Musings on Life, Love and Leftovers

Archive for the tag “exercise”

More Payne, More Gain

I used to be a couch potato, hoping that fitness was just a fad. Convinced that I looked good in double-digit jeans, I became expert at finding clothes labeled relaxed fit, tummy control and instantly slimming. By the end of each day, my energy was so low that I nodded off during Jeopardy!

Things started turning around, though, after my doctor made it clear that maintaining my current out-of-shape shape wasn’t a viable health strategy. During my annual check-up, I listened as he lectured about the importance of a regular fitness plan. And, he said, it had to include weight-bearing exercises to strengthen my bones. My gelatinous thighs and giggly-under arms moved in agreement. I got the message: this PE delinquent needed to get serious about exercise.

A researcher by profession, I’d toyed with the concept of exercising before. I talked to friends, gathered flyers, read brochures and considered class schedules. Pinned on my bulletin board was a two-year-old e-mail reply from the local Y to my inquiry about yoga classes.

When I got home after my check-up, I pulled out my research and sifted through the many choices, times and locations. My eyes were drawn to: Step & Sculpt: This fun and high-energy class combines easy to follow step aerobics with strength conditioning. Perfect to slim and tone all over. P. Payne, instructor.

I thought about last time I’d worked out on a step, nearly two decades ago. My youngest son Seth, attended Tiny Tots program, laptops were where you put your napkin and no one I knew got their coffee from a barista. Only our parakeet tweeted. And I had more energy, my clothes fit better and I felt good about myself.

So, it seemed that this twice-a-week step aerobics class at City Recreation Center offered everything I needed, and it was only 55 minutes long. Could be my on-ramp to the fitness freeway? Out of excuses, I sucked in my stomach, grabbed my sneakers and water bottle, crossed my fingers and signed up.

On the first day of class, I left my half-finished mocha and the morning newspaper unread to arrive on time. Still not sure that I’d made the right decision, I secured a spot in the back of the room, near the door for a quick escape. After a few warm-up stretches, I blended in — just another gal in a group of 20- to 60-somethings, trying to remember her right foot from her left. The music boomed hits from the ’70s, ’80s, ‘90s and beyond. Patricia, our instructor yelled out cues: March Right, Alternate Hamstring Curl, “L Step”. It took a few minutes, but the choreography came back to me. I was stepping, kicking and lifting in lockstep with everyone else; firing up muscles that hadn’t been used this century. My heart rate quickened with every Grapevine to the Right and Three-knee Repeater, she commanded.shutterstock_281837396

Weeks went by. We gals — sweating our way through whatever exercise-set-to-music routine this physical-fitness powder keg threw at us — bonded in our common goal. Patricia showed no mercy to our muscles. Triceps, biceps, abs, quads, it didn’t matter. She angered them all. And then, after 40 minutes of aerobics, the real workout began. She brought out exercise balls, resistance bands and hand weights – medieval torture devices designed to push us to the next level. Lunges, curls, crunches, push ups — she mastered them all and for some crazy reason, she thought we could, too.

Patricia motivated, challenged and cajoled each of us to work harder. So it wasn’t surprising that, after several weeks, I saw progress – definition returned to my upper arms, my thighs didn’t keep moving after the rest of me had stopped and I’d overcome my need for an afternoon nap. Excited to share my good news, I stayed after class to tell her. I wanted Patricia to know that it was her sincere words of encouragement that kept me off the couch and on the gym floor.

“I’m getting a lot from your class,” I said, my quads still burning after a particularly strenuous set of squats. “After the first couple of classes, I didn’t know if I’d make it or not. But I’m glad I hung in there. I feel stronger and things aren’t as jiggly as they were.”

She smiled. “I knew you could do it. Just keep it up and you’ll be back in shape by summer.”

I nodded, not wanting to entertain the thought of swimsuits just yet. “But I have to confess that I almost didn’t sign-up for your class. I was worried about taking an aerobics class instructed by someone named Payne,” I said, chuckling at my own joke.

She stuffed her towel in her workout bag and turned back to me. “Good thing you didn’t know that my maiden name is Moore.”




Walk It Off

It started with nibbling leftover Halloween candy — my two months of over-indulgence. Almond-cranberry stuffing, artichoke dip and a two-pound box of See’s candy (nuts and chews) combined forces to put me where I am today — toting those infamous seven pounds that many of us are supposed to gain during the holiday season.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself during the eight weeks of tasting the fruits of the holidays – or at least the fruit-flavors of the holidays. Even though I wasn’t curling up with a bowl of strawberries or a plate of celery, I did learn a few things. For example, did you know that there are 1,050 fat-free calories in a 9.5-oz box of Hot Tamales? Me neither. I found out the hard way when my usually forgiving relax-fit jeans refused to zip up and the numbers on my digital scale boldly climbed to where they’ve never gone before.

The good news is that my heavy-weight predicament is temporary. I can alter the stretch of my waistline by going back to my tried-and-true weight-maintenance techniques. That and I’d have to knock off eating snickerdoodles for breakfast. All it will take is trading that slice of French apple pie for an apple, skipping the late-night hot toddy and getting back to my two-mile walking routine. No problem. My brain understands. I just have to convince the rest of my body.

I dig out my sneakers from the back of the closet. They are hiding under a pair of fuzzy reindeer slippers and my rhinestone-studded black satin heels. With a couple swipes of a dust cloth, they’re ready to go. shutterstock_226560094

I grab my iPod, a house key, my cell phone and head for the door. Earbud in each ear, I take a deep breath and set out on a familiar loop around my neighborhood — past the 7-Eleven, through the jogging trail, around the middle school and back up the hill toward home.

Within a few steps, my pace slips easily into sync with Chaka Kahn singing “I’m Every Woman.” Her voice gives me a mantra of encouragement. I lengthen my stride. McFadden and Whitehead are next on my playlist booming “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” With every step I can feel the calories burn. Ah, there goes that extra helping green bean casserole. Aretha belts out some R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I nod to another walker headed in the opposite direction. Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten,” and Chic’s “Good Times” energize my trek. For a moment I consider breaking into a jog. I can feel the healthy benefits of this cardiovascular workout. My heart rate is skyrocketing! The pounds are melting off. All those tips I learned from walking guru Leslie Sansone are paying off.

I keep the pace up for another song or two and then reality sets in. I’m taking deeper breaths. My calf muscles are screaming. My sneakers feel tight. My mouth is dry and my thighs are burning. Why didn’t I push myself away from the table before seconds were served? I curse the sweet treats I ate over the holidays. Denise’s baklava, Sue’s Butterballs and Sadye’s pistachio nutroll aren’t worth the roll they’ve added to my waist.

My vision of fitting into my skinny jeans fades. I daydream of retreating to my couch potato state. What was I thinking? I haven’t exercised since TV’s fall season premier week. My legs start to betray me. Annoyed with my shoddy fitness level, I switch my playlist to slower songs — Fontella Bass’s “Rescue Me” and “Born to Lose” by Ray Charles. My gait slows to a canter and then a stroll. As I meander past house after house longing to be home, I notice my heart rate bottom out. The powerful, energizing PUMP-PUMP-PUMP I felt pounding in my chest is reduced to a scant thump-thump-thump. I text my son, Seth, to see if he’ll pick me up. But before I push send, I re-think idea. I’ll never hear the end of having to be driven home when I was less than five blocks away—even if they’re all uphill.

Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World” slowly spurs me on. I find new inspiration. I smile at seeing the street sign signaling that my block is just moments away. I switch my player to hear Gloria Gaynor proclaim “I Will Survive” and make the final turn toward my cul-de-sac. Persistence pays off. I’ve won the battle. Just two more minutes and I can sit on our brick wall in my front yard and catch my breath.

Later, after slurping down a glass of cold water, I realize that the walk wasn’t so bad after all. Being outside in the sunshine, breathing fresh air and enjoying nature was just what I needed. A few more outings like this and I’ll be back in shape in plenty time to feast on Valentine’s Day chocolates.

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