“Everyone Has a First Class”: One Casual Gym-Goer’s Search for Her Workout Soulmate

updated May 3, 2019
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Hello and welcome to the new year. Let’s talk fitness. Particularly, fitness and resolutions. This year I hit the ground running (lol. But also no, that’s too high impact) by trying out four different types of fitness classes. I wanted to actually find something new that I could maybe stick with for the whole of 2017 and there’s nothing like a New Year’s resolution to push you past the “first class jitters”.

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A little background: Last year, I vowed to get in shape. I hemmed and hawed over what might be the best exercise and how I could do it for as little money as possible until finally, Beyoncé dropped Formation in February and I joined a dang gym. My 2016 routine was basically one mat Pilates class a week and some casual time on the elliptical about 2-3 times a week. After a December of parties, work madness and finals (shout out to my grad school weight gain!) I was basically starting January from square one.

It’s also important to note that I hate exercising publicly. I’ve carried a lot of middle school gym-class shame with me well into adulthood and the idea of being too slow or too uncoordinated or too large in front of people is a very real fear and why I’ve always stuck to classes that were pretty low key. And I know, if you have any of the same fitness fear that I did (and do), that reading this will not be an instant fix. But just showing up, trying something out and learning that maybe it’s not for you (or maybe it is for you but you need it at a slower speed) is all valuable.

Okay! Enough navel gazing and emotional vulnerability, let’s critique some classes!

Dance Fitness

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The beginning of the year found me in my hometown of Chicago and (at my good friend Becca’s suggestion) at something called Ballerina Fight Club. The studio is in a gorgeous old building, everyone was super friendly and the class kicked my ass. Earlier that day over Korean BBQ (HUGE MISTAKE) I asked Becca if the class was hard and if we would get particularly sweaty, and she said no. Either Becca is a liar or she blocked most of this class out of her memory so she could gather the will to go again, both are totally within the realm of possibility.

Anyway, you shadow box and dance and do things like super fast planks. It’s an intense aerobic exercise that requires a lot of coordination and speed and agility, but you know what? I didn’t hate it. I wish someone in my life had taught me how to make a fist at some point so I didn’t look like such a dweeb, but I never wanted to quit. I think the energy of the teacher, her reminder that you can and should take a break when you need it, and the excellent music made it enjoyable while it was really, really hard. I was crazy sore but I had a great time.

Would I Go Back?: Yes. If I lived in Chicago, I’d hit this up two times a week and become a great dancer who could fight you by the dawn of 2018.

You Should Go To This If: You like Zumba but wish it were harder and you could pretend you were in a training montage but to really good music. Also if you like sweating.

Beyoncé Songs Heard: A remix of Hold Up

Time Needed to Sweat My Glasses Off My Face: 20 minutes

I found myself back at Mazi a few days later to check out B-Girl Hip-Hop. Once again my good friend and known liar, Becca, came with me. She promised that this class was nowhere near as hard as the other one and—surprise surprise—she was telling the truth. The class was at a much slower speed and not a single plank was involved. It was a fun, low key class with a killer arms workout.

Would I Go Back: Yes, but I feel like I’d have to find another, more intense class to balance it with.

You Should Go To This iIf: You like Zumba but wish the moves were a little more… hip?

Beyoncé Songs Heard: None. I was furious.

Time Needed to Sweat My Glasses Off My Face: 30 minutes


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I’ve taken mat Pilates at my gym, and I love it, but there is a difference between a class of 30 people and a class of four. Since I’m basically Joseph Pilates II by now, I decided to add in a fitness challenge I thought I’d never tackle: waking up early. There was a noticeable and positive difference in the class: we used weights and blocks, my postures were corrected, and we spent more time in each series. It was a mix of challenging and restorative and I learned a lot about the incorrect postures I had learned. The first day I went, I wanted to go to bed at 2pm but day two actually gave me a good foundation of energy for the day.

Would I Go Back: Yes, if I develop the kind of responsible sleep patterns that allow for 5:45 wake ups.

You Should Go To This If: You are a morning person who wants to build lean muscle.

Beyoncé Songs Heard: None. Zero songs heard, but still an affront.

Time Needed to Sweat My Glasses Off My Face: N/A. The least sweaty event of this post!


(Image credit: Netflix)

Somehow I’ve made it this far in my bougie-ish life without going to a spin class. It always seemed so hard and so intense and like the kind of place where I would faint. After hearing countless things about SoulCycle—both positive and negative—I decided that now was the time. My greatest fears of SoulCycle did not come true; there were no models looking at me ruefully, I didn’t faint or hit my head on the handlebars, and they had cycling shoes in my size (I wear a 12! It’s a valid concern!).

Initially, however, I found being clipped in to a bike in the dark with very loud music kind of unsettling. I enjoyed it, and everyone was incredibly nice; it’s easy to see why the culture is so appealing. Numerous folks asked me how my first ride was and I had a flash forward of myself with beautiful calves and a ton of new friends. Also the instructor told us that we should reward ourselves for our hard work and treat ourselves to a nice meal, so I bought a bag of Combos from CVS so I’m not perfect yet. It’s hard to snark on it, and I think that’s the biggest surprise of all.

My Gym

Gym cycling was definitely less of an experience. Nobody helped me figure out my bike set up, the music was a little less trendy (we cooled down to Sweet Home Alabama), but the actual exercise I have fallen in love with. I have to take it easy on my knees and this was super gentle, but I felt a burn in my thighs and worked up a sweat. The lower lights make it a more private experience, but the option to yell and whoop is there if you want to feel part of the group. There’s something for everyone!

Would I Go Back: Absolutely! I have! This blog post could be a major turning point in my life!

You Should Go To This If: You want a more rigorous workout but are kind of shy. Also if you’re tired of making your own workout playlists.

Beyoncé Songs Heard: None. Not at SoulCycle, not at my gym. They probably don’t want us to get too hyped.

Time Needed to Sweat My Glasses Off My Face: Didn’t even bother wearing them. I’ve gotten smarter about this whole thing (but also couldn’t tell you what my instructors look like).

Weights Class

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This class brought to life my fitness nightmare. I showed up late and had to stand in the front, I didn’t know where to get weights, I didn’t know how to put the weights on the bar and it was really hard. But thankfully, a guardian fitness angel appeared unto me and said, “there are more weights upstairs” and she taught me how to set up a body bar, and where to find my steps. It made a huge difference and put me back in the right mindset.

“The things that always kept me away from harder workout classes actually happened and I didn’t turn into a puddle of sweat shame on the floor.”

While I was in the class, I loved it. I loved how challenging it was and that I was working out new muscles. We did squats, we did lunges on a step, we lifted weights all over the place. But I was in pain the next day. So much so that I was supposed to do it again and I couldn’t. I know it came from me focusing more on keeping up rather than thinking about my form and alignment and all the things you have to think about when you’re new to working out. I think I will go back, but I need to take some time on my own to work on it some more. But the things that always kept me away from harder workout classes actually happened and I didn’t turn into a puddle of sweat shame on the floor. Also I listened to my body and didn’t push too hard.

Would I Go Back: Eventually. If I can get the core exercises in my muscle memory.

You Should Go To This If: You lift weights and squat on your own and want something high intensity.

Beyoncé Songs Heard: None. Is this a conspiracy?

Time Needed to Sweat My Glasses Off My Face: 10 minutes! We did jumping jacks so that didn’t help.

What started off as a fun New Year’s experiment led me to my workout routine soulmate and I couldn’t be happier. This shouldn’t need saying, but I didn’t believe it at first: people are nice and they want you to succeed. As my fitness angel said, “everyone has their first class.” So try some stuff out, mix in things you know you can do with things that are a challenge, be generous to yourself and if you have to pick up a drugstore treat on your walk home, so be it.