With a Ten-Foot Pole

There are few sports that elicit more awe in me than the parallel bars at the summer Olympics. As gymnasts combat gravity to fling themselves around the horizontal poles and through the air, it’s immediately clear how strong and flexible and coordinated they are, and no one would doubt for a second that they’re athletes.

So when a friend asked me to join her at a parallel-bar fitness class earlier this month, why did I find myself scoffing that it was hardly a sport?

Oh, that’s right: because these bars were vertical, not horizontal. Or let me put it another way: because this was a pole-dancing workout class. And pole-dancing — a practice many associate with seedy bars and dollar bills — sure didn’t sound like an athletic pastime to me.

My aching muscles the following day begged to differ, but we’ll get there.

For those of you not in the know, like me just a few short weeks ago, pole dancing comes in three forms: sexy (i.e. strippers), artsy (i.e. Cirque du Soleil) and sport (i.e. me!) Pole-dancing — or “pole” as die-hards call it — requires a dancer to support and control her own bodyweight while hanging from, climbing up or spinning around a metal support, and believe you me, it’s not as easy as it looks.

This isn’t the kind of workout I’d usually seek out, but I’m trying to exercise more socially to maximize the day’s short hours, so when a friend found a 2-pack Groupon in Koreatown, I couldn’t say no. We booked our sessions, donned our least sexy workout gear and showed up at Femme Body Fitness on a recent Friday evening for our first pole-dancing class.

And it was nearly my last: I stepped into the studio and came face-to-face with this wall of rentable stilettos, and almost hightailed it right out of there.


These aren’t Asics.


But the front-desk lady said those are for the more advanced classes and assured me socks or bare feet were fine. So I swallowed my pride, headed onto the dimly lit dance floor, snagged an empty spot as close to the corner as possible and started plotting the demise of my friend who talked me into this mess stretching.

The hour-long session was broken down into three sections: a mat-based warmup that was basically a mini yoga class, 40 minutes of learning and practicing different tricks (like jumping up and holding onto the pole with your thighs like a monkey, or spinning around with one leg up like a firefighter looking to impress) and a final “free-style” dance session with the overhead lights completely off and the disco ball on.

When I first heard we’d be ending with a dance party, I planned to duck out early — there was no way I’d be celebrating what I expected to be the most embarrassing workout of my life. But after nearly an hour of gripping and sweating and spinning — and even trying an inversion with the help of the instructor — I felt surprisingly confident. So I used the final song as a chance to try all my moves in sequence, and it was off-rhythm and messy and unpolished and … well … kind of fun.


Rogan’s a natural.


It was also a killer workout. I’ve been sore before, but my back and shoulders have never ached like they did the day after this workout class. Aerial fitness is no joke, even if this same studio teaches “twerking classes” on Tuesdays.

But you know what the best thing about the class was? It was full of women of all body types, and some of the curviest were hands-down the strongest. We get force fed this idea that skinny is fit, but watching these women of all shapes and sizes flip and spin and defy gravity in a way I couldn’t even comprehend was a welcome wake-up call: I can be strong even without six-pack abs.

Hanging in there.

I don’t think I’ll be signing up for any more of these classes anytime soon, but I did go back for my second Groupon session, so I think I’ll call that a success in stepping (spinning?) out of my comfort zone.

Would you try pole dancing as a workout?


Surprise! It’s Bike to Work Day

Do you value your safety and personal well-being? No? Well then, have I got a holiday for you:

Today’s National Bike to Work Day!

Situated smack in the middle of National Bike to Work Month, today’s holiday is meant to raise awareness about the soaring numbers of bike commuters choosing to forgo the carpool or subway for their own two wheels — and living to tell the tale.

According to the League of American Bicyclists — which is consequently a super cool band name — 40 percent of all car trips in the U.S. are less than two miles long, meaning trading your classic combustion engine for a human-powered bike is a reasonable alternative. It’s emission-free, cheap and healthy, and swapping your car for a cycle ride from time to time can be a little way to make a big difference to both your fitness and the environment.

With all this in mind, I decided earlier this month to put my fears behind me and try my very first bike-to-work commute. And, believe you me, I learned some things in the process. If you’re thinking about joining the ranks of office-bound cyclists today, here are some helpful tips from someone who learned a few things the hard way:

  • Do a trial run. I didn’t get a lot of things about bike commuting right, but I DID have the foresight to practice on a Saturday to make sure the bike lanes connected where I thought they did. Turns out though Saturday mornings in Manhattan offer much emptier roads than weekday rush hour, so the trial run wasn’t a true stand-in, but at least I got a feel for it on a day I wasn’t racing in to punch the clock.
  • Wear bike-friendly clothing. The day you choose to bike to work is not a morning to test out your new pencil skirt. If you have a long commute and somewhere to shower/change, I’d recommend workout clothes. My commute was less than two miles, so I wore regular work pants and a t-shirt I could swap out for a more business-casual shirt in the newsroom bathroom. I probably should have packed wet-wipes, too, but I’m a gross colleague.
  • Choose a cycle-friendly bag. If you lug around as much stuff as I do (i.e. lunch, back-up shoes, seven pounds of stray Bernese Mountain Dog hair that somehow sticks to everything I own), you’ll want to swap our your normal purse for a cross-body bag or backpack that’s easy to wield on a cycle.
  • Roll up a pant leg. I don’t quite understand the science of this, but seems all the cool kids do it.
  • Wear a helmet. Even if your route has bike lanes, cars are going to be going out of their way to kill you, at least in my experience. Watch for both right turns into your lane and absent-minded drivers flinging open their doors into your path. Practice ringing your bike bell while simultaneously yelling “hey a$$hole, I’m biking here!”
  • Check the weather. I chose what I though was a beautiful morning to bike-commute to work for the first time. Turns out, I should have given this little cloud cover a little more thought.

It started pouring when I was halfway in, and I arrived at work semi-drenched — but at least I had a dry shirt in my bag. And I’m fortunate enough to have a secure indoor spot to store my bike, so I chose to leave it at work overnight and ride it home the next day when the storm had passed. So technically I biked only to work that day, not from it, but that’s what I call baby steps.

Speaking of baby steps, look who got brave enough to enter our (very scary!) back porch this past weekend … before leaping into my lap in terror at the sound of the wind blowing.

Baby steps.

Are you biking to work today?


Songs of Good Cheer

News flash: On Saturday morning, I won the Rhinebeck Hudson Valley Half Marathon.

Don’t misunderstand me: I didn’t run it or anything. But I stood on my front stoop in the rain, blasted Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind,” called affirmations to every athlete passing by and — most importantly — had the best-looking sidekick this side of Poughkeepsie. I think we can all agree that’s #winning.

Best friends always color coordinate. 

I hadn’t expected to enjoy myself so much spectating the event. In fact, just three weeks before, I’d cursed that very same race when I realized 1. It was passing right by my house and 2. I wasn’t in good enough shape to join it.

I’ve largely let running go by the wayside since the NYC Half Marathon in March, and while I usually pride myself in being able to churn out a sub-2 half with little to no extra training, I knew deep in my soul I wasn’t in good enough shape to finish this weekend’s race and feel good doing it.

Actually, for a brief minute, I tricked myself into thinking I could: I pictured hustling back into shape, wrote down actual workouts in my google calendar, devised ways to replace rest days with extra long runs, and ran an impromptu seven-miler after a month on the couch just to show myself I still had it.

And — ooooh — the punishment shin splints have been relentless. Never go from zero to seven, people, NEVER.

So I quickly scrapped that plan (and have been wearing sneakers every day since waiting for the shin pain to subside…) and decided to reimagine myself cheering alongside the race course instead.

And I’m so glad I did. I’m not sure about the other 13.1 miles (or 26.2 miles for the simultaneous full), but I was the only spectator as far as the eye could see on my stretch of road. And having been on the other side, I know just how good a “looking good, runner!” can feel when you’re powering up a hill in the rain counting down the miles til the finish line.

Plus a bernese wrapped in a beach towel makes everyone laugh.

“I could catch you if I wanted to.”

So what did I learn this past weekend? That cheering at a race can be just as fun as running one, without any of the pesky recovery time. And that telling an environmentally friendly runner she can toss her empty gel in your yard elicits so much gratitude. And that Lucille and I wear the same size raincoat but she refuses to be seen outside in it.

“Mom, you’re embarrassing me.”

But most of all, Saturday taught me when the area’s October half marathon rolls through town, I’m gonna be ready this time. Don’t believe me? I already registered.

Who’s with me?


Well, I’m Soul-ed

I finally did something I said I’d never do.

  • No, I didn’t voluntarily enter a haunted house.
  • No, I didn’t go to Times Square for fun.
  • No, I didn’t fly to Hawaii so these FaceTiming first cousins could finally meet snout-to-snout.
(And you thought Keira wasn’t going to get any billing on this blog once Lucille came into the picture.)

No, friends. I did something far more shocking: this morning, I went to SoulCycle.

And here’s the M. Night Shyamalan twist ending you weren’t expecting: I loved it. (Also, the Village takes place in modern-day Pennsylvania. There, I just saved you an hour and 48 minutes of your life. You’re welcome.)

For those of you living under a rock (whatup slugs of the world!), SoulCycle is a boutique indoor cycling class where riders spin and move to the beat of very loud music while a guru-like instructor shouts affirmations while surrounded by candlelight. These classes have been mocked as being trendy, elitist and that most hated of words — basic — and for years, I believed them.

Until 7 a.m. this morning, when I did a 45-minute ride at the 54th Street location in Manhattan and spent most of the class grinning ear to ear.

Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t smiling because I was physically enjoying it — I was sweating bullets and silently cursing the resistance nob under my breath the entire time. But for a spinning class, I found myself surprisingly entertained and the ¾ hour session flew by, something I can’t say’s been the case in other group cycling classes I’ve slogged through.

Key to my kept attention were several things: great music (dance-remix Whitney and Duran Duran), a break from the intense cycling about 30 minutes in to focus on hand weights, a hypnotic atmosphere and an upbeat instructor saying just enough positive things to keep me motivated.

My favorite: “You’re fierce, you’re beautiful, you’re strong, you’re here.” Turns out I eat that sh*t up.

Now SoulCycle certainly has its downsides. It’s expensive ($34 a class + $3 shoe rentals), it’s apparently hard to book spots in the most popular classes, it’s impossible to unclip your special shoes if you’re me and the shower lines were long before work. And, fine, they used words like “tribe” and “pack” and “aspirational lifestyle brand” in their IPO filings, which is pretty damn annoying.

But it was still a great workout that left me feeling energized and motivated and, above all, sweat-drenched. And maybe it’s basic, but if loving workout classes and spandex pants and rosé wine and almond milk lattes is basic, then count me in.

I realize SoulCycle is polarizing. What do you think of it?


Lordy, Lordy: I Did 40

If someone told me they were planning to run a marathon with zero training save for a handful of 5Ks, I’d put the emergency room on speed dial ahead of their inevitable crash and burn.

So as I laced up Sunday for New York City’s 40-mile Five Boro Bike Tour — on training literally limited to cycling to an ice-cream shop to meet a friend in April — I was bracing for the worst.

“I’ll make it to Queens and then head home at the halfway mark,” I told myself. “There’s no shame in stopping early. Only a fool would try for 40 miles on about 6 miles — and one soft-serve — of total training.”

Did someone say soft serve?

That’s the funny thing about preparing for the worst: sometimes it doesn’t pan out. Or in other words: sometimes you finish the entire 40-mile tour, feel awesome doing it, and can’t remember for the life of you why you were so darned nervous in the first place.

We are the champions! Us and those other 39,996 people.

The Five Boro Bike Tour — not a race, as the organizers are sure to remind you — reminds me a lot of the NYC marathon: it leads you all around the city, it has spectacular views, and it forces you to go to Staten Island against your better judgment. But unlike the marathon, I finished Sunday’s event with zero pain and woke up Monday feeling fresh, not like my knees were going to crumble under me like I do after running 26.2 miles.

Seriously, if anyone had told me years ago biking doesn’t destroy your will to live like marathoning does, I would have traded in my Asics for a 21-speeder years ago.

Don’t get me wrong: biking events won’t totally replace running as my cardio of choice. But based on my limited experience, it does bring some key benefits:

  • It’s lower impact, meaning you hurt less afterwards.
  • You get a built-in rest on the down hills.
  • It’s kosher to ring a loud bell at jerks about to step in your path.
  • There’s no shame in carrying an entire backpack of food with you for the entire event, which doesn’t quite work when you’re traveling on foot.

Of course, everything has its cons. For the bike tour, it was mostly related to congestion: get 40,000 bikes on one course and you’re bound to come to a standstill once or twice or what felt like 37 times. As someone with a need for speed, I found this particularly frustrating.

Grumble grumble.

Still, it was all-in-all a positive experience, and a good reminder that while I feel like my fitness levels have long since plateaued, I still have some endurance in me. Huzzah!

Have you ever tried your hand at a new sport?


Counter-Intuitive Fitness

A lot of what we now know to be true about fitness and weight loss appears at first counter-intuitive:

  • To lose fat, eat more of it.
  • To look slimmer, gain muscle weight.
  • To feel more awake, exhaust yourself with a workout.

And here’s one more: to exercise more frequently, cancel your gym membership.

(At least, I’m hoping that’s the case. Ask me in a month whether my pants still button.)

I’ve belonged to a gym in New York City for almost nine years — first New York Sports Club, then the 92 St. Y, then back to NYSC where they amazingly grandfathered me back in at the same cheap rate I was paying in 2008 following the Lehman Brothers crash. Thanks, subprime mortgage crisis!

And during each of those years, I used the gym differently. As an unhealthy college grad, I’d plug into the elliptical for 20 minutes then call it a day. During my four marathon training cycles, I’d churn out treadmill workouts then recover with a yoga class. In the months before our wedding, I’d sweat my way through two Body Pump classes a week, toning my arms primarily so I could dance to Shout and look good doing it. #priorities


But recently, I’ve found it harder and harder to make it to the gym. If I had a personal trainer, I’m sure she’d tell me there’s always an excuse, but I swear my reasons are legit: I started a job with significantly longer hours, I uncovered my bike after a winter in storage, I moved to a building with an in-house fitness room and I got a dog who’s not so good at the rowing machine. Why race to a 7 p.m. pilates class in Manhattan when I can be at home snuggling this gorgeous face in Queens? I rest my case.

This is my boating hat.

In fact, not only was I paying a monthly membership for a gym I wasn’t going to, I found that knowing I wasn’t getting my money’s worth at NYSC was actually discouraging me from taking advantage of other workout opportunities, too. Why go to a friend’s $25 barre class if I am already paying for NYSC? Why buy a climbing session if I am already paying for NYSC? Why cough up $40 for a 5K race entry if am already paying for NYSC?

So I did something in April that may appear counter-intuitive: I walked into NYSC, took a final Body Pump class, and canceled my gym membership once and for all.

Goodbye forever, Dan, my favorite Body Pump instructor. 😦

And then I signed up for a $10 yoga class at my apartment building next week, because the burden had been lifted!

So who knows if quitting my gym will help me stop turning down other classes and increase my fitness levels, but it’s worth a try, even if it seems counter-intuitive. Because, hey, some counter-intuitive things really do work: like how giant dogs actually thrive in a tiny apartment. I swear.

I’m not big. You’re big.

What surprising things have you done in the name of fitness?