Day 1: I feel empowered already!

Soul Cycle

So for the uninitiated, my job for the next month is to take four weeks of women’s fitness classes. I’m not sure if this is Thrillist’s version of putting me through “sensitivity training” after one too many off-color jokes or they just think it would be funny to see a Marine doing Zumba, but irregardless (it’s a word, look it up) the journey to women’s fitness begins today.

Day one was at Soul Cycle in Coral Gables. If you’re not familiar with Soul Cycle, it’s like a one-hour self-esteem workshop where charismatic instructors scream at you to be your best you over blaring Calvin Harris and strobe light. All conducted on stationary bikes in a room that feels like something between summer in Calcutta and the inside of a dishwasher.

If you’ve ever seen spinning classes on TV comedies that are made to look like some kind of crazy fitness cult, Soul Cycle is who they’re making fun of.

I showed up early and apparently they knew who I was. Maybe because the PR team told them, or maybe because I was, ya know, male. There actually was another guy in the class, but for the most part the crowd was a collection of UM sorority girls and Coral Gables housewives. To fit in, I stopped by Nordstrom on the way just in case I was going to have to make small talk.

As it was I didn’t and the instructor, Aubrey I think, came over and introduced herself as I was trying to size my spinning bike. I’d set it up like I usually did for triathlons, which is apparently the complete OPPOSITE of what you’re supposed to do for Soul Cycle.

“The idea here is to get your body really elongated,” she said, as she moved my seat back about two feet from the handlebars. “You want to be long, and lean. Guys always want to ride up on the front of the bike, I don’t know why.”

“Because we’re racing,” I said. She looked at me a little confused. “Guys, we’re always racing, we want to be up front. Why the Hell would we ‘sit back’ and ‘elongate?”

This was my first lesson in the difference between men’s and women’s fitness.
Just as we were about two start two girls who weren’t older than 12 came and sat on the bikes next to me. And I wondered what my drill instructors and the guys in the boxing club would think if they knew I was now doing the same workouts as A TWELVE YEAR OLD GIRL.

The class started when Aubrey turned out the lights and lit some candles, because who doesn’t enjoy a little sweating, grunting and adrenaline rush by candlelight? Yes, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to remind you of.

The workout itself was intense, with the club lighting and trance music and simultaneous movement, the difficulty of spinning with high resistance actually got a lot easier. It takes your mind off the strain, but it’s more than that. It’s feeding off the whole group, in this sort of “It takes a village to make it through spin class” mentality.

It’s a very female thing, I think, to depend on those around you to get through something difficult. And while guys are always happy to you “CMON BRO THREE MORE YOU GOT THIS!” when maxing our bench, this was something different. Not active encouragement, but almost a shared empathy.

At the end, Aubrey stopped instructing and told us to close our eyes, listen to the music, and just spin how we felt. And it got me into that sort of exercise-induced trance I hadn’t gotten into since I first started running with music. And massive amounts of ephedra. It was definitely an exercise class that put you in another place for 45 minutes, and I liked that.

I won’t lie. It wasn’t the toughest workout I’d ever experienced. But it got me going enough that I felt good for the rest of the day. And definitely look forward to starting my next week with Soul Cycle again.

Day 2: Like Parris Island....WITH SMOOTHIES!!!!

Barry's Boot Camp - South Beach
So last night I went for dinner at NaiYaRa, a new Asian restaurant in Sunset Harbour. I’d gone fully intending to drink lightly, then head home to be up for my 9:30 workout Tuesday. Then me and my friend got bold and asked Chef Bee to “make something like the Thai people eat.” HE happily obliged and served us peppers made, from my termination, from the blood of Satan. To help wash down the hellfire that was exploding my head, Chef Bee also brought us out two house cocktails and another glass of wine. Which meant I A) wasn’t driving home and B) wasn’t going to feel very well in the morning.

But, if drinking too much then getting up for an extremely expensive, trendy workout in the morning doesn’t say Miami, then nothing does.

I woke up at 8am with a stomach full of a pleasant combination of stale bar mat and battery acid.  I took an Uber to Barry’s Boot Camp in Sunset Harbour, conveniently located in the same building as NaiYaRa so my car would be waiting for me when I got done.

As one who went through boot camp, I’m always entertained by anything that describes itself as a “So-and-so boot camp.” Like “Reading Boot Camp.” Really? Was there a red faced, bug-eyed lunatic spitting on you while he screamed “GET TO THE END OF MY COMPLETE WORKS OF BRONTE BY THE TIME I GET TO ZERO, OR I’M GONNA RUN YOU UNTIL YOUR LUNGS BLEED YOU NASTY PIECE OF TRASH!” No. No there was not. So let’s dispense with the military analogies, shall we?

That said, I kept an open mind to Barry’s, as every high maintenance South Beach girl I know swears by the place. Even the ones without coke habits. So I figured Legs and Butt day would be the best one for a women’s fitness experience. (I’ve never even met a gay man who said “You know, my legs and butt really need work.)

I was introduced to Derek who looked like a smaller Aaron Rogers or a larger Jake Gyllenhaal, take your pick. He had a good high and tight cut, but way too much facial hair to be a drill instructor. Though the gaggles of women who seemed to be there for his class didn’t seem to mind this small inaccuracy.

We entered the training room where a line of treadmills lined the wall, and some Reebok steps were on the floor in front of it. Half the group started on the treadmills, half on the steps. I was on the treadmill.

Derek did not fuck around.

Within two minutes I was running 8 miles an hour up a 6 percent grade for a minute at a time. Within five minutes I felt Chef Bee’s Satan Peppers working their way up from my stomach. But I knew being the biggest dude in the room and yacking in the first ten minutes would be, well, almost as emasculating as having your girlfriend change your tire. So I sucked it up.

Derek continued to not fuck around. He yelled out speeds for the treadmills like “OK, 9 for beginners, 10 for intermediate, 11 for advanced.” I seriously started to think Derek was Canadian. Because there's no way those speeds were in in miles.

Oh, but they were. And the high maintenance South Beach girls on the other treadmills seemed to have no problems with it.

“Skinny bitches should try that at 215,” I thought to myself. And realized I’d all of a sudden gone from big dude to fat chick.

Mercifully the 15 minutes of uphill sprints stopped (I didn’t slow down, though. The girl on the treadmill next to me kept looking over at me, and whether she was checking me out or seeing if I she was running faster than me, I still had to look impressive). And we moved to the floor.

Here we did a series of squats with heavy weights, lunges with lights weights, and all kinds of combinations of the above designed to burn out your legs and glutes. I had to support my upper body during most of the isometric holds, and during the last ones I did my half-assed knee bend that passes as a squat. But is totally obviously not when you’re towerin a foot over everyone else.

Back on the treadmills after 15 minutes of that, and the sprints were a little easier. Derek screamed at us to push it, that we needed to surprise ourselves and make the workout as hard as we could. As we ran I noticed the girl on the treadmill next to me looking over repeatedly. So I made a mental note to not look tired.

This failed as soon as we got to the floor and started doing exercises with leg bands, going from a plank position and doing leg raises with the band around our feet for resistance. Two minutes in and I was literally streaming sweat onto the ground and spraying it every time I exhaled. That last time I sweat that hard was in…oh right…..actual boot camp. Well played, Derek. Well played.

Needless to say as soon as a began flooding the floor in sweat the girl next to me stopped looking over. No matter, Derek put the theme from “Closer” on for post-workout stretching music. Anmd if you told me I’d here the theme from one of my Top 3 favorite movies in an exercise class, Rocky probably had better odds.

I ended by hitting the juice bar for a “Just Barry’d” shake. I don’t recall there being a juice bar at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. But it’s been a few years and, well, New Corps and whatnot. I sounded off “Smoothie, Recruit!” at the guy behind the counter. He looked very confused. So I ordered like a civilian, got my smoothie, then paid $20 to get my car out of the garage.

Day 3 - What is HE Doing Here?

Reforming Pilates - North Beach
First of all, fuck Miami. Seriously. I left my apartment at 815 for a 9am Pilates class in North Beach, and hit not one but three separate traffic jams. Fuck you very much. The bridge was up in Brickell (during RUSH HOUR? Whoever owns that boat needs to be arrested) then for some reason 195 was shut down, and then traffic on 79th going to the beach was backed up, since it was then the ONLY causeway to get into Miami Beach. This city, I swear.

But I had a nice, relaxing morning of Pilates to help me mellow out, right?

Well, that’s what someone who lumps yoga and Pilates in the same group might think. But while Pilates is not the full intensity workout that Barry’s or Soul Cycle is, it’s still not exactly a meditative hour of Zen.
So I showed up at Reforming Pilates in North Beach at the suggestion of my friend Shelly, who lives a few blocks away. Normally I wouldn’t go this far, but Justin – the instructor/owner – said he’d let me in to try a couple classes, and since they’re small I felt this would be a good class to try.

And of course, thanks to whoever it was that shut down 195 this morning, I showed up 30 minutes late. No worries, Jason saved a spot for me in the 10am class.

“Use the machine by the wall,” he said. “It’s the only one you’ll have room to work with.”
Pilates, apparently, is not frequented by people over 6ft tall.

The “machines” were floor-bound spring-and-pulley systems, where a large pad shaped to fit your head and torso lays flat on the ground, connected to the frame of the machine by a series of springs that allow for movement and resistance. It was not unlike the machines I used in physical therapy while rehabbing my torn meniscus back in 2008. Except these ones has fully wrist straps and left stirrups attached.,

Basically, it was a combination physical therapy device and sex machine. I could get down with that.

The class began with some simple leg extensions, pushing our body weight, with resistance, from the bottom of the machine to the top. It sounds simple, but after 15 minutes of pushing your Weight against springs, that burn is real. We then moved on to a squatting workout, extending our legs on these platforms as we moved back and forth, which Justin described as “skiing.”

Next, came time for the arm workout, where we put our hands in the furry wrist straps and pulled our body weight up using biceps, then triceps, then shoulders, then chest, then a combination of all of it. 

Then we used this weird circle thing,, which we were supposed to press in as far as we could and hold while we did sit ups on a bench. While on the moving spring machine. It required an incredible amount of core strength to keep it all still while performing the exercise. And definitely not something I was used to.

We finished with some “Stretches,” the most difficult of which involved lifting my legs all the way into the air with my legs in the stirrups (something I guess women are used to. For guys it was a little more spread eagle than I was ready for)then using my core to push the legs down against the resistance of the springs. By the fourth one, my core was done.

The hour went by amazingly fast, and by the end I was like “That was it?” But much like yoga, when you’re so concentrated on your breathing time really does fly,. I learned Pilates is absolutely nothing like yoga, where you’ll feel burn in every muscle group by the end of the workout, and stretch yourself out. It’s not high impact, and not a crazy calorie burner, but it will work our entire body and stretch you out a lot.

As I was leaving I stopped to talk to Jason, who told me the class before me was very confused as to who I was.

“All the ladies in the last class were like “Who was THAT?”

The narcissist in me thought they were all checking me out. But Jason stopped that little ego trip cold.

“Most of the guys we get in here are like in their 50s and have joint problems, We don’t typically get younger bigger guys like you in here. So when you were waiting they were all like ‘what is HE doing here?’”

Oh, you know, just a story about doing women’s exercise classes for a month. NBD.

Day 4 - Empathy for the Ballerinas

Pure Barre - Coral Gables

Again, for the unaware, I used to run the dorms for the Miami City Ballet School. And every night the girls I was in charge of would come home looking like they’d just been through a war, ice their feet in Epsom salts, complain about how hard class was, and not eat.  I thought they were just being drama queens because, well, teenage girls. But turns out they weren’t lying.

Today I ventured to Pure Barre, a ballet-inspired workout who’s motto is something like “Tone, flex, burn.” Or something else that lets you know this is going to be something painful.

I went to the one in Merrick Park, the uber-upscale shopping center that also houses SoulCycle. MY summer intern had been a devotee of the place, and more than a few girls I know had credited it to their improved physiques.

I rolled in and the instructor took me into the training room, where every bar was set about three feet off the ground. She attempted to show me how to do some of the more complicated ab exercises that involved the bar, and immediately got confused.

“Hmm,” she said as we sat under on of the ballet-style bars on the side of the room. “So the idea here is you stick your entire back and neck to the wall. But your head doesn’t fit under there, does it?”

It didn’t.

“Well, I’m not quite sure how we’re going to handle this.”

“You don’t have any other guys who do this?” I asked.

“Well, we’ve got one guy, and he’s a football player, but I’ve never taught him so I’m not sure. The other guy, he’s from Wisconsin and he’s tall too, but honestly I don’t know what to do.”

After a long consultation with another instructor it was decided that when it came time for ab exercises, I should stick my tailbone to the wall and lean forward to maximize the ab workout.

So, Pure Barre, good as it is, is clearly not meant for men.

This became immediately apparent when the entire class that came in was made up of ladies who were most certainly either students at UM, or had just graduated. And I’m not complaining. It was easily the best looking class I’d worked with thus far. But I’m not a guy who hits on girls anywhere really, and especially not at the gym. So I just used it as motivation to work harder.

Barre classes are made up of tiny movements in everything you do. “The size of a paperclip” as it was described to me by my instructor. That meant lifting your leg off the ground., pointing your toe, and pulsing it for like ten minutes. We repeated this for a while, with different angles for each leg, effectively burning out my legs and hips.

The thing about women’s exercises, they’re designed to work with your body weight. It’s not like lifting where the bigger you are, the better you are. Stuff like Barre is all based on holding up your arms and legs for extended periods of time, and toning those muscle groups. You see, because women go for tone, while we go for size.

So while I was pretty god with the leg exercise at the beginning, once we had to pick up weights and hold our arms over our heads for 5-10 minutes at a time, I started to fade. Having 20-inch arms is cool when you’re at the club. When you’re in a barre class? Decidedly not-cool.

So while skinny little girls can lift 5 pound weights over their heads and “tuck” for ten minutes at a time, not so simple for a guy who’s pushed 2 bills since he was 16.

The workout was quad burning. Lots of holding your leg up for extended periods and doing small pulses. Lots of extending your leg back and doing small pulses. Not a lot of ever having your leg on the ground where god meant it to be.

And they didn’t even make me get up on my tippiy toes. Well, they did kinds, when we were squatted down with one leg crossed over the other, pulsing up and down, then asked to lift up onto our toes. Basically, putting all our body weight on our toes. That is not something meant for the male body. Not at all.

But as the class ended and we stretched out I did realize I was more flexible than some of the girls there. I credit that to a year of yoga prior to all this. I was disappointed that the only interaction I had with any of the perfectly toned blondes in the class was one of them tossing me a red rubber ball to do abs with, since mine had rolled away. But, hey, this isn’t a dating experiment. So I’ll survive.

Pure Barre was the epitome of women’s exercise, and definitely made me appreciate the torture girls go through to get great bodies. It’s all abs and butt and legs, and burns the whole time. And is definitely not something most guys would be comfortable with. But I’m excited to try it again. And, yes, for other reasons than my fellow classmates.