Saturday, September 20, 2014

5:07 PM
This month of my Fitness Project I have spent a significant amount of time plie'-ing and tilting my pelvis (while death gripping a ballet barre and "glistening").  These hours spent in excruciating precision and pain have given me a new appreciation for the strength and discipline that underlie the effortless grace of a dancers' musculature and movements.  They have also made me realize the following things.

1. Dancers are really f'in strong. As one that has spent the most of my athletic life doing lunges and squat-based strength training, I have been amazed at how quickly I become a quivering mess when asked to perform a series of small, precise movements that rely on smaller and long-dormant muscle groups.  In case you are feeling smug, try this one for perspective.

Stand tall with your heels together, toes slightly apart. Rest your right hand lightly on the back of a chair.  Without leaning backwards, lift your right leg off the floor as high as you can (that means more than two feet off the ground, please) with your toes pointed. Now micro-bend and straighten that lifted leg (without lowering the leg, please; relax your grip on the bar, please; tuck your pelvis, please). After doing this for at least 30 seconds (forever), straighten your leg and just pulse your leg up (!) to the ceiling (keep your leg high, please) for at least another 30 seconds. Then draw dime-sized circles with your big toe, and then (don't kill me) reverse direction.

2. Three pounds are really, really heavy. There is definitely a different kind of muscle fatigue that comes from lifting very light weights for many, many repetitions. I learned that the hard way when I started with five pound weights (the heaviest on the shelf) and had to downgrade to 3 pounders less than two minutes into the upper body portion of the work out. Feeling burly? Give this one a shot:

Stand tall with your feet hip width apart.  Bend at the waist until your chest is almost parallel to the floor. Raise your straight arms behind you as high as you can (higher!). Squeeze your arms in and then up, in and up, in and up.... When you feel like your triceps will explode start micro-bending your elbows and extending your arms back behind you - and extend, and extend.  Now start pulsing your arms up toward the ceiling. Oh, I am sorry did you say you wanted the 2-lb dumbbells? 

3. Whoever said you don't sweat in a bar class was lying (or not trying hard enough).  Admittedly I was a little snobby coming into these classes about what the level of effort might actually be. I anticipated gliding through a workout with a bunch of well-coiffed women who would be more concerned about their pedicures and outfits than the quality or intensity of the workout.  To be honest, however, it turns out that I enter such a realm of intense focus and suffering during these classes that I literally don't even notice that anyone else is in the room. All I see is myself in the mirror - covered with a sheen of sweat and breathing intensely as I will myself to keep pace with the instructions and overcome the burning fire and uncontrolled shaking of my muscles.

Stand facing the back of a chair with your heels together, toes rotated out, knees hip width apart. Squat down as far as you can with a straight back. Tuck your pelvis under and lift your heels as high as you can. Tilt your pelvis forward and back and side to side (squat deeper, heels up). Make circles with your pelvis (squat deeper, heels up). Lift and lower one inch (...and down, and down, and down!). Keep going as you legs start to quiver and shake uncontrollably. Smile. Now separate your heels - knees and feet hip width apart. Squat down as far as you can with a straight back. Tuck your pelvis under and lift your heels as high as you can. Repeat sequence in this position. Grimace.

4. It is possible to work every muscle group to failure and yet not be sore the next day.  This phenomena has been the most surprising thing to me about doing these kinds of classes and workouts. I really don't understand it physiologically, yet I have found that I will collapse out of several postures in a class because I am physically incapable of completing the sequence, walk out of a class totally exhausted, and then wake up feeling great the next day with no residual soreness.  So weird, yet so surprisingly pleasant and sustainable.

Stand facing the back of a chair from far enough away that you have to fully bend over to reach the chair. Slightly bend both legs. Lift your right leg up and extend it back while rotating your hip open. Tuck and lift your hip, then micro-bend and straighten your back leg. Now (simply!) lift your leg up and down slightly. Now bend your leg so your knee is close to your shoulder and make dime-sized circles with your knee. Now bring your right knee close to your shoulder and then stretch the leg back towards the back of the room, moving on a single plane. Ignore the stabbing pain in your right glute as you push through.

5. Like every other sport out there, this one has a dress code. It's just that this one appears to be fancy Lululemeon tops, long tights, and funny socks with knobby bottoms. I have of course broken all conventions by just showing up in the running clothes and socks that I just actually ran in, but at least I am there, sweaty hair and all.

I can't say I am a complete convert and some of the moves are definitely not my favorite (e.g., the entire back-against-the-wall abs sequence), but in terms of a full body workout that I can feel strengthening, lengthening and awakening my muscles - I'll take it, pelvic tilts, funny socks and all. If you actually do some of the moves mentioned in this post, I'll bet you will gain your own new appreciation of the experience too.

To learn more about my Fitness Project, please contact me at,, or connect with me on Facebook.


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