Hello. This is my second post about working-out, which is a weird flex (pun intended), given the very minimal role formal exercise has played in my life since I wrote this post, three years ago.
Sure, life is busy, exercise is hard to fit in, and there are other surface-level reasons why I hadn’t kept up my muscle gainz… but the truth is that I just didn’t prioritize it.
I may not know much about exercise, but I do know a lot about myself, and I know that I get things done *if* I want to do those things. If they are things that I don’t hate. And I hate the gym.
That was true until I tried a different kind of gym.
A little over a year ago, I saw an ad on facebook for a new gym coming to my area. The ad was highly stylized and it showcased fit models lifting heavy weights and smiling to each other.
Ewww. Scary. No thanks.
The motto printed below the taut, glistening bodies, however, made me stop and click: “Team training, life changing.”
Hmmm, I thought. I like teams.
One of my favourite forms of exercise since childhood has been team sports. I come from a baseball family, and I was a good baseball player (and sometimes softball when baseball was not available to girls because of sexism).
I played on a girls’ baseball team in a boys’ league, and later played as a woman in a men’s league during my late teens and early twenties – like a one-woman League of Their Own. But with crying, cause I got hit in the butt with a curveball and you better believe I cried. During grad school, I started up a softball team in a recreational league [read: beer league], and also coached a team of teenage girls. So yeah, I am down with teams.
I googled the name of the gym, and learned that it would be a franchise of a type of gym originally founded in Australia, based on a team training environment of functional muscle movements.
Who’s doing what now?
From what I could ascertain online, an F45 class would be a circuit, done by a small group, involving movements that the human body makes (or, could/should make) in every day life – pushing, pulling, squatting, and carrying. The principle seemed to be that strengthening muscles and endurance in basic movements helps “performance” in any/all physical endeavours, be that elite sports, or just enduring the physical demands of everyday – with extra zest and without injury.
I was picturing sweating along with a soon to be “team” of new friends, getting stronger and getting high as a kite from endorphins. I joined via a low-risk trial period, and chose the date for my first session.
And then I got pregnant with my third child.
To work-out or not to work-out
I have obviously been pregnant before. I knew the standard guideline that recommends exercise during pregnancy, but recommends against beginning a new or hardcore, exercise routine. I am also a mother who has experienced the heartbreaking ordeal of miscarriage (more on that another time, perhaps).
Like what happens following so many heartbreaks in life, our brains can sometimes go into overdrive to try to prevent a repeat event, and I found myself stuck with a nagging worry that beginning a new exercise regime could lead to this baby slipping away. It was not a logical fear, but as my dad told me when I made fun of my brother for being too afraid of sharks to swim in a lake: fear is rarely logical.
On the other hand, I wanted to feel more healthy during this pregnancy than I did with my last, and I knew that if working-out ended up, well, working out for me, it could help me to feel more energized during a time when energy may be in low supply. I needed to make a decision.
I learned years ago that Google is a cesspool of “advice” for pregnancy and parenting, and I was still many weeks away from my first midwife appointment, so I did the classy thing and texted my friend who is a doctor.
“I’m not looking for free medical advice,” I lied. “But what is the actual danger of beginning a new exercise program during early pregnancy?”
She responded that research on exercise during pregnancy is outdated, and that newer research is pointing towards significant benefits of exercise during pregnancy, and that starting gently and continuing is probably healthier than doing nothing. And listen to your body, stay hydrated, etc.
I decided to give it a go.
Never miss a Monday – j/k, I’ve missed hundreds of Mondays
I learned from the website that the classes at this F45 gym are offered several times per day, including at 6 am, and one in the early evening. I thought 6 am was both too early (for my soul) and too late (for getting ready for work). But I decided to try it, just so I could see that it was a disaster, and never feel that I had to do it again.
My other option was early evening. Which would be fine in theory, but I would miss bedtime with my monsters, and I would be tired from work and life, etc. I figured that there is no great time to exercise for anyone, including me, a pregnant working mother of two – CANIGETANAMEN?
On the day of my first class, I woke-up at 5:40 am, brushed my teeth, ate a spoonful of peanut butter, grabbed a banana, and was in the car at 5:50 am. When I entered the space at F45, I was greeted by a high five and I almost bolted. It was brightly lit, and the people were all bouncy and excited. NOPE.
The trainer’s name was Mehdi, and he asked for my name. To his credit, he knew and remembered everyone’s name and used our names when talking to us. But not in a serial killer way, and not in a condescending way. In a nice way.
Mehdi did a demo of the stations. It was at this point that I learned that this class was, horror of horrors, “cardio-focussed.” FML.
It was slightly more nuanced than that, as all of the stations involved some kind of load bearing, while also aiming to elevate the heart rate. This idea had me sweating before I even started sweating. I had recently felt winded carrying laundry up from the basement. Ugh.
The workout itself
The room was set-up with nine exercise stations. The nine stations were grouped into sets of three, each grouping was called a loop. We were to do each loop four times.
For example, the first loop consisted of the following, and each was done for 45 seconds, followed by a 15 second break:
- Rowing machine
- Step-back lunges, while holding a sledge hammer
- Tethers hooked to an overhead beam that we leaned into while moving our arms forwards and backwards
The first time through each loop felt like an eternity, but then suddenly we were on the third, and then fourth loop, and then we were drinking water and switching loops. It was both easier and harder than I’d imagined, but neither in a bad way. I liked some stations more than others, all were challenging, and all were modifiable (*cranks resistance way down on exercise bike*).
Everyone moved stations at the same time, taking cues from the sound system and the flat screen tv’s on various walls around the room. I also stopped and got water a few times during the loops. No one cared.
There were opportunities for high fives throughout the workout, with Mehdi and with other patrons. I say “opportunities” because everyone seemed to be able to pick up on facial expressions and gauge whether or not someone was open to high fives. I decided to be open to them, and the high fives felt good to me.
I did enjoy the team environment. It felt like nice balance of being left alone to do the workout, without feeling alone/lonely.
During the workout, I struggled with a few stations. I mentioned to Mehdi as he bounded around the room and stopped at my station, in response to my pleading gaze, that I had not worked-out in years. I’m sure he could tell, but either way, he was friendly, helpful and completely unpretentious in a way that one does not expect super-fit people to be.
He offered modifications to the stations, and also did something that I appreciated as someone in a potentially intimidating environment: he smiled at me and said some version of, “You are here, and that’s what matters.” It was nice. Genuine. And even though I was not feeling intimidated, it helped me to relax.
I did not cheat at all during the first loop (who am I?), and during the second loop, I did a modification. It was a box jump (jump onto a box, but more like a sturdy stool that an elephant would pose on in an olde timey circus).
They had three different heights, but I did not feel confident in my sense of balance and my jelly legs to actually jump. No one noticed, no one cared. On the last round of that loop, I did try jumping (on the lowest box). I was successful. Where’s my medal?
And that was it, it was over. I felt great, and not only because my breathing had returned to normal. I felt like my body had done things it knew how to do, and that it wanted to do, but that I hadn’t given it an opportunity to do for a long time.
Glutton for punishment and endorphins
I went back again. And then again, and again. I kept going, and I kept going at 6 am. I battled a stubborn case of pregnancy nausea that lasted until I went on prescription medication at five months. Some mornings, it was very hard to leave the house. But, as I learned from skipping a week or two near the beginning, I didn’t feel less nauseous if I stayed home. I felt the same, but then felt no sense of accomplishment like I got from going to F45.
None of it would have been possible without the support of my husband. Two or three mornings per week, while I was out trying to pull my body a few millimetres closer to the chin-up bar, and feasting on endorphins, he was getting our boys up and dressed, emptying the dishwasher, and making breakfast. I got home at 7am, showered, put my hair up, put my work clothes on, and then ate the eggs he’d made for me. I tried not to take this for granted, but I definitely did because I am a brat.
Things are a little different now. For all of the things F45 is, it is not newborn friendly. The music is loud(ish) and while the sweet trainers have offered to hold the baby if I came for a class, it’s not their job, and I would be hella distracted the whole time. So, I’m trying to drag myself to baby-friendly fitness classes, or dropping the the baby off at the daycare centre at the mainstream gym I’ve joined for the time being.
Gold standard, gold price tag
F45 is not cheap. The prices are set by corporate headquarters, and the classes are designed so that you could go every day and not hurt yourself, because they focus on different muscle groups. Even with the ability to go every day, it is more expensive than many other methods of exercise.
Though membership fees depend on the number of months you commit to, and any promotions a club may have, Google says that an F45 membership is about $240 per month ($60 per week). This is similar to doing three drop-in yoga classes per week at a yoga studio. However, many yoga studios offer unlimited monthly memberships for about $150. So, yeah, F45 is expensive.
Not that I know what I’m talking about, but I’ve always thought that the ~best~ exercise is the one you want to do, and the one you will do. F45 happened to be the only workout regime I’ve ever tried that I wanted to do and wanted to keep doing.
I would even look forward to it.
I, a lazy, tired, out of shape, full-time working mother of two kids and one fetus, would look forward to rising before the sun in the dead of winter in order to physically exert myself. I had never had this drive before, and I did not want to question it. So, we found ways to afford it.
My fit(ish) pregnancy
And for me, the money was worth it. I saw changes in my abilities to do everyday things. Like, carry a baby in my belly to 12 days post-due date without any of the severe back pain I had during my previous pregnancy. Not once did I darken the doorway of the chiropractor’s office, whereas I had been going weekly during my last pregnancy. That was a BFD (big f*cking deal) to me.
I also had more energy than I could remember having in a long time. Working-out early in the morning gave me a spring in my increasingly waddle-like step that lasted most of the day. I would then fall asleep watching tv at 8:30 pm and awaken enraged that I had to walk up to my room, like some kind of cartoon bear that had been disturbed from hibernation, but I digress.
Speaking of energy, in the spring, while registering my 3.5 year old for his first season of t-ball, I suffered a lapse in judgement and signed myself up to coach the team. I was 8 months pregnant.
It was fun and it was fine (no one died), but I was completely exhausted by the end of each game. However, it was something I enjoyed (mostly) and it is something I believe I would not have been able to do at 8-9 months pregnant, had I not found an exercise routine and stuck to it so many months before.
The first ad I saw for F45 described it as “TEAM TRAINING. LIFE CHANGING.” <<cue aggressive music and images of sweaty models lifting weights >>. Do I think it is actually life changing?
For me, yes, it was life changing.
There, I said it.
F45 changed my experience of pregnancy, and gave me an insight into why and how people talk about enjoying exercise.
I drank the kool-aid, bought the tshirt, and now find myself longing to get back to pushing my muscles with functional movements, surrounded by knowledgable trainers and supportive team members.
The franchise I was lucky enough to happen upon is owned and run by a young family. Maté and his wife, Parysa, and her brother, the aforementioned Mehdi, are the heart and soul of the operation. I do not know if I would have felt as at home in such a foreign and potentially intimidating environment, had they not treated me like it was a home – and like I was part of their family.
Life is hard sometimes. Being pregnant, nauseous for 5 months, having two small kids and working full time was, for me, one of those times. Working out regularly helped me. What also helped was feeling supported by the trainers.
During my last workout before stopping because I felt too pregnant (lazy) to lift weights, one of the stations involved lying on ones front, on a foam block, and doing chest flies.
I was unable to lie on my stomach for obvious reasons. As I approached this station, I signalled to Mehdi. He jogged over and I said, “I’m going to need an alternative movement. Sorry to be high maintenance.”
He smiled and replied, “You know what is high maintenance? A Ferrari.”
Feeling tired, slow, and enormous, I looked down and muttered, “These days, I feel more like a Dodge Caravan.”
Mehdi looked me in the eye and said, “You are a Ferrari.”
A month later, I went into labour (more on that some other time) with a baby who would only progress if I was standing or squatting. Talk about high maintenance.
As a generally lazy person who was also 12 days past her due date, I was none too pleased about this turn of events. I had pictured lying down, or sitting in the birthing pool, not squatting through contractions and walking laps of the room between them, like a one-woman parade of pain and moaning.
Near the end, when things got really hard and I felt like my legs would collapse, I reminded myself that I am strong and that I can do hard things.
I gave birth standing up.
Talk about functional movement.