The Mind of an Unfit Man Collides with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

The Mind of an Unfit Man Collides with Barry's Bootcamp (HIIT)
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I’m sitting on the floor of a dirty subway platform, neither drunk nor short on funds. It’s been 10 minutes since my first class at Barry’s Bootcamp. Standing simply isn’t an option.

Up until now, my exercise ‘routine’ has consisted of the occasional yoga class, the occasional set of push-ups, the occasional fill-in-the-blank. The one constant; a complete lack of motivation.

Then I had a kid. And the 3-year old version of that kid looked up at me through his piercing chocolate saucer eyes and said, in his raspy-pixie voice, “Papa, I want to be strong like you when I grow up.” Gutted. If only he knew the truth. This me is the exact opposite of the one I want him to emulate. Motivation, check.

So, I polled a few exercise addicted friends for ideas. Many suggested Barry’s and described it as ‘really hard’. The drill; A 60-minute class in which you alternate every 10 minutes (or so) between a tread (Barry-speak for a treadmill) and the floor. Within each session, the intensity levels change, the essence of HIIT (for the uninitiated, high intensity interval training).

I committed to 2-3 classes per week for 8 weeks. I mean, how hard could it be? Cue below vignettes of a few workouts with reality slapping me in the face. Hard. With a closed fist. Wearing brass knuckles.

Workout 1. “I don’t look SO bad.”

I’m standing on my tread, basking in a red glow, staring at a mirrored wall. Smart choice, everyone looks better in red light. Without having taken a step, I’m already feeling better than I was a minute ago.

(Flashback to a minute ago)

A group of 25 people, mostly women in fashionable exercise gear, congregate in the waiting area. The 30-something, fit version of me would have been positively giddy. The 40-something, out of shape, slightly overweight version of me is holding back a crushing wave of insecurity.

(Flash forward nine minutes)

The first running session is almost over and I’m hit with a double whammy: side cramps and burning lungs. Only 51 minutes left. I claw my way through the remainder of class, extremely agitated. I blame it on the loud music drowning out Kara’s words so that I’m forced to follow along based on various neighbors’ interpretation of her words.The real culprit; the person staring back at me. I used to be an athlete. Now, I’m a remnant. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

Workout 4. “Fuck off, Niv!”

It’s ‘Leg and Butt’ day and Niv, a popular instructor, is asking me to do things that my body isn’t equipped to do, specifically, elevated single leg squats while holding a heavy weight. Under my breath, a curse fest ensues. I flip flop between angry utterances whispered at Niv and self-flagellation. It’s getting ugly.

With the stability of a Weeble (google it), I head back to the tread. Niv pipes up again, “first sprint of the day.” More cursing followed by the truly bizarre. As I stumble forward at a high rate of speed, my eyes become transfixed on a spot on my forehead and my mind goes elsewhere. Maybe I will end up living on a subway platform after all.

The class ends. I vow never to step foot in Niv’s class again but, as I exit the room, a sense of euphoria flows over me. Oh right, endorphins. It’s been a while. Hey Niv, we’re good, right?

Workout 8. “Ha.”

It’s ‘Abs’ day and we’ve just done 10 minutes of focused ab work; plank, variations on plank and other moves, the names of which I can’t recall. Other things I can’t do, sit up (as in place my torso perpendicular to the floor). My abs are broken. Of course, Sarah, the person in charge, is in denial. “Grab the weight. Let’s finish off with some straight leg crunches.”

My expected move, silently hurling expletives. Unexpectedly, I simply let out an audible chuckle and give it a shot. Hold up, this feels a lot like an attitude adjustment.

Workout 11. “What is happening?”

In the past, the enjoyment I derived from running fell on a spectrum; running over being water-boarded, a run of the mill dental visit over running. Root canal? Toss up.

In the present, I complete a series of six 30-second sprints. Lungs frantically seeking oxygen, heart racing, I high-five a random woman next to me and let out an audible ‘woo’. That pretty much says it all.

Workout 15. ”Come on. You got this.

‘Full Body’ days are my favorite, all parts being tended to.

I started down this road focused on how it would impact my body. I never considered how it might impact my brain. Exercise used to be a drag. Now, it’s a drug, Viagra for my mind. I leave every class in a better mood that lingers for hours.

I’ve come to see the instructors for what they actually are, enthusiastic guides. They never actually demand that you do anything, they just help you to push yourself to your limits. This approach has been instrumental in my rapid transformation.

Most importantly, I’ve revealed to my son the version of me I want him to emulate. I just had no idea it was temporarily imprisoned between my ears.

And yes, I’m still talking to myself out loud but the cast of characters has changed. Self doubt and anger have been replaced with optimism and encouragement. Should I ultimately end up residing on a subway platform at least I’ll be one of the friendlies.

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