A sceptic's guide to gym classes
This just in: it turns out that merely being a member of a gym isn't quite enough for you to get into shape. Photo: Getty
Some of us hate them, some of us tolerate them and some of us love them on account of Stockholm Syndrome. But gyms are a good way to get fit, especially if, like me, you can't go jogging because your knees are dodgier than an HSU credit card bill.
Now it turns out that merely being a member of a gym isn't quite enough for you to get into shape.
And so, in a bid to lose a few kilograms along with the vast quantity of money that I've already shed from my bank account, I have embarked on a bold experiment. I've been trying a variety of gym classes to figure out which ones work, which ones don't work, and which ones are too much work.
These sessions are often known as "spin" classes because, like political spin, they are almost entirely fictitious. You ride a pretend bike for a pretend number of kilometres up pretend hills and along straights while loud music is played and disco lights flash so you can pretend you are somehow simultaneously in a nightclub.
Up the front, the instructor will exhort you to go hard and pump it up the hill, while barely raising a sweat themselves because they're so ridiculously fit. I imagine this is supposed to give you something to strive for, but it just renders me resentful.
Who's it for? As long as you have an active imagination, these classes are clearly a great way to burn a lot of kilojoules and get your legs strong. After my 45-minute class, one of my knees was so overworked that I could barely walk home, leaving me to wish I was spinning the tyres of a wheelchair.
My body's more inflexible than a parking inspector, so trying to twist it into the various poses was an enormous challenge. Rather than "downward dog", my signature pose was "defeated dog on the way to the vet to be put to sleep".
While my predominantly female classmates easily contorted their bodies into positions that circus performers might hesitate to attempt, I often found myself taking a breather, kneeling on the mat and panting. Plus, it was HOT – I also frequently had to wipe the mat with my towel because I had dripped so much sweat onto it.
The most challenging part of the class, though, was at the end when I had to avoid giggling while the entire class chanted "Om" and then "Namaste". For some reason they all seemed to be under the impression that they were sitting cross-legged alongside the Maharishi on the banks of the Ganges, not sweating in a CBD gym and about to put on a suit and head off to work for a bank.
Who's it for? To my sceptical mind, yoga is about as spiritual as Kings Cross when an American navy ship is in town. But although it's relatively low intensity, I reckon regular prolonged stretching would do wonders for my inflexible, untoned body. In fact, the class left me highly motivated to learn the secret of folding my body into the shape of a paper clip, just like my classmates. As for the “hot” variety, I'm not sure if the heat helps for anything besides working up more of a sweat, but I bet it's a treat in the middle of winter.
This was probably the most pleasant experience – not only do you get to lie down throughout, but you get to play with giant springs.
You lie on a "reformer bed" – essentially a bench that slides along rails, and yes, that is as bizarre in practice as it sounds. You can adjust the springs to provide different degrees of resistance to tailor your workout to your needs, and for someone with a knee problem, this really was the ideal exercise.
There are also leg straps that feel a touch bondagey, to be honest, but at least provide variety. This had the least physical impact on me of any of the classes, but perhaps I wasn't setting the springs high enough.
Who's it for? People who like lying down and are able to resist the temptation to play with the huge springs and send them flying dangerously across the room.
I think the idea of two adults repeatedly punching each other in the head is both barbaric and dangerous, even if one of them is Mike Tyson and in many respects deserves it. So I approached this class with a degree of hesitation.
But then I put on the gloves and started thumping the pads, and to my surprise, I loved it. It's very satisfying to punch people who can't fight back because if they did, you wouldn't hold the pads for them in return. I enjoyed punching the bag too, because it's an inanimate object and you're pretty much guaranteed it won't retaliate.
So boxing is exhausting and hurt my knuckles, but I really enjoyed it. Maybe those schoolyard bullies were onto something?
Who's it for? People who don't mind sticking their hands into gross gloves and pads filled with your own yucky, stinky sweat, or worse still, somebody else's.
The last thing you need when you're a bit tubby is to work out in a swimsuit, or so I thought. After my aquarobics session, I'd like to amend that – in fact, the last thing you need is to be the last to arrive at a class where all the other members are female and pause to watch you awkwardly descending the ladder.
Aquarobics is a clever idea because it's easier to move heavy objects (such as my body!) in water. So in a sense it's a lower-impact workout.
But then again, the water offers sufficient resistance that just walking through it counts as exercise, especially if you're doing so sideways while performing star jumps.
For me, it was a pleasant return to my toddler delight at mucking about in a swimming pool with foam floaty things. But I did feel a tad self-conscious being not only the only guy in the pool, but the youngest attendee by some margin.
Who's it for: A different demographic from me, apparently. But it certainly seems like a good class if you're new to the gym, and for those carrying injuries it's gentle yet surprisingly demanding.
So there you have it: my experiences of fitness classes. I think if I could only choose one, it'd be cycling, simply because it left me the most exhausted – but hot yoga and boxing were also gruelling yet satisfying. To be honest, each class had something to recommend it – but I don't know if I can manage five classes a week.
I was left wishing I could combine them and get to punch people from a floating bike while lying down in a heated room. I shall ask my gym whether it can introduce a Hot Boxbikearobics Reformer class.
Disclaimer: The above is based on my actual experiences of actually doing the actual classes, I promise. However, it ought to be abundantly clear that not only am I not a fitness or medical professional, but a near-total ignoramus, and therefore this report should be relied upon only for the purpose of laughing at me.