Iron Espadrilles Disguised as Silver Slippers

While waiting to retrieve my son from his biweekly martial arts class I often pass the time chatting with other parents as we’re lined up in the narrow hallway. We shoot the breeze about kids, sweat, and life, but frequently the topic that comes up is the Novalife Fitness Pilates Fusion class that is offered adjacent to the martial arts studio.

Taught by Amy Carr, it has a reputation for being just as strenuous as what our micro-ninjas experience, but presents a fusion of Pilates exercises blended with yoga moves then juiced with free weights. After hearing multiple endorsements it sounded like an irresistible fitness smoothie! Sanctioned by health nuts and with encouragement from my family I was ready to lap it up.

With many schedule choices, I opted for the Tuesday morning session so I could accompany my husband’s mother and sister. My relatives had always talked up the class but I dismissed it for a long time feeling like I didn’t need additional exercise on top of my running routine. Besides, if I could sustain a 150bpm heartbeat for 40 minutes and then slide into a few stretches afterwards, my fitness routine was complete. No need for additional strengthening or flexibility. Runners will never be destined to elasticity anyway, right?

Upon announcing to my fellow parents-awaiting-their-ninjas-in-the-hallway that I signed up for Amy Carr’s Tuesday morning Fusion Fitness class I got a nod of assent that was delicately shrouded with superiority. “You just signed up for the ‘Silver Slippers’ class” they reported.

“What? You have to wear special footwear to class?” I naively responded.

“No…” choosing their words carefully, “it’s just a more gentle pace…lots of ladies over 60 years old in that class”, and almost as a consolation, “I hear they do a ‘Relaxation Session’ at the end too.”

Okay, slow pace, no Herculean efforts, and an opportunity to get my Zen on. Plus, I could spend quality time with adult family members. But the competitive beast in me retorted to the hallway faction, “I’ll just do this on my recovery days,” as if I needed to preserve my pride.

At the first class I was warmly greeted by a group I would describe as equal shakes of salt and pepper. No walking canes or hearing aides, but no muscular Jillian Michaels look-a-likes either. I dutifully filed to a position at the back of the class and proceeded to parrot the instructor’s moves as closely as possible. I had confidence in my court and I was ready to show that class how fit I was.

Amy Carr expertly guided us through maneuvers that linked Pilates and Yoga, but were also accentuated with free weights and resistance training. For every routine introduced, Amy would recommend different levels of challenge or alternate approaches for those with agility limitations. For the participants whose wrists lacked strength, Amy provided light, Velcro-attached hand weights to prevent their inadvertent release. My classmates who could not perform self-supporting mat work would be instructed in an equally beneficial but less strenuous exercise in a standing position. Everyone worked out, no one got to back out, and all were fully engaged.

Despite all of the opportunities placed before us to diminish the difficulty level, hardly anyone accepted a reduced effort version. Instead, I found myself staring at the row of ladies in front of me as they wielded the same eight-pound weights for the same number of repetitions which caused seismic vibrations in my muscles, but had little taxing effect on these distinguished damsels. At the conclusion of each rotation they would gently set their weights down and politely exclaim, “Whew!” That was it. No cursing, spitting nails or teeth-grinding that I was demonstrating wholeheartedly from the back of the class.

Just when I thought I’d had enough, we transitioned to abdominal work. Yes, I know this runner has turned a blind eye to her midriff for years, but how hard could a few sit-ups be? Well, lie on your back and hug the Liberty Bell. Next, try and pulse it in V-formation for a few hours. Then glance around and realize that no one except you has collapsed into a quivering blob on the yoga mat. What are these women strung with, carbon fiber muscles and titanium bones?!

It was with great relief that I laid myself prostrate on my mat for the relaxation session at the conclusion. I certainly couldn’t be out-repped, out-stretched or out-exerted here. Admittedly it took me a long time to chase away my random thoughts that persistently drifted in and out of our guided meditation and isolated muscle contractions. However, no mirror captured those lapses.

The next week my report to the hallway-parents involved zealous amendments to the Tuesday morning class title of “Silver Slippers”. “Iron Espadrilles” would more aptly describe the strength and endurance of those attendees. I have attended the morning session for over a year now, and while I no longer find myself licking the concrete for three days following a workout, I still remain in the back of the class in awe of my steely classmates, who also happen to be benevolent grandmothers, tender aunts, doting sisters and loving wives.

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