Conquering my fear of fitness

FitnessSchoolsElementary SchoolsFort Lauderdale

I am a fitness gym dropout.

That's not easy to say when you live in South Florida, one of the most body-conscious places on the planet. But since I will celebrate turning 40-something soon, I thought this might be my time to put down the double-cheeseburgers and large fries and hit a gym again.

It's been more than a decade since I have seriously worked out. I wrestled for 1 1/2 years in high school (took off the last part of the second season to pursue other opportunities, like not working out). In my 20s, I joined and quit a couple of membership gyms. And in my 30s, I became a pretty serious jogger for a couple of years, running several miles a day.

And then I moved across the country, got married and had two children. Somewhere along the way, I lost my motivation to stay in shape.

Now I want my groove back. But there are several reasons why someone like me might be shy about working out.

1. It's hard.

2. It hurts.

3. It seems like everyone else in sun-drenched South Florida is already fit, preening in bikinis and man-thongs everywhere. Who wants to be the guy or gal standing next to them in a wall-to-wall mirrored gym who has to catch up?

Nonetheless, I faced my fears and hit a gym last week. And boy did it hit back.

I chose Orangetheory Fitness, a Fort Lauderdale franchise. The company has been blowing up in popularity since it opened its first group interval fitness studio in March 2010, and now has 50 studios in eight states. There are nine studios in South Florida, with more opening soon.

Orangetheory's claim to fitness fame is its use of heart-rate monitors during workouts. The monitors allow members (and trainers) to ensure their heart rates remain in "target zones" that are safe while still maximizing stimulation of your metabolism.

I told myself the cool thing about the monitor strapped to my chest underneath my shirt was that you'd get an indication that a heart attack is coming if you push too hard during the workout.

That's because your individual heart-rate percentage is splashed onto a flatscreen for everyone to see, including you and your group trainer. If you lag, your heart rate percentage will be low, if you push too hard, it will hit 85 percent or higher. The heart, as they say, does not lie.

That means you can't hide in the back of the group dodging the glare of your trainer. I tried, but any time my heart rate was too low or high, she was on me like peanuts on a Snickers bar. I love Snickers.

Orangetheory also claims you can lose up to 900 calories in a single session, and that your body will keep burning calories and fat for up to 36 hours after leaving the gym.

"It's like a two-for-one workout," said Manny Ceara, manager of the studio in Weston, where I ended up.

This is what happened:

1. It was hard.

2. It hurt.

3. I got in trouble. A lot.

"Daniel, you have to stick to your base [heart] rate," barked the trainer they call Melanie. "Daniel, you are going too hard... Daniel, you are not trying hard enough."

Or my favorite: "Daniel, you're not listening!" It was grade school all over again.

I was trying to keep up with Cantillon Eilers, a 37-year-old pharmaceutical executive and former scholarship tennis player at the University of Alabama. Eilers is lean, mean and all muscle. Then there was Pamela Edmonds Fishman, a stay-at-home mom of a 1-year-old boy. Fishman could pass for a Runner's World magazine cover model.

They treadmilled like it was their job. I just wanted to keep up. My heart rate soared. Melanie yelled (at me.)

This cycle repeated itself as we switched exercises every 5 or 10 minutes, lifting dumbbells, working on rowing machines and performing lunges with medicine balls. If Eilers did 15 reps, I did 15. Maybe 11. If Fishman rowed 250 yards, I wanted to row 250 yards. Maybe 150.

Melanie told me to concentrate on my own workout and stop talking to those around me. Again, grade school all over again.

We spent 60 minutes in the sweat-inducing room. And at the end, I was the only one light-headed and silently vomiting in my mouth.

But I did it.

I had a great experience. Sure the women beat me, badly. But after a while, I realized the competition wasn't between us, it was between us and Father Time and his sidekick, gravity.

I also learned I'm not the only person who is out of shape, and that just about anyone at any age in any condition can do this. Some like me just need someone like Melanie to keep you out of trouble.

Have an idea for an "In Your Shoes" column? Contact Daniel Vasquez at dvasquez@tribune.com, 954-356-4219 or 561-243-6686.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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