Can you pat your head and rub your belly? Really? I can't. I struggle with any physical regime that involves that level of coordination. Yet, over the last six months I've started doing Les Mills exersize classes. Why? I sometimes ask myself the same question. And as at 12:01 on the first of this month, half the western world vowed to lose weight and get fitter, my guess is that you are asking yourself too. I have therefore decided to give you the benefit of my advice. However, before we begin, I think its fitting to share a little of my personal exercise history.
As a migrant child my parents made sure I experienced every possible sporting activity. See, they'd tell the relatives in letters and phone calls, she's doing gymnastics and horse riding, along with Judo, netball, little athletics, sailing, swimming, golf, softball, and dance lessons. The list goes on folks but truth is, I wasn't that good at sports. Neither did I like them. I certainly didn't care whether my team won or lost. At least not enough to put myself through pain.
Once I'd had this epiphany, I gave up all pretense of being sporty. But, sadly, I couldn't ignore the fact that some exersize was good for me. In my first year of university, I remember lamenting this fact with another sports loathing friend. And as this was the 1980's, my friend and I decided to buy matching, electric blue leotards, and give aerobics a go.
A few years later when Andrew and I moved to Melbourne, I realised some attempt at exersize was still required. I went back to aerobics but with two pre-school children, it was a major logistical exersize and, to be honest, prancing around at the back of the class, I was always three steps behind. In fact, looking back, that was a terrible time in my life. Young, broke and in a strange new city without the support of old friends and family, those aerobics classes were a lonesome experience. No one talked to me. Skinny and tanned, the women of Nunawading arrived in laughing groups, wore expensive gym gear, and went out for coffee afterwards (a possibly jaundiced view of the situation). No one, I repeat, no one wore a faded, electric blue leotard. Over the years I've tried many exercise regimes – Curves, walking, jogging, swimming and finally the weight room experience. And truth is, I've hated all of them. But none as much as those Nunawading aerobics classes.
When we moved to Coburg, one of the first things Andrew and I did was join the Coburg Leisure Centre (his priority not mine). I pursued my usual lack-lustre level of fitness until the complimentary personal training session. The trainer suggested I might like to try some group exersize classes, you know, to change things up a bit. I nodded, trying to look non-committal and muttered something about working to my own schedule.
But deep down, in the chambers of my heart, I'd vowed never to do a group-exersize-to-music class again.
Then my children started doing classes. This is one of the worst things about having adult children. They won't let you stagnate. They said, it's only an hour Mum and you work every part of your body. They said, it's the best thing to do if your naturally lazy because the trainers really push you. They said, you don't need to be very coordinated, you might even enjoy it. Why not give it a try?
I started skulking round outside the Coburg Leisure Centre group exercise room. People appeared happy, in a tortured, sweaty, why-am-I-doing-this kind of way. And, there were all sorts of people in there. Ones that followed every step perfectly, others that bounced around like Raggedy Anne dolls, whippet thin girls who could lift the weight of small tractors, portly men who danced through Attack like pixies, a range of assorted body types, cheap shorts and leggings, even a girl with a Guide dog. I thought, if she could follow, maybe I could too.
I went to my first Pump class with my son, Jack, in Canberra. The girl at the front was the skinniest, cheeriest Kiwi with the strongest accent I have ever encountered and by the end of the class I was doing a fairly good impression of a jelly-fish, but I decided it was worth a second try. Once back in Coburg, I added Body Step to my repertoire. Eugene the instructor told me I would feel completely uncoordinated for the first six to eight classes. Six, to eight? In my case that was unrealistic. I doubled the number and made a pact with myself. I wasn't allowed to quit Step until I'd done at least twelve sessions. After that, if I still hated it, I could walk away guilt free.
Six months later, I'm still going to Step, Pump and, sometimes Attack classes. I can't stand, hand on my heart and say that I love them and I'm still not very coordinated but I do feel a hundred percent better for the exersize, and sometimes, now and again, I experience a nano-second of enjoyment. As you will too my dear, new-year's-resolution-making friend, if you heed my advice. And that I think is my segue. Here it is folks, without any further ado, my fail-safe guide to surviving Les Mills group exercise classes.
- choose a good community gym
- make a pact with yourself
- Be realistic (you may not be the best in the class)
- don't wriggle out of it
- try a range of classes
- then choose time slots and turn up regularly
- never stand at the front of the class (if you are anything like me you won't be able to follow the instructor's back to front movements)
- stand behind someone who knows what they are doing and copy them
- take courage from other people's mistakes – even the best make them
- don't worry if you can't do all the fancy foot work, just smile and keep moving
- never, I say, never look in the mirror – keep your eyes on the person in front and pretend you're grooving just like them
- enjoy the music – I don't listen to a great range of music but, sometimes, when I'm flapping around the room to Pink's, You gotta get up and try try try, I feel, well, almost modern
- And finally, for God's sake, throw away your 1980's leotard if you want people to talk to you
PS. I saw on Facebook the other week that my 1980's sports loathing friend recently did a fourteen kilometre run with her daughter. I'd like to think my early influence had something to do with this achievement. But we both know that's rubbish. And as like me, she's pushing fifty, I can only suppose she is pursuing a healthier, fitter ageing process.