What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
This is my absolute favorite time of year at the gym -- it’s when all the resolutionists abandon their goals of working out and I can experience the relief of getting a locker and 8-lb free weights without wanting to step on someone’s newly-gifted running shoe-covered toes.
Although vowing to exercise for your New Year’s Resolution is as dumb as Kate’s dog, I’m an annoying proponent of everyone working out routinely. Meaning often. Meaning as part of your life. Meaning you understand the ebb-and-flow of the gym, so we don’t have to awkwardly trip over one another every January.
Personally, I didn’t start working out until college. Prior to that, I participated in exactly zero sports after I disappointed my father by continuously hitting the tee (and not the ball), in tee-ball. During high school P.E., I smoked cigarettes or pot behind this shed in the soccer field. I once got a detention for running the mile slower than the kid on crutches. (I walked.)
I was on staff of the literary magazine and hated being alive -- why would I give a fuck about my health?
Also, and this is important: I was way pigeon toed. In elementary school, I loved sprinting, and got ribbons for short-distance races that meant nothing more than 10-year-old bragging rights. In junior high, when ONE girl said I "ran funny" during a race, I literally stopped running.
I began working out in college since I still hated being alive and the gym was one of the few places I could be left alone. (The library at my school was always stupid-crowded.) On the elliptical, with a red, oxygen-deprived face (kicking cigs would come later) blasting Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards in my headphones, I was in my own little world.
That’s a beautiful trait about the gym -- everyone is in his or her own world. (Except for that girl talking on her iPhone on the machine next to you. Dick.)
The same is true for group fitness classes. Everyone is too concerned with his or her form or that if they do another jumping jack they will die to be concerned what everyone else is doing.
Why does this pertain to you? Group fitness classes are an amazing way to make getting physical a part of your life. They push you harder than you would if you hit the gym solo, work out different muscles than you’d engage while laying on a yoga mat on your own, trying to remember that stretch your roommate taught you that one time, and, if you start hitting a class weekly, your attendance becomes an unspoken commitment.
When I was a fitness instructor my last year of college (working out became a thing, obviously), "I’m going to look dumb," was the most common excuse I heard for not taking classes. Unless you’re chasing the inflatable workout ball around the floor whilst giggling -- something I’ve seen a girl trying to be too adorable do -- no one is watching you. Really.
However, like in every other arena of life, embarrassing things do happen in workout classes. Here are the most humiliating things that have happened to me during the six years I’ve been doing group fitness, and the lessons I learned from enduring the painful mortification (so you don’t have to):
1) One time, I was teaching a class, and my blood sugar plummeted.
I lost my vision and hearing, and knew I was going to faint. Thankfully, I had a friend in class, whispered to her what was happening, told everyone to run laps (it was boot camp), ripped off my headset, and stumbled out of the room and put my head between my knees. My friend brought me Vitamin Water, I chugged it and proposed marriage to her, and returned to class to wrap up. I felt super unprofesh, though, just like the word "unprofresh."
- Research the class before you go. If it has "Advanced" in the name, for example, and you’re a beginner, you probably don’t want to do it. If it’s a class for "all levels," expect the instructor to teach variations of each move.
- Realize there are ways to subtly take a minute to catch your breath. Walk out and get a drink of water. In the first class I ever did, I "went to the water fountain" 20 times. Just don’t distract others and run across the class like an ape. Maybe you’ll want to even station yourself near the door.
- Remember you don’t have to do EVERYTHING the instructor tells you to do. You’ll get out of it what you put into it.
2) Even though I’ve been doing Pilates for many moons, last year, I kicked a girl square in her noggin during class.
With my bare foot. I felt horrible. I apologized. She loathed me.
LESSONS: Stagger yourself apart from others as much as you can. If the class is crowded, and your instructor is dope, he or she will help position you so you’re not on top of one another. Also, try not to get too exhausted to the point where you’re clumsy and apt to punch or kick your neighbor.
3) One time when I was teaching -- so, every person in the class was looking at me -- I got my period.
Blood ran down my leg as I did a squat. I was wearing shorts. My supervisor got me a tampon case as a gift when I graduated. I was like, “HAH,” with a red-hot face when I snatched it from her deceitful little grip.
LESSONS: UH, go to the bathroom when you need to? And wear the right gear. My Hot Pilates instructor here in NYC once had a rip down the back seam of her pants and I’m sure she couldn’t tell because um, the room is hot, and I doubt she felt a draft.
Likewise, my ass and vagina get sweaty when I’m exercising, and apparently I have a hard time determining if fluids are seeping out. Now if I’m going to a class where I’m going to be doing squats and lunges, I wear yoga pants, so I know my vagina (and its fluids) are safely concealed.
4) Another time when I was teaching, one of the instructors asked me to sub her class, which I thought was Pilates, so I said, “Sure!” Turns out, I was subbing her STEP CLASS, AKA MY PERSONAL HELL.
I can dance when I’m out, ‘cause, like in the movie Dirty Dancing, I grind like I’m fucking. Otherwise, I’m highly uncoordinated. Like, 8-counts? What? I felt like a toddler, and not like a toddler with sick moves in “Toddlers and Tiaras.”
LESSONS: Not every class is going to be for you. But you won’t know unless you try! As an uncoordinated lass, I’ve ducked out of several classes and vowed to never return. I love Pilates and cardio/strength interval classes. There are some Pilates/dance fusion classes that I look like a giant bird in, but I keep going, since I feel like the payoff outweighs the awkwardness. Plus, I can tell I’m getting less Bird Bird-like with every session.
5) Due to my pigeon-toed-ness, there are some moves that are extremely difficult for me.
While going into the frog pose in a yoga class (that link conjures horrible feelings), I realized my feet do NOT bend that way. So I kind of sat there, half-assing it, and the instructor came over and repositioned my pigeon feet in the way they do not bend. I quickly shouted, “I have pigeon feet!”
And I’m not sure if it was the pain, or the shock, or ‘cause I was tired from working out and very fragile, but I cried. Not like, sobbing-choking-on-snot crying. But tears-rolling-down-face crying. Everyone stared at me. It was awful.
LESSONS: Tell the instructor if you have something abnormal going on with your body: A bad shoulder, injured lower back, penguin feet (that’s the opposite on the spectrum to "pigeon feet"), whatever. He or she will pay special attention to you, since they don’t want to have to call an ambulance in the middle of class.
Also, and I say this with the utmost amount of respect: Some instructors are SUPER SHITTY. Remember that you’ll jive with different teaching styles! So like, that experience didn’t deter me from ever taking yoga again, but I will NEVER take a class with that instructor again.
6) UGH. OK, setting the scene: I’m in Hot Yoga.
Hot Yoga isn’t as hot as Bikram (that’s 105 degrees). But it’s still hot. And sweaty. And tight. Like, tightly-packed. Crowded. Lots of people love it; it’s popular.
It’s also an hour and a half. SO LONG. We’re coming to the end of the class, and I’m so sweaty. And we’re doing all these downward dogs and planks, and cat-cows, where we’re on our knees. Do you see where this is going?
So we’re ending the class and come to a sitting position, and I let out the loudest, wettest queef you can ever imagine. And since, of course, my gym is FULL OF MODELS AND ACTORS AND OTHERWISE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE, this gorgeous 18-year old model totally turns around, looks down at my (clothed, now quiet) vagina, then up at my face, then back down at my vagina, and hesitantly turns around to resume the class with the most disgusted face you can imagine.
I didn’t know what to do other than to pretend like it wasn’t me. But you guys it was TOTALLY ME AND THE CLASS WAS SMALL AND THERE WAS NO WAY ANYONE COULD’VE THOUGHT OTHERWISE.
LESSONS: I Googled this way before I even started to think about writing this piece and there are no tangible solutions! My only suggestion is that if you have a very wet vagina, wear a tampon during sweaty hot sessions and yoga pants.
So, do you feel SO encouraged now to take a workout class? Or SO afraid? What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you during group fitness? See you at Hot Yoga!
Follow me on Twitter for more uncomfortable stories I’ll probably regret telling: @caitlinthornton.