getting buff: body space fitness, nyc


Before we talk about Body Space Fitness, let’s take a little sojourn, shall we? Let’s rewind the tape to 1997, to a Bally’s Total Fitness in a nondescript town in Long Island. Flush from graduating college, I was determined to lose the excess fat that had steadily accumulated after years of heavy drinking, late-night cheese-and-oil-drenched pastas, and a propensity for lounging. I was in the business of excess and it had started to show. Back then, step classes were wildly popular, taught by lithe instructors who resembled Punky Brewster with their phosphorescent outfits and ponytails perched near the crown of their heads. Step teachers were a perky, endorphin-ravaged lot, and they blasted girl-band music and Top 40 classics and traveled in packs, white teeth gleaming. These were women who believed in the power of Crest, and the legions who took their classes were content in their unconditional, buff-body surrender.

On the drive over to the gym, my father complained about the loud music. I can hear the music from the parking lot! Won’t you go deaf? he exclaimed. Back then, my pop would sit in the parking lot for an hour, and then we’d feast at Johnny Rocket’s or Macaroni Grill. It’s to smother the cries of agony, I thought, because who wants to hear someone else suffering?

Inside, people clutching their mini CD players (these were the halcyon days before the iPhone, friends), sprinted on their treadmills while men clenched their teeth holding weights the size of boulders. Notoriously an hour early for everything, I was demonstrably late for the step class and I raced in to find a teacher glaring as I assembled my step, risers and hand weights. I was clumsy, dropping weights and risers. I was a distraction. I was not wearing pink.

Naturally, the only space available was one up-front. After what follows, it will take me a decade to gather the strength to ever sit up front in a class, again.

Did I mention I was clumsy and uncoordinated, prone to confusing my left and right sides? That I sometimes didn’t secure my risers under the step? That on this particular day I came down hard on the edge of the step and it flipped over, whacking me on the shin, which inevitably caused me to fall onto someone else’s step? The tableaux was an unfortunate one, and I blushed and mumbled apologies, and after twenty minutes of my fumblings, the instructor pushed her microphone to one side and suggested that I try the stationary bike. While I know she was trying to be compassionate, I was so humiliated I cancelled my membership and spent the next few years running outside.

This is perhaps a long-winded way of saying that routines which involve simultaneous movements of arm and leg give me vertigo. I spent the better part of my adult life doing yoga and spin.

However, as the year ticked forward, and I kept writing checks that read 2013 instead of 2014 (yes, I still write checks), something seized. While fitness is a huge part of my life, it’s the one aspect of my life where I prefered to color in the lines. I was content to do what was comfortable, drawing myself into a confined aerobic space that I can navigate without instruments. But yet.

I grew tired of being comfortably uncomfortable. I wanted my compass and maps and tools for discovery. So I quit my gym, and signed up for Classtivity*, where I’m able to explore all sorts of group fitness classes at a sizable discount. When I tell you that I agonized over which classes to take, believe that it’s real. While it was easy to sign up for barre and yoga classes, TRX-inspired workouts and boxing felt elusive, beyond reach. Flashbacks of Bally’s ensued. I continue to not wear pink.

Believe me when I say that I experienced nothing short of sheer terror when I walked into Body Space Fitness for my boxing class. Even after I fastidiously researched for reviews of the space and my teacher, Fran. However, as soon as I stepped into the space, everyone was warm and inviting — from the desk receptionist to one of the trainers, who gave me advice on performing push-ups while I waited for class to begin.

True to form, I was forty-five minutes early, watching my boxing instructor taking three men through a grueling workout. These men were PANTING. My anxiety heightened. There might have been a moment when I cowered behind an elliptical.

The class started at 7pm, and there were only three of us, and I was the newbie. Unlike a lot of the classes I attend where the women issue clipped, hurried responses to even the smallest of questions, the community here is really kind and collaborative. Body Space regulars, Alex and Lauren assured me that no, I won’t die, and that boxing is really fun!

Let the hijinks begin! Unlike a lot of spaces that have you punching a bag for an hour, Fran was more focused on teaching the foundation of boxing: taping your hands, mastering the basic defense and offense sequences. You’d be surprised how fast you sweat when you have to basically sit in a squat for a half-hour. You’d be surprised how furiously you sweat before you even hit a bag (45 minutes into class). I learned basic footwork, fades, guarding, pivots, and punching sequences. While we moved pretty fast and furious, Fran was forever meticulous and patient. He spent time with each of us, and literally moved with me as I moved from 1-2-3 to 1-middle 2-3-4, and kept apologizing because the coordination of upper and lower body, and did I mention that I always had to have my guard up (ah, the irony), doesn’t come naturally to me. However, Fran made me feel at home, and applauded my minor achievements as if they were major triumphs. At one point he said, relax, this is my house. And my house is your house, and it was so genuine that I started laughing through my foul-ups and seventy full-form push-ups I had to do wearing gloves (translation: push-ups on your fists).

After an hour, I left pretty drenched and sore, and while my back, shoulders and arms are a bit sore, I feel strong. And proud. Because there goes that marker, slowly, surely, inching outside of the lines.

*Note that I, in no way, shape, or form, have any relationship with Classtivity. I learned of the service from my friend Persia, and I just can’t shut up about the things I’ve purchased and love.

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