Thursday, January 7, 2010

Awkwardness, thy name is Pilates

Getting out of your comfort zone is an important step in adding new elements to your workout routine. It helps you think outside the box and breath some life into your exercise schedule.

Doing the same old exercises everyday gets to be monotonous over time, and monotony is the first step toward burning yourself out when it comes to exercising.

We all fall into that trap once in awhile. I found myself stuck in that rut earlier this week, as my workout routine got into the habit of running and weightlifting, but little else. Granted, a routine is important when setting long-term fitness goals like my Grandma's Marathon proclamation. But when a routine gets boring, it's time to switch it up.

Enter free Pilates classes. The YMCA has been offering free samples of various fitness classes throughout the week and, being the curious workout enthusiast that I am, decided this was a golden opportunity to 'broaden my horizons' in a fitness sense.

I attended two classes over the course of the week. Not quite as ambitious as I would've liked in terms number of classes, but scheduling conflicts, in addition to me not wanting to wake up at 5 in the morning, conspired to keep my attendance modest. Here is how those classes went:

Tuesday: Power Pilates
I had the choice between cycling and Pilates classes to attend during my dinner break that day. I chose Pilates because it was the one I knew the least about and the one whose emphasis (core and flexibility) was most important to me for marathon training purposes. I also figured the title "Power Pilates" indicated that the class would be geared toward strength training or some other form of masculine exercising (my co-worker referred to it as "hunting" instead of Pilates). Looking back, my estimation was a little off.

I managed to talk a co-worker into attending it with me so I wouldn't feel THAT out of place (his name will be ommitted for the sake of sparing him any embarassment). But even with a familiar face, there were a couple factors that made the experience as awkward as it was strenuous:
  • The class was considered an advanced Pilates class, meaning that the exercises and positions used were meant for people that had already been through several sessions of Pilates. Combine that with the discovery that my body isn't flexible in a Pilates sense, and you can imagine how that went. I'm fairly certain that the jaws of life wouldn't have been able to make my body bend and twist to the instructor's liking. I spent most of the session just trying to get the breathing down -- a major aspect of Pilates -- rather than trying to contort myself into a pretzel shape.
  • Aside from my coworker and I, there were only two other people in attendance at the class, both of which considereable more schooled in Pilates than us. Although they were both friendly and cordial, that didn't prevent us from feeling like we were holding up their class, which is never a good feeling to have, especially when you're trying something new. The instructor was patient with us, but mindset of intrusion was hard to get past.
Despite the awkwardness. There were a few positives I took away from the class. For one thing, I learned that timing your breathing is a major factor when it comes to stretching. For another, the class gave me a few ideas for new stretches I will try to employ in my daily routine.
Lastly, the class served as an eye-opener to the notion that I'm not nearly as flexible as I need to be. I don't see Pilates becoming a regular routine for me, but I do plan on putting a bigger emphasis on stretching in the future.

Wednesday: Cycling Pilates
I'll start by saying that I've never been a big advocate of cycling classes. Call me old fashioned, but I'm too big of a fan of outdoor biking to spend much time on an exercise bike. I've always seen cycling as a means of exploring and traveling as much as it is a form of exercise. With an exercise bike, the exploring aspect of it gets taken away and you're left with a low-impact, albeit effective, form of cardio.

I'm also something of a biking hobbyist. I've gone on biking trips across the state and seen a lot of cool things with my road bike. But with exercise bikes, my most enduring memory was how I used to study for exams while riding them in college. I know they're an effective training tool, but I've never been big on using them as such.

That being said, the class still appealed to me because it was going on during my dinner break and offered me further work with Pilates. I figured at the very least, I'd meet some new people, learn some new stretches and get a solid 30 minutes of cardio in, all while getting away from work for awhile.

This class wound up being considerably less awkard for me. The cycling portion of it was pretty easy for me to get through, as I spent more time biking this summer than I'd care to admit and my body's pretty used to the cardio required for it.

Although I couldn't talk my co-worker into doing it with me -- I'm assuming he had enough with the one day of Pilates -- the other people in the class were relatively close to my age and fairly new to Pilates as well. This helped me feel a lot less out of place than the previous day. The instructor was also pretty easy going, as he was pretty conversational on the topics of running and racing -- both hobbies of mine -- and his cycling music included such '80's classics as "Funkytown" and "Come on Eileen."

It also didn't hurt that the Pilates was a lot more basic than the previous day. Rather than just focusing on the breathing, I was actually able to get some good stretching in and at least attempt most of the exercises. My flexibility was still lacking, but like Tuesday's class, it helped open me up to some different stretches I can try to work into my routine in the future.

The class wasn't without it's awkwardness. I didn't really know anybody else in the class and I was also the only guy in attendance aside from the instructor -- not exactly a booster to my masculinity. I also didn't take much out of the cycling portion of the class, as proper cycling technique and knowing how to push yourself on a hill are things that can be learned from going on bike rides regularly. It was a good workout and well instructed, but I didn't really learn anything new from it.

However, like Tuesday's class, I found the class enjoyable in spite of its awkwardness and generally just had fun stepping out of my comfort zone for a little while. It may not have been as good of a workout as a 10-mile run, but at least it served as a welcome break from routine.

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