face, stopped for a minute after class to tell me how much she appreciates  that I squeeze a tough workout into a 30-minute class and that I change things up all the time.  It meant so much to me that she took the time to let me know.  And it means the world to me to know that those 30 minutes make a difference.

Ultimately, I appreciate that she comes to class–that she finds time in her busy schedule to make it to the gym.  I am happy to see everyone who comes to class and exercises. Thank goodness for all of the people doing something good for themselves by moving their bodies!   One of my coworkers came to Body Pump for the first time not long ago, and she complained of sore muscles for three days afterward.  Unpleasant?  Sure.  But my hope is that she will quickly start to see the very pleasant benefits of her hard work and will get hooked on the exercise.  She took a chance on coming to my class, and I know it wasn’t a small deal, but I suspect she may even have had some fun!

So, you can bet I’ll be bugging my coworker to come back for Body Pump-round 2, and I can promise everyone in my morning classes that I’ll be working on new moves to challenge them in that quick half hour we have before the rest of the day takes over.

I had a new experience last Friday night.  My friend Carolyn had organized a small group for drinks and snacks—a fun weekend gathering.  When I met up with everyone, I found Carolyn’s friends and colleagues as charming and interesting as usual, and we all quickly started chatting.  As can happen when a table full of medical professionals, gym instructors and fitness-conscious individuals come together, the conversation turned to recent news of obesity epidemics and health concerns.  There was much discussion over the high percentage of Americans who are obese, about the enormous portions served in American restaurants, and about the lack of pedestrian-friendly cities in the U.S.

It was at this point in the conversation that I realized I was one of only two Americans at the table, and I had the unique opportunity to hear the observations of my acquaintances from Singapore, Greece, and Morocco.  One of the women noted how accustomed she has become to her large coffee with cream and Splenda each morning.  Now, when she visits her home country, she is surprised by the tiny coffee cups and notices the normal servings of everything from coffee to dinner entrees in Morocco seem small compared to the average in the U.S.  I really could not refute any of the negative commentary about Americans’ eating habits, because the observations were scarily true about the enormous frozen coffee drinks packed with sugar, the gigantic platters of nachos and fried finger food for appetizers, and desserts large enough to satisfy the entire group seated around our table.  Of course the problem is, because we are so used to the more-is-better portions, we are often not satisfied with less, or smaller, or what is actually appropriate.  None of this is news, but it struck me anew when told from a different perspective.

I began feeling a little depressed, honestly.  I felt proud knowing that the two American representatives in this wonderful mix of nationalities were both healthy, fit examples of people who enjoy life in moderation.  But I suddenly felt weighed down by the huge task in front of us as a nation of food-lovers.  I realized again the long road ahead of many people who join the gym after years of over-indulging.  It’s a lot of work to get back in shape, and it’s even harder work to shed pounds and change long-standing habits.  But we need to do it.  It’s important and, though it can definitely be made more fun with fabulous music and a motivated group of fellow exercisers in the studio, we do all need to get to work!

On this day I am grateful to my mother who always served colorful meals with lots of fruits and veggies (on small dinner plates), who locked us out of the house and told us to run around in the yard as children, and who recently put herself through rigorous fitness testing so she can improve her health.  I have learned from the best!

A few weeks ago I got an email from one of my former students.  Mary was not one of my group fitness students from the gym, she was one of my wonderful ninth graders when I taught high school in Minnesota.  Of course, Mary is grown up now.  And she was sending me an email to announce that she has just completed her group exercise instructor certification.  I am thrilled!

I was bursting with pride reading that this beautiful, intelligent young woman is well and wants to help others be well, too.  Mary will always live in my teacher memory as a bright and energetic student who could improve my day just by walking through the classroom door.  I was more than happy to oblige her email request for teaching tips.  In fact, I sent her everything I could find in my teaching files about water aerobics routines and technique.

This summer, Mary will teach water aerobics at the community pool in her hometown, the same town where she was once my English student and where I also once taught water aerobics during summer vacation.  Mary will do a fantastic job, I have no doubt.  I’m just so excited for her to begin teaching group fitness, as I’m excited for the lucky gals who will get to take her classes.

If I had one little tiny bit to do with this, I’m absolutely delighted.  But Mary has always believed in leading a healthy lifestyle and, in the end, there is another fit person out there helping others to get fitter.  Plus, I think Mary is really going to have fun sharing her love of exercise with others.  It’s a good day for everyone.

I was totally spoiled at the recent Healthworks Blogger Bash.  What a party!  I finally got to meet some of the other bloggers, and some lovely women who have been hiding out in the back of my classes.  We were all treated to cocktails at Alibi.  I was good though, and got myself home by 10 p.m. to rest up for my early-morning classes at the Back Bay HW the next morning.  Fitness Flashback and Body Express were even better this time because I wore my brand new sports bra, courtesy of NUX and my blogger swag bag.  What’s better than new socks?  New sports bras, of course!

I have to say, I was daunted by the pale pink color of the sports bra I was given, since I’m sort of an always-feels-safer-in-black kinda gal.  But there was just enough black piping around the edges to make me feel at home.  The luxe-but-stretchy fabric definitely didn’t hurt either.  I was lookin’ pretty darn good for 6:30 in the morning, and I felt great (as in fully supported) as we started our jumping jacks and 80′s style jogs and arm combo patterns.

This morning’s line-up: a little Kenny Loggins, a little Pat Benatar, a little Starship.  Outstanding way to start the weekend!  I was pretty in pink, feeling like a goddess — even if I was sweating like a banshee.   You can bet this new NUX sports bra will automatically be in the weekly workout wear rotation, right to the top of the pile.

- Sarah

This morning as my bus crossed Mass Ave Bridge, I was heartened to see so many people walking and biking.  I usually listen to NPR on my iPod radio or read Newsweek during my commute, but I always look up as we cross the Charles River and take in the view of my adopted city through the windows of the No. 1 bus.

Boston is vastly different from my Midwestern hometown in many ways, but one of the reasons I chose to move to Boston was so I could live in a place where I do not have to drive or own a car.  Walking is my favorite mode of transportation, and spring weather reminds me how much I love using my feet to get from Point A to Point B.

In Minnesota I drove everywhere, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the world’s best driver!  However, every friend in Minnesota has a driveway or free street parking, all stores have parking lots, and many businesses even have drive-through windows so you don’t even have to get out of your car at all to order coffee, do your banking, pick up dry-cleaning, or return DVDs.  One summer when I was in a car accident that crunched my little red Chevy, I was determined to bike or walk everywhere while my car was repaired.  This goal proved nearly impossible in a city built for driving.  And it was kind of ridiculous that I spent an hour walking to teach an aerobics class and then an hour walking all the way back because I had to go very much out of my way to avoid the highway overpass standing between the gym and my apartment.

I hope I never take for granted the walk-ability of Boston.  My favorite restaurants are all within a 20-minute walk from my apartment, I can speed-walk to the Back Bay Healthworks in 10 minutes and, if I want to see whether there are any Boston Ballet tickets for the Sunday afternoon performance, I can walk to the Opera House, too.  I have had to transition my shoe collection from stilettos and fiercely-pointed toes over to flats and rounder wedges for safety reasons but, when the sun comes out and it’s warm enough for flip-flops and tank tops, it thrills me to see how many Bostonians do the city walk.  Of course, this morning I watched them from my bus seat, but I know that if I want to walk to work in the morning, I can.  It takes an hour, and it’s hard to do on the days I carry a gym bag (which is pretty much every day).  But I’m in great company when I commute to work on foot.  Walking will always be better than my rural commute on a two-lane highway, going 20 mph, stuck behind a John Deere tractor.

So tie on those sneakers and walk to your next destination.  Just watch out for the cobblestones!

I love push-ups.  I would never think of them as punishment.  But recently I reconsidered.  I considered making the girl with the cell phone do push-ups for interrupting my class—and for interrupting everyone else’s workout.

It’s not like I haven’t seen this before.  We all see it all the time—everywhere, including the gym.  In the studio I’ve heard cell phones ring out over the music, seen people slide phones under their benches just before class begins, and noticed the flashing light of a phone vibrating in the corner.  All incidents are pesky but still less troubling than the girl a few weeks ago who was still talking on her phone as she walked into class five minutes late and who continued talking on her phone as she gathered the necessary equipment.  Not until about 10 minutes into class, once she had set everything up, did she end her call.  If I had it to do over, I would say something to her, but at the time I didn’t want to rudely call out her rudeness!  Plus, I generally think, “We’re all adults here.  People know they can’t talk on the phone during a class, don’t they?”

More recently, I’ve noticed during the brief breaks when I direct everyone to grab water or to switch equipment, there are women checking cell phones and responding to messages mid-workout.  Perhaps I am an extremely unimportant person, but I have never gotten a text message that couldn’t wait until I was done working out.

Naturally this lack of etiquette is upsetting because I find it hard to concentrate on teaching when I am sidetracked by a cell phone.  Not only that, I put time and thought into preparing for class and, while it’s an open fitness forum, talking or texting on a cell phone during my class is simply inconsiderate.

But the most disturbing part of this cell phone discourtesy, is that these women are letting their workouts be interrupted.  Your workout should be for YOU.  It should be your time free from distraction.  It’s a time to de-stress and do something good for your body.  Reserve your workout to focus on yourself and your own health.  And guard it fiercely!

When you walk into the gym or into the studio for class, I encourage you to let everything go for that brief time.  There are a lot of important things out there for us to worry about, but doesn’t our health take priority?

- Sarah

Twice in the past week, I have heard from women at the gym that coming to group exercise class has kept them going, not just physically but emotionally or spiritually.  These admissions absolutely floor me every time and I think, “Oh yeah, it’s not just about the muscles and the calorie-burning.”

It is always a DUH moment for me.   “Hello, Sarah, there is a bigger picture!”  But I am still always amazed and truly humbled to hear from my class members that exercising with other women helps them heal a broken heart, or that looking forward to a class each week keeps them afloat through illness and recovery.  First of all, I never know what to say.  When I taught ninth graders,  I always knew what to say to my young students in such moments.   But with the awe-inspiring women in my classes, I am dumbfounded.  It’s like “5-6-7-8″ or “squeeze your glutes” are suddenly the only words in my vocabulary.  I feel safe behind the microphone or, strangely,  standing in front of the class.  But I’m speechless, powerless,  when faced with someone who feels pain that is not from too many reps or too much weight.

Second, I feel overwhelmed by the sense that I might actually be an important part of someone’s experience.  Sure, I know that providing exercise opportunities for fellow women is really important.  But I have trouble thinking about what other significance a step class might have because I become weighed down with the feeling that I must be more than just the leader of a set of push-ups.  I’m not trying to have illusions of grandeur here — just absorbing the fact that when we step into a studio to sweat and strive together, we become connected.  Sure, you may put your equipment in the corner and try to hide in the back of the room, but you are part of the class.  You are part of something someone else in that room needs — a team, a support group, a network.

So I take a deep breath and overcome my fear because I realize the big picture is just that–that we women are there for each other, as a group fitness class getting our cardio on, as a web of gym members cheering each other on, not just through weight-loss and strength-training but through life, love and loss in general.  Instead of fretting over the burden, I should embrace the ability to be there for someone, knowing that looking out at each of the women in each of my classes every time I teach most certainly heartens me more than I can express.

When we workout in a group, we get more than just the workout, we get each other, too.

- Sarah

I had a meltdown in the middle of my class last night.  It was awful.

We were nearly halfway through an hour of step aerobics, and my choreography completely fell apart.  I was trying to lead the class through one of the same combinations we had done the week before – a really tricky combo, but a really fun one many had mastered the first time but which warranted another go-round.  However, no matter how much I tried, I just could not get it to work.  We were off the beat.  We had extra counts left at the end of the combo.  I was getting those confused, frustrated looks … I was ruining their workout!   I wanted to give up.  Right there in the middle of the studio, I just wanted to sit on my bench and cry like a little girl who flops down on the floor in the middle of the grocery store and wails an embarrassing tantrum.

Obviously I can’t quit in the middle of class.  I know that.  If you’re standing in front of a crowd giving a speech and your mind goes blank, you might be able to stand there for a few seconds gathering yourself, but eventually you have to go on.  I couldn’t just stand there in step class trying to get a grip.  I had to keep everyone moving.  The music was still playing and hearts still thumping.  I made them march and do jumping jacks and go back to the warm-up combo to keep them sweating while I mentally regrouped.

I’ve been teaching group fitness for nearly ten years, and it’s been a long time since I had a total brain block like I had last night.  I felt horrible!  Every Monday, I can’t wait for step class.  It is pure step: five 32-count combos built into one 60-minute workout.  I change it every week, and I love it every time.  Maybe I put too much emphasis on fancy moves and not enough on the exercise—back to the drawing board for next class.

I always tell the women in my classes that they can’t give up.  They have to keep coming to the gym.  They have to keep trying.  Last night it was the women in my class who kept me going and who reminded me that, even if I have a meltdown, they still got a great workout.  Whew!  So I might lose a little sleep about it, perfectionist that I am, but I’ll be back next week.  We have to keep going back.

- Sarah

I had to go to the dentist this week: Ick.  Of course I love how squeaky clean my teeth feel after my appointment, but the dread leading up to my visit and the potential pain which can occur during the visit always seem to detract from the positive outcome I will eventually enjoy.  And now that I’m thirty, my gums have decided to revolt.  No matter how much I try to be a good little flosser, and no matter how well I follow the periodontist’s directions, I can’t seem to get my hygienist to give me an ‘A’ (other than for effort) grade at my appointments.

This kind of frustration is something I’ve heard women express about their gym experience.  They feel like they do the right thing by going to the gym and watching their diets, but they just don’t see the results they were expecting.  When working out feels like a chore, it is that much more frustrating when the benefits fail to appear.  I know people give up for this very reason – they have very little time to exercise, it’s not enjoyable, and they don’t see any change – so they quit.  When I’m tired, and all I want to do is go to sleep, the last thing I want to do is spend ten minutes going through my gum-care regimen.   But I have kept at it.  I am determined that next time I go to the dentist, they will give me a gold star and, even better, I’ll have a healthier smile.

It’s the same with the gym.  I know it’s not always fun, and the results may not be immediately visible, but good things ARE happening.  Our bodies are getting healthier and stronger.  There are hidden benefits, and it’s only a matter of time before they show.  Plus, I always say, if your workout isn’t fun, come to a class – we’ll make it fun.  I’ll smile all the way through class with my clean white teeth!

-Sarah

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