By Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
So there I was, looking at the board at the gym, trying to get up the nerve to go to one of the classes.
They have lots of friendly classes for overweight newbies like me: Beginner’s Yoga, Spin 4 All and Older Adult Holistic Taster.
Now, I really can’t explain why my gaze drifted straight past all of these options and focused in at Tabata. There was a one-hour class the following morning.
I texted my friend with a snap of the class. She responded immediately: Are you kidding?
Clearly she was in a mood. I ignored her and diverted to the coffee shop for a double caramel iced coffee and free wifi. I posed some questions to my fitness support group, hoping for more information about this Tabata thing.
Today is a good day to die said the first response, which seemed somewhat odd. The second was more helpful:
Tabata interval training is the single most effective type of high intensity interval training. It is also the most intense by far even though it’s the shortest in duration. It only lasts for a few minutes but has remarkable effects.
The commenters were agreed on one thing: that an hour of Tabata was clearly not possible and that the session would probably consist of some discussion and stretching and then a quick workout, around 8 to 15 minutes, and then another stretch and then done.
So, how hard could 15 minutes of exercise be? I could even skip the stretching and be on my way within half an hour, smug and virtuous about my workout. It sounded perfect.
I signed up.
There were five students: four strong and lean women with flat stomachs and me. I’m shaped a little more like a dumpling. I positioned myself at the back of the class and waited to see what happened.
The trainer was an extremely fit woman with not an ounce of fat on her and a strong Swansea accent. I have always found Welsh women to be really friendly and caring, so I was immediately reassured. I’m naive that way.
She gave me a slightly strange look as she scanned the room, as if to wonder if I was in the right place. But she recovered quickly and smiled. I did not yet realise that she was evil, so I smiled back.
We started with a five minute cardio “warm up” dancing around the room. It was exhausting. I was most unsettled to find her asking if we were ready to begin: I was just about done.
The instructor stepped us through four exercises. I tried to follow her motions. No one else seemed to have problems keeping up while I rearranged my feet and twisted around trying to work out how I was supposed to move. I felt like I was thirteen and back at dance class (which I sucked at even when I was skinny).
The first exercise was to jump as far as I could from side to side with my feet together and try not to tumble to the ground. Then I had to pick up weights and repeatedly lift them over my head, then a weird jumping jack up up up into the air and try not to collapse onto the ground and then bounce around some more. “Good job,” she called out. “You’ve got it! Let’s get started!” That was apparently the practice round.
She put on some music that had a refrain of something like “Shock to Your System” and it began.
I remember that we did something like 20 seconds of each exercise as she shouted “give me your all” and then started us on the next exercise which just about killed me but I kept repeating to myself that it was only four exercises, surely I could do it. Red-faced and panting, I kept on. Just one more…
The instructor, who no longer seemed like a nice cheerleader at all anymore, started the first exercise again and I realised we weren’t done. I clenched my teeth and kept going. I wasn’t going to be the one to drop out first.
The third time around, I was starting to worry that I might throw up. Evil-Tabata-Woman paused with a sympathetic smile and reassured me that I was fine. I could just do normal jumping jacks instead of the jumping high up up up thing, she said, if I wanted to take it easy. I wondered if it was possible for my heart to explode out of my chest.
At the end of the fourth interval I stumbled and clutched a pillar for support. To be fair, she came over and told me she was proud of me for giving it my all but I could have a quick rest of I needed. I think she just wanted to make sure I wasn’t sick on her floor.
Finally, we’d done five sets of four high impact exercises, or so she said. I’d lost count halfway through round three. I clutched the pillar, ready to go home. Evil-Tabata-Woman looked straight at me and said the workout was worth over 300 calories. My jaw dropped. I could do a light jog for an hour and burn more calories, what am I doing here? But looking at my watch, it’d only been about ten minutes, so that wasn’t a bad result.
Except that class wasn’t over. Round two began before I caught my breath. There were front lunges and back lunges and dumbbell lifting/twisting and I don’t even know what.
At some point during this, Evil-Tabata-Woman made it clear that we’d be doing this for the full hour. Luckily, by then my short-term memory was shot and I was no longer thinking about calorie counts. My only goal was to make it through this without needing someone to carry me from the mat.
She bounced along in front of us, saying how great it was that we were taking care of our bodies and that we’d continue to burn calories for a full three hours after the session even if we weren’t moving around. I had no intentions of moving ever again, let alone for the next three hours.
Round three including sprinting which I chose to interpret as “a gentle jog” and so I was able to finish that set without dying.
It all became a bit of a blur. I watched her throw herself to the ground and jump up and encourage us to do as many of these as possible – are they really called burpees? By the fourth interval, I barely managed to get down and back up to complete one before she was counting down for the next exercise. I was dying. I was probably already dead.
“You are fine,” she called, and I knew she was watching me flail. “Just keep trying, that’s it! Just give me all that you can!” I gave it my all by trying very hard not to collapse.
The final round was full of things I would struggle with even if I wasn’t exhausted: sit ups with weights, press ups, on my back trying to touch elbows to knees, curls with squats. I spent most of that round lying on the mat pretending that I was attempting to push myself up.
Then she sadly said that we had to stop now, otherwise there wouldn’t be enough time for stretching. I was heartbroken.
She led us in floor stretches which were confusing in a “I’m not sure my muscles still work” sort of way. I thought about just staying on the mat forever. She told us we’d done really well and that she was doing the same workout again for the next class in five minutes. That was a strong motivator to get up and out of the workout room.
“Sick” muttered one of the skinny brunettes as we walked out.
“I’m not sick,” shouted the instructor with a smile. “I’m doing this for you! Pushing you to show you what you can do!”
The brunette shook her head but didn’t have the energy to argue. In the locker room she looked at me. “I was trying to say that I was about to be sick, not that she was,” she said. I wanted to say something comforting but I had lost the capability of forming words.
I went home and had a small bowl of cottage cheese that I’d prepared specially as a treat for going to the gym. The bowl’s empty so I must have eaten it. An hour later, my face was still pink with exertion and I was still in my gym clothes. I was just too tired to actually get up and get a shower.a couple hours (ok, six) since I escaped the workout class and I’m hobbling but not broken. I’m not sure I’m actually going to try this again. Ever. Next time, I’m signing up for an hour of Aerobics for the Elderly. I’m only 46 but what are they going to do, kick me out? And next time, when my friend asks if I’m kidding? I’m telling her yes.
Sylvia Spruck Wrigley was born in Germany and spent her childhood in Los Angeles. She now splits her time between South Wales and the Costa del Sol, two coastal regions with almost nothing in common. She was nominated for a 2013 Nebula Award for her short story, Alive, Alive Oh. Sylvia’s short stories have recently appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Nature’s Futures and Lightspeeed. You can find out more about her at http://www.intrigue.co.uk/
Wow Sylvia, that was brilliant. I still have a wry smile plastered all over my face! xxx
Oh my God Sylvia. I am HOWLING here. Bravo to you for sticking it out. Those classes and instructors are not for the timid! Well done you.
And Evil-Tabata-Woman sounds a lot like the trainers at my gym. All evil. All capable of superhuman physical feats. All Aussies…(am wondering if that’s relevant?).