I am, by all measurable standards, a wimp. And yet there I was, wearing boxing gloves, throwing punch after punch: jabs, upper cuts, hammers. “That’s great,” my sparring partner told me. “Now let’s speed it up.”
I hadn’t exactly meant to learn how to throw a good punch when I signed up for a month of personalized training at The Edge Fitness for Women, a boutique gym in Edgewood that offers small group training for women. But once I tried their Tuesday night kickboxing class, I was hooked. “Do you come every week?” I asked a woman who didn’t look all that strong, but who was throwing surprisingly fierce punches towards my face. “Every week,” she said. “This is the fastest hour you’ll ever spend.” She was right. What felt like three minutes later, gym owner Natalina Earls was leading us through our final stretches.
I’m not going to lie: when I looked at the class offerings at The Edge, I was intimidated. I’m pretty sure that’s a response common to any gym-averse person who’s staring down a new exercise regimen, especially when that gym-averse person knows really nothing about working out (me, obviously) and the workouts have names like Boot Camp and TRX Core.
Luckily, Natalina anticipated this. Before I went to any classes, she had me come in for a personal training consultation. Underneath a wall of her Spartan Beast and Tough Mudder medals, she walked me through all of the basics. There was Spin, the high intensity bike class; TRX, which uses straps suspended from the ceiling and your own body weight as training tools; Barre, a ballet/yoga/aerobics fusion; Pound, a rhythmic cardio workout; Kickboxing, which focuses on cardio and core with the added stress relief of punching and kicking things; and Boot Camp, focusing on strength and tone. Natalina also explained to me that for every move, there would be an easier option. Can’t do a plank? (Clearly, no, I can’t.) Then you can do a modified plank, on your knees, until your arms and core are strong enough to hold you up. (Okay, maybe, but no promises.)
Like I said: I was nervous to start. I didn’t have confidence in my body, or in my ability to keep up with the rest of the class. The other times I had tried fitness classes, I was one in a crowded room, clearly one of the least fit people there, and it was either you keep up, you get ignored, or you get yelled at in front of the group. So when I walked into my first class, a Monday night Boot Camp, you can imagine how I was feeling. But instead of sour-faced women taking #fitspiration selfies, I was greeted by a smiling Natalina, who introduced me to the five students. Everyone was friendly and chatty. The classes were small (Boot Camp is capped at ten people) and most of the women were from Edgewood and Pawtuxet Village, so they knew each other. It ended up being a great feeling, being in the middle of a group of women who were all encouraging each other, even the barely functional noob. The class was challenging, but it was the kind of challenging that energized me to keep trying.
And try I did: through burpees and ab rolls, through up-and-down Spin pulses, through 5:45am pliés at Barre, through jumping rope and jumping jacks and swing lunges and high knees. It felt good to be moving, to know I was working towards a better place physically (and mentally – don’t underestimate the joy of bragging about how you just came from TRX class). The classes were so small that every session felt like personal training: I always had the instructor’s eyes on me, tweaking my posture, helping me really get it. What I loved more than anything was that I wasn’t embarrassed to ask for modifications. When a side plank was totally impossible, instead of struggling in and out of the pose and not getting any benefits from it, I just asked for something easier that would strengthen my obliques so that eventually I could do a side plank. Can I do one now? Nope. But I’m going to keep working on it.
Towards the end of the month – which, by the way, kept me from gaining anything at all over the holidays, even at only three classes a week – I had this bizarre moment. I felt something hard under my skin. I stopped, and felt again. It’s an ab, I thought to myself. I actually have an ab. Now, on to the next five of them.