fitness

ROADTEST: I tried a different gym class every day for a week. Here's what I found.

Recently, I signed up to one of those nice expensive gyms because I thought it would give me the motivation I needed to "get back into it".

And by "get back into it", I mean "get into it". 

I've never been very fit so when I found a gym less than a kilometre from my new home that offered six different classes for me to find my passion, I leapt at it. 

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(It's Virgin Active in Sydney's Bondi Junction if you were wondering.)

For the $40 a week I'll be spending (I got the first 12 weeks half price), I set myself a mission. 

One class a day, every weekday. 

The end goal wasn't to lose weight or tone up, but to develop a routine that included daily exercise and made me feel fit and happy.

That being said, I also wanted to challenge myself. 

So, here's exactly how it went.

Day One: Cycle - Burn

I decided to kick off day one with a bang. 

Cycle, Burn.

A fun fact about me is that I never learnt to ride a bike. When someone did try to teach me at 16, I decided the seat was too uncomfortable and gave up pretty quickly. 

I don't know why I thought stationary bikes were any different?

As I entered the class dressed top to toe in Kmart activewear and Powerade in hand, I took my place at a bike in on the edge of the middle row. 

The instructor explained the click-on shoes to me. If you push down on the pedals in a particular way, you get stuck into the bike. Everyone else got it. I did not. 

After fumbling around for a few minutes the instructor came back over and knelt next to me to click me in. Now we were good to go.

Strapped in and ready to go. 

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I wondered why no one else was squirming and readjusting themselves on their bike the same way I was. Not only was the seat uncomfortable, but it was also painful. 

"It's only 45 minutes," I told myself as if that wasn't a really long time. 

Then the lights dimmed, the music got louder, and we started "spinning" as the cyclists call it. (They definitely don't.)

The peppy instructor yelled to turn up the resistance because we were going up a hill. And oh, I felt the burn

Tears pooled in my eyes and I glanced down at my watch. It had been 10 minutes.

This was not what I expected on day one of my time at the gym, but my shoes were clicked in and I had no hope of getting them out in the middle of a blaring, dark cycle class.

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"Do it for the content," I reminded myself over and over through tears.

Some people have mantras like "You can achieve anything" or "You are powerful." Mine is, and always has been, "this will make a great article someday," and I believe it works just the same.

Before I knew it, the tempo dropped and the instructor told us to relax. 

"Keep the wheels moving, but you can do what you want for the next 3 minutes," she said. 

I did not keep the wheels moving and half an hour into the workout, I lost all the stats of what I'd done, but that was not the point. I'd been transported to another world amid a Guy Sebastian song. My head spun like the wheels of the bike and I blissed out momentarily until I heard 'Battle Scars' move into an uptempo remix. 

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We were back on. My whole body shook for the last fifteen minutes and I promised myself I wouldn't be coming back. 

Although I suppose it's a bit like childbirth (so I've heard...) because as I stepped off the bike at the end of my class (assisted again by the instructor who unclicked my shoes), I felt a hit of joy. 

"So this is what it's like to be fit," I said to myself, smug as I pranced home from the gym.

Verdict: Still don't understand the appeal of bikes, but I'll be back for cycle once I've gained some cardiovascular fitness. Apparently, it stops hurting after bike ride #3. 

Day Two: Boxing

On the menu for day two was boxing.

This felt much more my tempo.

So. Luxe. 

Whacking a bag seemed like a good way to get my frustration out, and it was... aside from the fact that I'm left-handed (A.K.A. backwards to the instructor) and fairly uncoordinated.

When you're surrounded by a bunch of boxing pros, you become hyperaware of how awkward you look. 

I threw weak punches at the bag for 45 minutes, interspersed with short "circuits" which consisted of squats, situps, push-ups etc. and lasted for about 3 minutes each. 

And as painful as that sounds, it wasn't terrible!

When I wasn't feeling insecure about my toddler-esque form, I was laughing, which was a welcome change from the tears I had a day earlier.

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Verdict: One day I'll look like the boss woman who killed her session next to me. In the meantime, I'll be back for a s**t ton of practice.

Day Three: Hot Yoga

On day three, I decided I'd give hot yoga a try.

"Treat yourself!" I told myself. 

A hot yoga class would surely make a relaxing "rest day" class for my midweek, wouldn't it?

No. Absolutely not. 

Let me explain. I decided to fully immerse myself in my mid-week, yogi experience by booking an 8.30am class, and getting in before work (before you tell me that's not before work, I work an evening shift). 

I started my day with 'morning pages' because they're meant to be good for your mental health or something like that, and mindfully walked the 10 minutes it takes to get to my gym. 

I made a whole experience of my yoga class. I wanted the mindful authenticity the other class members fell into with ease.

I dragged along a huge beach towel because I assumed COVID would mean we couldn't lie on the mats, but entered the class to find zen, barefoot people in pretty sports bras and leggings with tiny microfiber towels, and took my spot at the back of the room.

I crumpled my oversized towel into a ball, and stuffed my shoes inside, because I forgot to take them off outside the studio like everyone else. 

When the soft-spoken instructor came in speaking melodically, she asked the class to start in child's pose. 

I knew this pose, and I loved this pose. 

That was until about 30 seconds in when my legs started cramping up and the rest of the class kept holding. And holding.

When we finally moved into the flow, it wasn't much better. The heat gradually crept in until I was dripping in sweat I didn't know I was possible.

I fumbled, it was uncomfortable, and I also realised halfway through that I had forgotten to record it as a workout on my Apple Watch, which left me even more deflated.

Walking out, I heard a woman say to the trainer "Not very hot today!" and if I needed any bigger a hit to my confidence, that was it. 

Me, unimpressed by my sweaty stretches.

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Verdict: Not for me. I do not feel calm. I feel intimidated by these lifelong pros, and I will not be trying this Hot Yoga again in the near future.

Day Four: Grid Training (A.K.A. HIIT)

On day four, I braved the class I was most apprehensive of. 

Virgin Active labels it "Grid Training", which is basically High Intensity Interval Training.

If you were unaware, that's code for cardio killer.

It's run as a group training class. Each person sets themselves up in a "grid" and works at the same exercise for a prescribed number of seconds or minutes.

Behold: The Grid.

Everyone takes it at their own pace and at their own weight, so the comparisons I was particularly scared of were nonexistent. 

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What I didn't know as I arrived was that there were two varieties of grid training. "Sprint" and "Strength", the coach told me as he set me up with beginner dumbbells that were still too heavy. And because the week hadn't been hard enough so far, this morning we would be doing 'Sprint'. 

If you were on the 'floor', you would do an exercise for 40 seconds on and 20 seconds off, for five rounds. Think weighted burpees, jump squats or crunches.

Scared yet?

If you were set up on a machine, you would have 15 seconds on, 45 seconds off, and five rounds of a full sprint. 

The exercises alternated between floor and machines. 

As I approached my first machine, I thought a 15 second sprint didn't sound like long. 

15 seconds on the bike? Pshhhh, try 45 minutes!

Only a sprint on a high resistance bike is very different to a marathon, and I could barely recover my breath before we went again, and again, and again.

Then there were the floor exercises and they were somehow worse. Even the abs ones, which I thought I'd have in the bag.

I felt deflated and by some miracle, happy. It must've been the chemicals. 

But there was one exercise left that I dreaded as soon as I entered the room. It appeared to be a curved treadmill. The trainer told me it was a sprinting machine and I was sufficiently terrified. So terrified in fact, that on approach I tripped over myself and rolled my ankle.

Workout number four was cut short by just one exercise. 

I had suffered my first, humiliating gym injury, and as the trainers asked me to recount what happened I forced a laugh: "It wasn't any equipment, I was just clumsy!" when I was really holding back tears.

There are good days and bad days. Today was bad.

Verdict: I loved grid. I really did. But the humiliation that came with rolling my ankle on my first session scared me away for a little while. You'd be happy to know, no one cared or remembered me when I came back once my ankle was healed. And this is now a staple class of mine.

Day Five: Personal Training (Gym Consult)

On day five, I had a complimentary personal consultation with a trainer who showed me the ropes of the gym, and offered some much-needed nutrition advice.

Does this count as a class? I believe so.

Besides, I couldn't do anything strenuous... as I rolled my ankle a day earlier. 

We sat down... which was a welcome change, and she talked me through things like macronutrients (those are things like carbs, fats and proteins). 

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It was enlightening and I even walked away with a few new dinner recipes under my sleeve. 

Then she gave me a tour of the gym floor, which I would have been far too self-conscious to have braved on my own. 

Here, she showed me how to use a few machines, and answered any and all of my questions.

I even got sent away with this nifty little workout so I know what I'm doing next time! 

Although I won't be investing in personal training because I'm already forking out far too much money for this gym for a 20-year-old's budget, this 45-minute session was invaluable. 

Verdict: If you can afford personal training, get it. It was really nice to get a holistic view of my health and have someone set me up with a routine for the next few weeks. 

Final thoughts.

I missed out on one class the gym offered this week: Reformer Pilates. That's because they only offer a limited number of 'Intro' classes, and it just didn't line up with my schedule. 

But the four I tried, (okay... three, yoga won't be making a return), will make their way into my regular repertoire. Even Cycle.

Despite the pain and tears, every day I went to the gym, I left feeling a whole lot happier. 

And that's coming from someone who lived their whole life thinking people who claimed exercise released happy hormones (dopamine) were full of s**t.

It's true, and my life has been changed. 

Feature Image: Supplied.