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The Humbling of Sarah (aka “Kettlebell Class”)

January 25, 2011

The album (yes, 33-RPM record!) that had me doing aerobics in my parents' basement, pre-YMCA classes

In my athletic progression, before there was running, there was…aerobics classes. Yup, in my last two years of high school, I was at the New Canaan YMCA twice a week, grapevining and step-touching. At 5’ 11” I stood out in a bunch of ways, most notably by always being at least a step or a beat behind. I might as well have inked “big dork” on my unitard.

So it really should not have come as a surprise last Friday morning when I sucked so badly at a Kettlebell Circuit class, which I’d attended in an attempt to strength train in something other than half-hearted, 10-minute chunks every other week. Ever the optimist, I had thought maybe my running-fitness would carry me through the demands of the class. Wrong! Telling Megan, the curly haired, 5-months-pregnant instructor, that I was a kettlebell class novice was a waste of precious energy–the moment “Eye of the Tiger” started playing and the warm-up began, my awkward movements screamed, “newbie!” There was another first-timer in the class, but she blended in with the crowd.

After the warm-up, the dozen or so of us moved through an 8-station circuit. In one corner, two women jumped rope as skillfully as Laila Ali, while two others seamlessly pushed out bench presses. With nary a bobble, another woman did combo squats and bicep curls while stepping on and off the unstable half-dome of a BOSU ball. Then there was me, jutting my butt and using too much upper body in the kettlebell squats. Megan gave me a few verbal cues—“focus on the lower body–the kettlebell should feel like an afterthought” and, “keep your elbows in and thumbs down.” Doing tricep presses, I looked like a flightless bird.

I redeemed myself, slightly, on the bench presses and jumping jacks. But that only set me up for a longer, steeper descent for the rest of the circuit. By the squat/curl/Bosu combo, Megan realized I needed movements, not words, and she jumped to my side to demonstrate. From then on, she was Samwise Gamgee to my hapless Frodo, leading me through the uncharted circuit terrain. I curled when I should have straightened, squatted when I should have stepped down. I mumbled to Megan I had no coordination. (Again with the obvious!) Oh, and no balance.

Then on to the box jump/burpee station for my most humiliating revelation: I have no explosive power. None. If my life had depended on being able to do a two-footed hop onto of a Step with two risers underneath it, I’d be dead right now. Seriously, dead. Instead I nearly died doing the exercise—first for 30 seconds, then 60 on the next go-round, and finally for a brutally long 90 seconds.

By the time we finished with a few core exercises on mats, I couldn’t hold a plank for 60 seconds, something I usually pride myself in being able to do. Yet as I told cute Samwise, I mean, Megan, I’ll be back next Friday. As RLAMer Tina pointed out on Facebook, “We all have to start somewhere.”

38 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2011 4:14 am

    The great thing about starting out in a place that feels so far “behind”?? You have plenty of room to improve!!

  2. January 25, 2011 5:20 am

    This totally reminds me of myself when a few months ago a neighbor of mine talked me into trying Zumba with her. She reassured me that this was easy and a lot like the old school step aerobics classes. Well, I informed her that I was no good at those and this white girl really can’t dance. Not to mention has no concept of rhythm or beats or follow short and quick directions… I was a mess – moving in the wrong directions, kicking way after the fact and feel foolish the entire time. I think I was sweating more from embarrassment then from any aerobic exhaustion. I was reassured by many members there that is gets easier the more you come to class…well, that was my one and ONLY Class! I’ll get my burn some other way, thank you! ;o)

    • bowenshea permalink*
      January 25, 2011 9:37 am

      Love your “sweating more from embarrassment” comment!! Maybe THAT is why I was drenched on Friday post-class… “;>)

    • Sue permalink
      January 25, 2011 6:14 pm

      I couldn’t agree more–Zumba was NOT for me. I didn’t think it was that great of a workout, but that’s probably because I was not really diggin’ the sexy hip-shaking. I’ll stick to my less provocative but more effective workouts, thank you very much.

  3. January 25, 2011 5:23 am

    I would LOVE to be in that class. I would be like you, but would LOVE it! We don’t have kettlebells at my gym 😦 so that makes me sad. Hopefully they will get them some day! Good Luck with the class, you will get better as time goes on!

  4. Lisa permalink
    January 25, 2011 5:29 am

    Totally feel this! At 5′ 10″ I was always (and usually still am) the tallest,doofiest one in the bunch. Barbell class at my gym was the worst, everyone was helpful, but I just felt like the giant, uncoordinated dork. It did get better in time, and got to the point where I actually enjoyed it, hang in there!
    (I remember working out to that album, too! In my living room.)

  5. January 25, 2011 6:04 am

    “Doing tricep presses, I looked like a flightless bird.” Hahaha.

    I always, always look like a giant tool in any sort of group exercise effort. I even include running in that: In every picture of me in any race, I appear to have T-Rex/ kangaroo arms. I have decided that the best thing to do is not think about it at all and just hope it doesn’t end up on the internet (except, of course, when I put photos of myself on my blog and make fun of them first.) I go to a group exercise class twice a week and my first few attempts were laughable, AND we were doing wheelbarrows and pullups using each others arms for support, so my ineptitude was encroaching on other peoples’ workouts. (There’s a reason why I’ve always avoided team sports.) BUT I stuck with it and now I’m reasonably more competent, way more fit, and I completely don’t care what I look like doing frog squats across the field, even during the months that they bring in the British mens’ soccer pros (soccer legs AND accents? Oh dear.) on the next pitch over.

    • bowenshea permalink*
      January 25, 2011 1:11 pm

      You are cracking me UP, Pamela…and inspiring me. Glad to hear a fellow she-dork can improve. I went to another strength training class this morning. Didn’t dig it as much as Kettlebells. It was too Body Pump for me. Too much gear-swappage, not enough work. But I’m vowing two some sort of classes/week!

  6. January 25, 2011 6:55 am

    I would LOVE, LOVE to try that class!!!

  7. January 25, 2011 7:12 am

    Oh man SBS… sounds brutal! But think how good it was for you and how in a couple of months you will be one of the Laila Ali’s in the class. And your core and everything else will be so much stronger. Good for you for trying something hard and new! Good inspiration. 🙂

  8. January 25, 2011 7:43 am

    That sounds like a fun class! I would feel totally at home in this type of class but I would feel like you did in a Zumba type class. I have no dance coordination (but I’m good at step, go figure). We all have our “thing” you know?

    Box jumps are humbling for anyone I think – it was always more of a fear thing for me. One of my proudest CrossFit moments was finally being able to jump on the 24″ box. I am forever fearful that I will bust my shins open (and I have!) but I do it.

    • bowenshea permalink*
      January 25, 2011 1:12 pm

      Kia–You most definitely would have rocked this class. Reading about you was part of my inspiration for branching out “:>)

  9. Stacy permalink
    January 25, 2011 7:57 am

    I, too, have been utterly and frustratingly humbled in a strength training class. I was taking a boot camp style circuit training class on the beach in the sand. Brutal! 500 yard sprints alternating with 30 pushups for three circuits was just the warm up. The medicine balls came out next…lets just say I was writhing in agony for the few days between classes hoping for flat ground on every excursion. Indeed, with all new endeavors, we all start somewhere. Keep running!

  10. Kristen F permalink
    January 25, 2011 8:21 am

    Step aerobics humbled me. I am totally uncoordinated. I think the teacher felt sorry for me since I was constantly on the wrong foot or up when I should be down. I eventually caiught on… until they changed the routine. My core class is similar. Everyone in there makes it seem so effortless and I am shaky and really want to just lay down. I keep going and hoping one day it will look effortless for me too.

    • Sue permalink
      January 25, 2011 6:16 pm

      Ha! So true. A few years ago my step aerobics instructor commented to me (in front of the whole class) that I was so hard-core I could teach the class. My newly inflated head and I promptly proceeded to trip over the damn step and fall flat on my face. Humbling, indeed.

  11. January 25, 2011 8:38 am

    I felt the same way at my first Zumba class, that I inadvertently joined! I thought I was joining a step-class, but the schedule I had was wrong and since I walked in 5 minutes late I thought I would make more of a scene if I left! Boy was I wrong! I made much more of a scene trying to keep up with those crazy Zumba moves! I’m sure I was quite the sight!

  12. Gretch permalink
    January 25, 2011 9:10 am

    Okay, you made me feel a little better. After an excruciating Tabata Cardio class yesterday, the instructor asked me if I had worked out earlier. When I told him I had not worked out in a week, he said, “Usually when I see someone like you who is having a “difficult time” I just assume you are in a recovery mode. So, I guess maybe you are just coming down with something.” Just wait until next week.

    • bowenshea permalink*
      January 25, 2011 1:15 pm

      Oh, dear GOD, where did that instructor get his people “skills” from?!?!?! He sounds like the E.R. doctor on “Arrested Development.” (“Well, he looks dead…”) Thankfully preggo-Megan made me feel nurtured.

  13. January 25, 2011 9:15 am

    Sarah, stick with it, look at an article I was featured in lately – see below

    For Grainne Keogh, kettlebells have worked miracles. The mother of two started kettlebell training at The Training Floor in Stamford two years ago and workouts paired with healthier eating have taken her from a size 22 to a 2. “It totally changed my appearance and physique,” says Keogh, who has introduced the workout to six friends who meet religiously every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at The Training Floor’s group class. “It’s like going to church,” says Keogh, who compares 60 minutes of a kettlebell workout to running 10 miles. “You don’t think you can push yourself, but you can.” A runner, Keogh used to work out and do step aerobics but never saw results. Now, she says, there’s no going back. She still runs and has shaved one hour off her half marathon time, thanks to kettlebell training.

    “It’s more bang for the buck,” “Calories are being burned, strength is built and stamina is increasing.”

    • bowenshea permalink*
      January 25, 2011 1:16 pm

      Grainne, having met you in person, I know for my own eyes the AWESOME results Kettlebells can have. Wow, I need to tape an “after” photo of you in my gym locker for inspiration, woman. Thanks for reminding me.

  14. Shirley permalink
    January 25, 2011 9:23 am

    My hubby and I did the UCSF runsafe evaluation last month. Couple things we learned: runners have strong quads and weak butts. Upper body is a given. After 10 years of running I know do strength training classes and feel so weak and uncoordinated!

    It’s amazing how we can run long but can’t do pull ups. Yet!

    • Katie Pace permalink
      January 25, 2011 6:00 pm

      Weak butts?! I had a weak butt when I started running! I was hoping I’d get a little boost back there from running. ((Deep sigh)) Guess it’s time to cross-train.

  15. January 25, 2011 11:02 am

    I am awful at box jumps. Mostly because I envision myself face planting, but my vertical leap is terrible. My trainer can jump 5 feet straight in the air from a stand still. But, he’s some kind of god.

  16. January 25, 2011 11:35 am

    I thought I was the only uncoordinated person out there. So I feel much better that there are others that feel as out of place as I do. I still love those classes!!!

  17. Megan permalink
    January 25, 2011 11:45 am

    Oh gawd. I’m exhausted just reading that…and to think I wanted to try it.

  18. Michelle permalink
    January 25, 2011 1:21 pm

    Too funny! I braved a lift class recently, and noticed the woman next to me, um, in her 80s!, had more weight on her bar than I did!

  19. Sharon permalink
    January 25, 2011 1:40 pm

    So while I laughed LOL’d at this post as with the others – it was more that I was laughing because I am the same way in any class that requires coordination. That’s probably why I avoid those classes! 🙂

  20. Kim in Salt Lake City permalink
    January 25, 2011 1:50 pm

    I had read somewhere that kettlebell training can be very advantageous to runners, so I researched local options for instruction and couldn’t find any that worked with my schedule. I started looking at video options and there are alot, but few that are RKC instructors and fewer still that really explain the exercises well. The one I finally settled on is The Ultimate Body Sculpt and Conditioning with Kettlebells from On The Edge Fitness with Lauren Brooks. It is not the greatest production ever, but she demonstrates the moves exceedingly well. For a taste of her style of instruction, watch her demonstrate the swing here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0jalJ-3e7U. The first time I did the video I was kneeling on the floor gasping for the minute of rest between exercise sets and I thought the burpees were going to kill me. For the second time, I bought a smaller kettlebell and focused on form. I can get through a workout now and I look forward to them on my non-running days.

  21. January 25, 2011 3:22 pm

    Sounds like me and the yoga class I took. Loved it, but I was next to a girl who was literally a human pretzel.

  22. January 25, 2011 5:07 pm

    Awesome post! I took a circuit training class last year led by a 70-something lady with less body fat than my 4-YO daughter. She had been a dancer in her youth. Let’s just say I showed up until the class ended but didn’t sign up again. Instead, I put myself in an old-school bootcamp class where grit not grace is an asset. I still need some work in the grit department too, but at least it’s not entirely hopeless. :^)

  23. Angela M W permalink
    January 25, 2011 5:47 pm

    Sounds like me when I first started CrossFitting. Brutal. But hey-you’re doing it, right?!

  24. Ali permalink
    January 25, 2011 5:51 pm

    I’m very proud of you. You’re going to be very pleased with your results, and maybe your bird impression will even become less flightless. 😉

  25. January 25, 2011 7:46 pm

    i love it! I have to have classes for strength training or I do one walk up the stairs to my bonus room and some half-hearted sit-ups on the ball and call it a day.

  26. January 25, 2011 7:54 pm

    Sounds like a good workout! I may be able to top your experience with only this description: 5’11” blonde girl in aerobic Salsa. Unfortunately, I said “adios” to that after one class.

    Have fun, though, and just laugh off the awkward.

  27. Angie permalink
    January 25, 2011 7:57 pm

    Your flightless bird comment reminds me of a pole dancing fitness class I took 2 years ago. It was a group of us for a 40th birthday party and it kicked my arse! I was definitely a flightless bird there! Would love to fo it again…..

  28. jord permalink
    January 25, 2011 9:00 pm

    Now that was the workout of a badass mother! Besides, the more humble your beginnings are, the more impressive your gains will be. I definitely want to try kettlebells, but I’m hesitant to drop $150 for 3 classes with a professional instructor. One of these days.

  29. January 27, 2011 2:18 pm

    i went to my brother’s house in Sept and that Jane Fonda album in his collection. I remember going with my mom to our church basement to do this workout with her aerobics class.

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