I don’t like the gym. Ok- I hate the gym. There… I admit it. I don’t like sweating. It scares me to feel my heart beating rapidly. And my medium length curly hair doesn’t form the obligatory high pony tail that is de reguir for any upscale gym in NYC.
I know there are people who love working out – setting alarms to be on the phone to get that coveted spot in a spin class, waking up for 8 am core classes or snagging the coveted time for bi-weekly sessions with their personal trainer. I know that people like it from the large number of them I see all hours of the day in their form fitting exercise gear and neon bright sneakers. I’m just not one of them.
Unfortunately I’m married to someone who is. I knew that when I met him and I recall saying I’d go to the gym with him in our wedding vows. That was 25 years ago. And I lied. Every morning my husband Marty pops out of bed at 6:30 am while I roll over to put on a silk sleep mask and cover my ears with a feather pillow to drown out the pulsating sound of the Nespresso machine brewing his morning espresso.
But I am vain and I am middle aged — if I live to be 110. Although I’ve stayed thin and healthy my luck and good genes are bound to give out. And then there are those broken vows and I don’t want him getting any ideas in the broken vow area. So I occasionally drag myself to the gym or ride a bike or carry groceries and shopping bags and tell myself that it’s heavy lifting. But when I really want to punish myself I go to Pilates.
Pilates Pro Works is on 14th Street up two flights of stairs. The first challenge is getting on the toe socks that help me to maintain grip and balance and remind me of slumber parties in the 70’s. Between the sports bra mashing my breasts into a loaf, and the socks slicing into my webbed toes I am already pushing my comfort limit. Then it’s time to enter the class and choose a spot — surrounded by 9 other people on individual machines modeled on torture devices, outfitted with straps and springs and loops. All that is missing is the guillotine. An energetic and slim- thighed instructor half my age sticks on an earpiece and a mic and starts to blast heart-pumping top hits to get us moving – I think it’s just to drown out the sound of my gasping for breath as we warm up by jumping off and on the platform.
I’m warm in about ten seconds. I think it should be a requirement to have “Hi my age is ___” stickers on our spandex tops. I am guessing that everyone around me are in their 20’s. I want to take a break and yell “I am 55 and have osteopenia!” but there’s no time for a break. I am stretching and pulling and trying to stay on the machine. It’s not easy. One misstep and those straps will have me tied up like Houdini.
The ponytailed girls on my left and right have on no makeup. The ponytailed guy in front of me doesn’t either. I have on lipstick and mascara so they don’t call the morgue. They are glowing with the flush of exertion. I am pouring sweat in a full on hot flash.
The music continues. Our peppy leader is shouting over the beat – “get off the machine, put one leg on the platform, the other leg on the table, add a spring, take off a spring, let go of the strap, Use your legs to pull the table together!” Let go of the strap!? If I drop that strap I’ll split in two. As she sees the look of terror on my face she smiles as if to say “you older people just do your best”.
Our next move is crossing the straps and pulling the handles over our heads. As I raise my arm I surreptitiously sneak a look at my watch. Class is half over. I can do this. Maybe. Ten more reps and it’s time for the next move. Keeping my hands in the handles I step off and on the platform while doing curls. That must have killed ten minutes. I sneak another look at my watch as my arm comes up close to my face. The second hand has barely moved. My watch must be broken. Time is moving as slowly as an hour at DMV. But at least there you can sit and read a magazine.
I’m 55, I’m 55, I’m 55 — I am saying it in my head like a mantra. I picture myself looking good on the beach at that Cancun destination wedding in December. I think of my son poking my Pop-n-fresh belly the night before when my jeans slipped down. I think of the young salesclerk who offered me the senior discount at the Garden of Eden market. I think of my grandmother Alice and imagine her trying this at 55 and I smile to myself. She and her mother and her grandmother lived till their late 90s without ever setting foot in a Pilates studio.
Ashley or Jackie or whichever Dominatrix is teaching the class sees me smile. Oh no – not good . I don’t want her to think this is easy. Maybe I should try and look tired and pained so she eases up. But I don’t want to wimp out in front of my younger, perfectly shaped, Lululemon-ed classmates. So I go on.
I try to finish strong but I am beginning to look like a limp piece of spaghetti . I dare to check my watch again and thankfully, there’s just 5 minutes let. I can make it to cool down. At last class is over. Even the ponytailed girls look a bit relieved. They wear their sweat like a trophy and they swing their damp hair as they pat their faces with a towel. My hair is now rivaling Diana Ross in the 70s and my shaky legs make it difficult to get down the steep stairs – but taking the elevator is too shameful. I hold the railing and jerkily make it outside.
The next day all pain is forgotten – at least until I try to sit on a toilet and I wear slip on shoes so I don’t have to bend. But I am proud of myself for making it through. And if I am going to live till 98 like my predecessors I want to look good as long as I can. I just might have to do this a few more years. I go online and buy another package of classes. Maybe I should suggest they offer me the senior discount.