Old Dog, New Tricks

After years on remote trails and solo resistance workouts, this TOJ has been attending some fitness classes to learn more exercises and watch trainers use their skills to keep a group of people, with diverse ages and physical abilities, motivated and progressing - including me.

One class I've found right for me is twice a week circuit training. The class is held in a large room cluttered with exercise apparatus and non-class members who still have access for their workouts. Sometimes 15 people show up, sometimes 30. Bigger turnouts force our trainer, a smart and experienced young woman, to quickly add a circuit station to keep every member of the group active throughout the hour and not gobble up every device so the general public gets squeezed out.  

Circuit training consists of going station to station to perform an exercise targeted at specific muscle groups for a limited period of time. It's part cardio, part muscle endurance, part stability and mobility. The exercises are on machines,stability ball, Bosu's, platforms, with dumbbells or bands or your own body weight. At each station we exercise in two 25 second intervals, with 20-30 seconds of rest in between. Like with all exercise, in circuits what you get out of it is directly proportional to what you put into it. For example, during 50 seconds on a lat pull down machine, you can do a lot of reps and you are free to pick your weight. Within the time interval, you go at your own pace and biorhythms. Hammer it or slack off, your choice.  Every two weeks, the circuits change so you have new muscles engaged.

I see some real advantages to doing some classes (something I never thought I'd say because TOJs get set in their ways):

First, you'll do exercises that are more challenging than you would do on your own. We all tend to do what's easy for us. I'm very comfortable pushing up weight on the machines, especially the classic male stuff for pecs, biceps, lats, quads - squats, lat pulldowns, curls, presses. But there are a host of small, really important stabilizing muscles, especially around the hips and rotator cuff, that are much more important for well-rounded fitness, including balance and endurance, that are barely used when you grunt up a few bench presses. In most males, these muscles are weak. The circuits with stability balls and the Bosu (try doing a Bird Dog with your knee on the floor, then do it on a Bosu - even the baddest ass TOJ will tremble like Jello).

Second, whether you admit it or not, there's something about having other people around that makes you push a little harder. It's not really competition on the circuit because every one's on a different station. But just being in the class, you try to last the full interval or put the resistance at the edge of your range for a certain number of reps.

Third, when you always workout on your own, you can easily get in a rut where you do the same routine over and over. However, your body is really adaptable - if you don't mix up the exercises, the ones you continue to do get easier - too easy You no longer get all the benefits you might with more variety. Taking some classes mixes it up for you. You discover new ways to move, old muscles you haven't enlisted for a long time.

I've been wondering why so few males are in some of these classes. This TOJ has a new theory. Guys tend to think because they have a bicep (or used to) and can hit a softball into the outfield (or used to) or can run faster than most women on the same age in a 10K that they magically know all there is to know about their body and exercise. But it just ain't true. Worse, that irrational pride is setting them up to be more prone to limited mobility and more injuries as they age. Many times in the classes I find the women on, say, a stability ball, have much better muscle control, core strength, balance, and range of motion than the males. Male exercisers would be wise to learn from them by using their exercise regimens.

Males reading this might be thinking, "Over my dead body. I'm not getting on any pink colored stability ball."  Dumb. No wonder women outlive men. Then pick a blue one.

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