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I have a confession to make.  Fitness Flashback is my favorite class. 

Healthworks just put this class on the schedule in January, but it has quickly become something I look forward to every Sunday morning.  Toward the end of the week, I begin pondering which songs I want to use for class, and on Saturdays I comb through my music library to create a playlist.  Most often I find great oldies in my own collection, but sometimes I go shopping in search of other classics to add in the mix. One of the wonderfully energetic and generous members who takes my classes in Brookline surprised me with an iTunes gift card for the holidays, and I spent the entire amount on Flashback music.  It was the perfect gift!

The next step involves kitchen dancing.  I already have fun routines made up to my favorite songs, and I’ve inherited fabulous choreography from instructors I teamed with in the past.  But other songs require creative be-bopping in the small space between my dinner table and refrigerator.  Whether I decide on a mambo, grapevine, pony or some kind of shimmy-shake, the moves have to fit the music so the exercise feels like dancing instead of working.  I’m sure any neighbors whose windows face mine probably think I’m crazy hopping around next to my stove, but I’m willing to risk the scrutiny.

Final preparation is my walk to the gym, when I listen to my iPod and dance the workout in my head.  I am always excited to surprise the class with a new song (well, old song we haven’t heard in a while) and a goofy move that will make us all laugh as we burn calories and pump our hearts.

Never tried it?  Put on “Johnny Be Good,” play the guitar on your leg and hop backwards, shaking your head like a fool.  Then come to Fitness Flashback and do it with everybody in class!

– Sarah

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It’s been hectic lately, and I haven’t been at a hundred percent this week.  I’m still dragging from a weekend conference which was, while absolutely fun, totally exhausting.  My muscles are stiff and I have a scratchy throat that I hope is only from teaching without a microphone and not a sign of impending illness.

But I do not write today to vent or complain.  I write today to say that YOU are the reason I’ve been able to get through this week.  Each time I’ve gone to the gym to teach a class, you’ve walked through those studio doors smiling, asking what we’re going to do for our workout or what music I’ll be playing.  You tell me how thrilled you are about your legs feeling stronger or your injury getting better.  You ask a meaningful question that shows me your workout means something to you. 

You give your full effort through squats and jumping jacks and complicated choreography, and you impress me with your endurance—with your drive to improve.  You keep me going when I want to stop or when my legs start to feel like giant jello-y puddles.  I take pride in knowing my job is to motivate you, but it heartens me incredibly to feel that inspiration from you.  If I were a set of dumbbells, today you would be lifting me up.

Thank you.
-Sarah

Last weekend I spent a few days visiting my dad in North Carolina.  I enjoyed some much needed rest, since the words “stress” and “busy” aren’t even part of my dad’s vocabulary.  Over four glorious days, the only items on my agenda were walking the dog, watching the Olympics, reading the newspaper, and sitting down for meals with family. 

As much as I love challenging workouts at the gym, I have learned that my body also needs periods of recovery.  This knowledge, however, has come over time.  In the past I felt nervous about being away from my home gym because it meant interrupting my workout routine.  I liked the security of my regularly-scheduled fitness classes and of knowing the elliptical would be there waiting for me if I needed it.  Routine is important, but it’s not everything.

I panicked briefly this weekend when I realized a 2-mile walk around the lake with my dad and his fluffy little dog Sunny would be more about “stopping to smell the roses” than it would be about burning chocolate ice-cream calories.  Then my dad pointed to the gulls on the lake and said, “Isn’t this nice—this lake and walking trail that everyone can enjoy?”  I took a deep breath and noticed a swan on the water, appreciating the calm and the chance to recuperate from my hectic schedule.  Slowing down is necessary.  Recovery is essential.

Now I’m back in Boston and back to teaching classes with gusto!  My muscles feel rejuvenated, and I’ve had a good reminder of how much better our workouts can be if we’re well rested and refreshed at the start. 

Stretch, sleep, and be still.

– Sarah

Pumping iron in the AM

In the middle of the bicep track during Body Pump recently, I had a thought.  I was smiling out at thirty women pumping iron to rock music at six in the morning, and I wondered whether people in their lives—people they encounter outside the gym—know about their secret Body Pump life.  Do the people they work with know how good they are at push-ups?  Do their children know how they endure five minutes of squats, working their legs until they shake under the weight of the bar? It probably seems like a strange thing to wonder about.  But imagine the super hero who wears regular street clothes, walking around completely unnoticed until something requires that super-human strength be revealed to everyone’s awe and amazement!

You laugh, yet I see this in the women who take my Body Pump class.  I see how hard they work, how they wake up so early it’s still dark outside, and how they sweat through lunges and chest presses.  They grit their teeth and heave 25-pound bars over their heads.  They are tough—and determined each week to do more dips or hold a longer plank. 

 I doubt they show off their hard-earned muscles, but those toned triceps and defined deltoids are there – hiding under sweaters and business suits as these gals go about the rest of their days with energy gained from a challenging morning workout.  When strength is needed, they’ll be ready. I wish I could give them each a cape and some shiny silver boots!

– Sarah

Deb walked into basic step class for the first time one Monday night nearly five years ago when I taught in Minnesota. She had never been to a gym, and she had never taken a group fitness class.  I greeted her when she introduced herself and told me that her doctor had cleared her for exercise.  She explained that she needed to lose 100 pounds, and she would start by taking my class. When I gave Deb a quick overview of class, she nodded and looked around the studio nervously.  I pointed to where the step benches were stacked, and she said, “Well, I don’t think I can use a bench yet, but I can do the moves just with my feet—in the back of the room.  And I don’t know if I’ll make it the whole hour.”

No one had ever taken my step class without actually using the step, so I had no idea what to expect.  All I knew is that Deb’s revelation about not being able to lift her legs onto that bench made me realize the long journey she had ahead of her.  I realized Deb’s incredible bravery and her determination to make a serious change in her life. Deb’s first class was scary for me as an instructor because I worried when her face turned bright pink and when she stopped frequently to wipe her brow with the sweat towel.  But she kept her feet moving the whole time.  She completed the entire class.  I was ever so proud of someone I just met.  All she said was, “I’ll be back!”

When Deb showed up again the next week, I was thrilled.  So often, women take that first step of entering the gym, a place that can feel intimidating or awkward, and they’ve already crossed an enormous hurdle, but then something painful or embarrassing happens which prevents them from returning.  Difficult as it must have been for Deb, she kept coming back.  She kept doing step class without a bench, and she always smiled on her way out the door.  Funny enough, my mom was the instructor who took over teaching my basic step class when I moved to Boston.  Every so often, I would ask her about Deb, waiting for the day my mom would tell me she used that step bench for the very first time.

I’ve lost track of Deb since my mom retired from teaching.  But I will not forget her—how great her goal was and how much heart she put into achieving it.  Sometimes as I open the front door to the gym, I remember her and how inspired I am by the fact that she isn’t afraid to keep opening that door. 

– Sarah

There is another person I always remember when I walk into the gym to teach a class.  Fanie.  She was my childhood ballet teacher. Stephanie Valencia Kierlin might be the most graceful, most eccentric person I have ever known.  She went by the nickname Fanie (pronounced fah-NEE), always wore bright magenta lipstick, and loved dance more than anything in the world—perhaps aside from teaching children to love dance.

When I was just four years old in my pale pink leotard, I began my ten years of study with her.  Still I can picture how, in pre-ballet, we sat in a circle on the studio floor, the smell of rosin tickling our noses while we “made waffles” to stretch.  With the soles of our little ballet slippers together, the space between our opened-up knees held giant imaginary batter bowls, into which we poured the sugar and flour we had reached across our nimble bodies to grab from imaginary shelves.  Then we stirred with pretend wooden spoons as our bodies flattened out, around, and over our tiny legs in baby-pink tights, to stretch us out for class.  I think to myself, if only I can recapture that sense of playfulness in something as simple as a warm-up stretch.

I think of Fanie whenever I ask members in class to challenge their balance, or when I tell them they must point their toes.  In Body Jam, when I extend my arm and attempt a graceful pose for half a second before we hit the next shimmy or hip roll, I remember Fanie and how beautifully she moved.  How she smiled as she did.

As much as I love dancing, at a certain point when I was a teenager, I had to choose between ballet class and all of the other fun activities I wanted to join after school.  Now, at the gym, I realize I haven’t left Fanie or her ballet behind.  She sustains me in the strength and poise she taught even before I could appreciate that her lessons might help me teach others.  

Movement definitely has an emotional connection, and I wonder, what is that emotion for you?  Which movement, anything from a mambo to a bicep curl, makes you smile at yourself in the mirror?

– Sarah

I am thrilled to be writing my first blog for Healthworks, and I want to begin by addressing the issue that always comes up when I find myself in a discussion about health and fitness: yes, I do love to exercise and …. no, I am not crazy for loving it.  I actually enjoy going to the gym.  But I always have, and here’s why.

It’s nearly impossible for me to set foot in a gym without thinking of my mom.  She always made working out look like a great time.  From the time I was a little girl, sitting on the living room floor with my blocks and puzzles, Mom would be jogging, jumping, and twisting in her leotard and headband.  I wanted to have a pair of gray KangaROO sneakers (with the little zippers on the sides!) and to do jumping jacks and leg kicks just like her.

 When I was a teenager, she took me to the YWCA where she taught aerobics, when it was called “aerobics,” and step class in a studio with carpeted floors and pastel walls.  She would bop around the room, yelling over the Pointer Sisters on her mixed tape, and I would try my best to keep up. From the very beginning, working out seemed like a kind of dance party or an excuse for friends to play great music, wear their hair in ponytails, and just boogie to forget about everything else for a little while.  Of course, there are days when I would rather sit on my couch than hike all the way to the gym, but most of the time I look forward to the gym because I know there will be a group of amazing women there with sneakers on and their hair in ponytails, ready to de-stress with fun moves and maybe a few pushups.

I know I’m lucky because working out has always been a good experience for me.  I thank my mom for that.  She made it fun.  And it makes me wonder, can you remember how much fun it was just to hop up and down as a kid?  Or dance with friends? Or just change out of “grown- up” clothes into comfy sneakers and sweats?  It feels great.

 – Sarah