Want to Workout Harder? Recruit a Gym Buddy.
This past week, I tried out the "gym buddy" method to see if it could get me back on track at the gym and improve my health. As I rambled about in a previous blog post, I took a long hiatus from the gym starting last December. So, in July of this year, I dedicated a week to daily exercise with the goal of (1) making regular exercise an ingrained habit and (2) returning to the gym. It is with mild shame that I report to you that I did not go back to the gym after that singular trip back in July. Instead, I remained content with my short workouts at home, where my most serious exercise equipment consists of ankle weights and 8 pound dumbbells.
I wasn’t always such a lazy softbody. In fact, I used to love going to the gym. So recently, I tried to explore the reasons for my gym-avoidance.
I am nearly 30 years old, and I know the value of 8 hours of sleep. Waking up earlier than my body dictates in order to visit the gym is child’s play. Literally, it is for young people.
Despite my glowing baby-like appearance, I am nearly 30 years old, and my body feels 60 years old. My calves and quads are perpetually tight, my feet ache on a daily basis, and my wrists cramp up after using a computer for several hours. What kind of exercises can you do at the gym when pain radiates from all of your anatomical zones?
It’s been so long since I’ve been to the gym that I don’t remember most (any) of the exercises I used to do. Maybe I could start with some of these moves?
I lack any motivation or accountability to go back to the gym. I don’t have a personal trainer, a workout buddy, or even an iPhone app that will hold me accountable when I miss the gym. So I can miss the gym every day. And that’s exactly what I’ve done for the last nine months.
Even though all of these are solid excuses for avoiding the gym, I figured that the last one was the biggest hurdle between me and the gym. Luckily, I was able to recruit a couple of gal pals to be my "gym buddies," or as they're more sexily known, "accountability partners." Research shows that most women work out harder when they exercise with a friend instead of alone. So when my friend Amy asked if I wanted to join ClassPass with her, it was the perfect opportunity to test out this gym buddy hypothesis.
For background, ClassPass is a gym-hopping app designed for the typical Millennial, i.e., one with the attention span of a goldfish. You pay a set fee per month to take group exercise classes at a wide variety of fitness studios and gyms throughout New York City. Depending on which package you choose, you can take an unlimited number of classes, 10 classes per month, or 5 classes per month.
I was a member of ClassPass in spring and summer 2015, and to my surprise, I absolutely loved it. I say “to my surprise” because I hate group exercise. I hate the feeling of being trapped in a room with several strangers whose collective B.O. is strong enough to stifle my oxygen supply. Also, I find “partner exercises” to be exhausting because I’m usually paired with someone who has a wildly different fitness capacity than me. For instance, once in a boot camp class, I was paired with a Crossfit buff who unpromptedly told me that her favorite exercise was lifting enormous tires over her head. Another time, my partner in a competitive obstacle course was a 68-year old great-grandmother who thought she had signed up for Beginner Yoga.
Anyways, back to ClassPass. I ended up deactivating my account shortly after starting my new job because I wasn’t able to predict my work schedule, which meant I frequently missed classes (and paid way too many cancellation fees). But recently, ClassPass ran a promotion for the frugally-minded like myself: for just $1, you could sign up for ClassPass and take 5 classes that month. Amy and I jumped on this deal immediately.
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have a gym buddy every single day of the week (and I definitely knew that my soft dad bod wouldn't be able to handle vigorous exercising 7 days a week), so my goal was to have three gym dates this week.
Gym Date 1: TRX
On night 1, I meet up with Amy and our friend Lisa to try out a TRX strength conditioning class offered: TRX Training Lab at the Nimble Fitness studio. If you’re unfamiliar with TRX, it’s a suspension strength training method that allows you to work against your own body weight. You can check out some basic TRX exercises here and a hilarious TRX exercise here.
We arrive at Nimble Fitness, a noticeably shiny and clean studio, and together, the three of us comprise half of the class. We begin with a few easy exercises, but as we get into the more intense circuits, I start to awaken my inner workout goddess from her nine-month hibernation. Her name is “Brygida,” but pronounced with a hard G sound. Brygida is a tough, sinewy street gymnast whose parents were murdered when she was a teen growing up in Soviet Poland. To exact revenge on the KGB, she taught herself martial arts and the art of one-arm pull-ups. Once I let my alter ego Brygida take over my workout, there is no stopping me, and by the end of our class, I am feeling equal parts invigorated and smelly.
After class, Amy, Lisa, and I debrief the TRX Training Lab, agreeing that the class was very challenging but not impossible, that we would definitely be sore the next day, and that we deserved some sort of public recognition because we did better than the lame girl who called it quits after 15 minutes. There’s no better way to boost your own confidence than by making fun of others. Take notes, my friends.
Upon arriving home, I cook a healthy, balanced dinner, a big change from my usual weekday dinners of toast and chocolate. Afterwards, I am surprised by my lack of cravings for dessert and red wine, my usual post-dinner routine on a weeknight. Instead, I end my night with a cup of chamomile tea and a Dear Diary entry. I feel like an uber-healthy fitness model, the kind who would share her unrealistic daily routine of juice cleanses and hot yoga in Shape Magazine. Was this what gym life was like? A constant feeling of confidence, superiority over others, and a heart-healthy diet? Sign me up!
The next day, Amy, Lisa, and I exchange notes about our various sore lady parts. I’m talking about lady arms and thighs, you pervs. Despite our mutually shared soreness, we excitedly start planning our next exercise class together.
Gym Date 2: Boxing
For our next class, I suggest boxing because I had taken a few boxing classes in the past and had loved the intensity of it. Instead of going to a frou frou boutique gym--where I imagine svelte yoga moms wearing see-through Lululemon pants are handed specialty pink boxing gloves--we decide to stick with a more traditional boxing gym.
On Saturday morning, we walk into Work Train Fight in Noho. It’s a legit boxing gym. Hard-core rap music blares out of the speakers (a definite plus in my book), men wearing old-school boxing trunks and sweatshirt tank tops spar violently with trainers, and gym patrons acknowledge one another solely through chest bumps. Naturally, we are terrified. I consider telling the instructor that I’m nursing an injured back so he’ll go easy on me. However, as soon as I meet our instructor, it becomes very clear that he has a “no excuses” training philosophy (also, his t-shirt says “No Excuses”), so I keep my bullshit to myself.
As soon as our “Box Group 101” class begins, we are thrown into the deep end, without any warmup. Well, technically, the first portion of the class is a very long warmup, but instead of my usual 60 seconds of jumping jacks, we do 15 very intense minutes of burpees, high knees, mountain climbers, and shadow boxing. The only thing more embarrassing than my sweat-soaked pelvis area is the athletic-looking guy who backs out of class after a mere 10 minutes. Another self-confidence boost.
Once I put my boxing boxing gloves on, I am disturbed by the constant stream of sweat that is flowing into my mouth. Wearing boxing gloves turns my opposable digits into useless paws, making it impossible to wipe off the sweat beads, which eventually end up in my mouth. Ultimately, I realize that I must embrace this newfound “taste your own sweat” experience, and as soon as I do, I develop a singular focus on punching the shit out of everything. I visualize each punching bag to be the face of one of my enemies, and I jab and hook as hard as my puny arms can. I wish I could say that my enemies are scorned ex-lovers and and political foes, but alas, I do not live a very dramatic life and my “enemies” are simply the jackass landlords’ attorneys that I deal with in court on a regular basis.
A full hour of sweating has passed, and I have never been more ready for a cooldown. Mr. No Excuses, however, has other plans in mind and commands us to finish the class with a lightning round of burpees. After exchanging WTF glances, Lisa, Amy, and I do some modified half-assed burpees until we collapse.
Despite the class’s sadistic vibes, we all agree that it was a phenomenal workout. I would never have challenged myself that much if I had been working out solo. Don’t like high knees? Just don’t do them. That’s my philosophy. After class, I send a silent “thank you” to Brygida for making me stick with the class and push through my innate laziness.
Gym Date 3: Yoga-Cardio Mashup
Our last class as gym buddies could not be more different than our boxing class. As soon as we enter the Circuit of Change studio, we are warmly embraced by an ethereal fitness goddess while the other patrons discuss their favorite spot for chai soy lattes. We soon learn that Circuit of Change was founded by a man who is equal parts dreamy hunk and au naturale hippie. If you don’t believe me, check out his bio and man bun here. Mr. Man Bun has just finished teaching a class when we arrive, and literally every woman in the studio is about to fling her panties in his face. After watching this episode of The Bachelor: The Fitness Diaries, we begin the studio’s signature Mind Body Bootcamp class, which blends elements of yoga, martial arts, core fusion, gymnastics, and meditation, all with tons of positivity and self-love.
We begin by sitting on yoga mats and “awakening our senses” with several minutes of light stretching, wrist twirling, and deep breathing. Eventually, the music transitions from Enya to what I can only describe as instrumental Pitbull music, and we cycle through various circuits without resting. We jump from downward dog to plank and back, we squat and pulse, we do mountain climbers and bicycle crunches, and we even do some jabbing and punching. Since I’m the resident expert in boxing, this portion of the class is definitely my favorite.
For our cooldown, the music shifts to an Indian prayer melody, and incense wafts throughout the room. We lie down in Shavasana pose, and I am transported to a mythical yogi retreat in the mountains of India. We put our hands at heart center and thank ourselves for showing up today and exercising our bodies and minds. I happily lap up these hippie vibes, as my workout has left me feeling uniquely rejuvenated and refreshed. No wonder this studio has a cultish following: it offers Dreamy McManBun AND warm fuzzy vibes.
Final Thoughts on Having a Gym Buddy
Reactivating ClassPass made me realize a few things. One, I don’t actually hate group exercise! Walking into a new fitness studio (or old-school boxing gym for that matter) is so much less intimidating when you roll in with your clique. Yes, you still have to deal with sharing a small space with other sweaty bodies, but that’s what showers and anti-bacterial hand wipes are for.
Two, I actually love going to the gym. Okay, love is a very strong word that should be reserved for chocolate and baby panda bears. But I do like going to the gym. It makes me feel empowered and ready to take on the world, Brygida-style. While doing a quick workout at home is certainly better than nothing, I now know that I have to stick to more challenging workouts at the gym if I want to shed my 60-year old dad bod.
Do you have a gym buddy? Does it help keep you motivated? Drop me a line!