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While waiting in line at my health club for a fitness class to start, I asked the woman ahead of me, who had a flushed face and a sweat stain down her top: "Did you just come from the step class?"
"Yes," she answered breezily.
"And you are just about to go to another fitness class, the Super Sculpt?" I inquired tentatively.
Before I could say, "Good for you," she added: "Well, don't feel bad. I am a lot fitter than you!"
Welcome to the fitness wars being played out in gyms right now.
For a long time, I had been a conscientious objector in the battles of the buffed, but recently I became a participant.
I had been working out at the club for years in a solitary or semi-solitary fashion when it started to bother me that I hardly knew anyone there. I was lonely, and thoroughly bored with my fitness routine.
What was a woman who needed to kick up her fitness routine to do?
I looked at the array of exercise, cycle, step and yoga offerings and wondered how long it might take me to do all of the one, two, three – 93! – separately named classes in the schedule. Then I decided to actually do it.
I have now attended 89 of the club's class offerings, and am still driving toward my goal, slashing an X through each class listing with my blue marker as I go.
I have learned much about the multitude of ways that you can move, stretch and strengthen your body, and what types of people are drawn to the different exercises. They are all types of combatant units in the fitness wars.
There are the choreographed step classes with their band of dedicated followers who, not having made it on to So You Think You Can Dance Canada, (actually for all I know maybe they have), are now obsessively counting their dance steps.
For my first step class, I came early, to be prepared for the equipment set-up. The next person in was a super-skinny recruit who looked at me and said: "Are you sure you should be here? This class is hard, and you will not be able to keep up. Really, you will not get any exercise because you will just be watching."
The shot hit. Nothing fatal, just a flesh wound.
"Thanks, gosh golly, it is just so good to be here with your encouragement," I thought.
However, I told her I was not to be deterred as I was on a quest to attend all the classes on the schedule.
As this was my first skirmish, I resolved that anything she could do, I could do too. So I stayed for two step classes, first so I could put the lovely blue X on two squares, and second because I was determined to hold my battle position. Afterward, I felt bloodied but victorious.
As I continue to progress through the classes, I can now keep up with the instructors as they call out their orders.
I discovered that there is joy in bicycling through the city at 5:30 in the morning to get to a 5:45 fitness classes. When I say joy, I mean it – there is no traffic on the roads and I can just pedal like crazy to my destination.
The most fit people in the world whom I have ever seen outside of professional sports exercise at 5:45 in the morning.
I walked in late – apparently you have to wake up earlier than 5 a.m. to get to the Alpha Bravo class on time. As I walked in, people were flying all over the room. They were doing cartwheels. Cartwheels! At 6 in the morning.
The instructor, Lori, dressed in a Hello Kitty T-shirt and yoga pants, righted her lithe body from her cartwheel and shouted out a cheery greeting as I stood by the door.
Although that class is energetic, it gets you roaring to go for the rest of the day. It was one of the best fitness experiences I have ever had, and there is no waiting list to attend. Who knew?
Experiences like that inspire me to go on and continue to fight the good fight.
"I have found my people," I say to myself as I sweat. On those magical days, the instructor is welcoming, the music moves me and my fellow combatants are like a community. They are young, old, male female, fit or "not-so-much." I like them. They like me. We bond.
My quest to attend every class is ongoing. Some weeks, I am keen and I get to as many sessions as possible; other times, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
When my tour of duty is over, and my schedule is completely marked off with sweet blue X's, I will make up my own exercise program based on my experiences.
I have learned a lot from the fitness wars. I haven't shirked my duty, no matter what the time of day, type of exercise or rank-and-file participants in the class.
I have new skills, new muscles and a new group of buddies to say hi to.
And best of all, I can now identify (and duck) those opponents who tell me I really should be in the beginner step class.
Kathleen L. Wronski lives in Toronto.