Saturday, February 4, 2017

Staying On My Toes

Instructor Rico Samuel (top center in black T-shirt), with
the rest of our Freestyle Step classmates. I am kneeling

on the far left in the front row.
So how do I plan to stay fit in the new year? By continuing to do what I've been doing for the past five years: hiking on the weekends whenever possible in one of the many scenic wild spaces near my home in Baltimore County, Maryland, and by attending group fitness classes during the week at my local gym.

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't been particularly good about going to the gym to do my own, solitary workouts. I don't really enjoy working out by myself and, once I get there, I find it to be a lonely endeavor, even though I am surrounded by others. About the only conversation that occurs when I work out by myself happens when someone inquires how much longer I will be on a particular machine, and then there is frequently the waiting I must do for a machine I want to use.

Nope, my preference, clearly, is for group fitness classes. There are so many distinct advantages to attending a class, in my opinion. For a personal, solitary workout, I can assign myself a regular time to go, but if I get busy or distracted (or lazy) at home or at work, I can too easily choose not to go, knowing the opportunity will be there almost any time (24 hours a day, actually, since my gym is open all night). But a group fitness class must be attended. It has a finite start and stop time.  If I'm busy or distracted, I will miss the class altogether. I can't go later at my convenience. I don't know about you, but that compels me to make more of an effort.

The biggest reason I love group fitness?  The camaraderie.  I am not alone in a group fitness class. I am together with between five and fifteen other sweaty souls, both men and women, some much younger and some closer to my own 60 years. They come in all races, all sizes and all levels of ability, just like the rest of the people out in the gym slogging through their workouts solitarily. But in a group fitness class, there is a sense that we are working together to achieve a common goal, which is to conquer the maneuvers put before us, whether it is lifting weights, mastering a warrior pose, or increasing stamina. We talk. We get to know each other. There is a camaraderie of banded effort, accentuated by the instructor's determination to make us feel like a cohesive group.

Today I want to expound on the virtues of my Free Style Step group fitness class. Led by instructor Rico Samuel, my Tuesday night Free Style Step class is the highlight of my week. Rico makes sure he knows the names of every participant in each class, and halfway through the hour he calls out to each one of us over the music, acknowledging our participation, thanking us for coming, remarking on what a great time we're having as we sweat to stepping maneuvers he has personally choreographed and put to the rhythmic beat of accompanying tunes he has specifically chosen.
And here is a photo from March 21 when three of my
neighbors joined me at the gym!  I'm in the front row center,
in black. My neighbors, to my right (viewer's left) are Jackie
(next to  me), Maria and Michelle
. Our awesome instructor,
Rico, is up on the stage at far right.

This is an advanced Step class. It is not for wimps. Some of the stepping maneuvers are complex half-beat and one-and-a-half beat movements while twirling through the air or hopping on and off a low bench. Rico always offers easier combinations for newcomers or anyone who feels intimidated by the more advanced moves. And, if truth be told, I choose the simpler options for a few of the maneuvers that would have me hopping backwards off a step or spinning more than once around, as those moves tend to make me frightened of falling.

Still, I can say, with no small amount of pride, that for the most part I keep up with all the younger people in my Step class no matter how complicated the maneuvers are. By the time an hour is up, I have put in a solid, heartbeat-raising effort. Over the years I have come to know my classmates by name and we've exchanged contact information. Some have come to my home for impromptu get togethers; others have attended functions I've hosted in my volunteer work with a nature center nearby. And I've even shared FitBit data with two of them, so that my computer displays how many miles they've walked compared how many miles I've walked on any given day. It's all good. 

There is a feeling of companionship in attending a group fitness class. There is certainly a sense of satisfaction about having achieved a genuinely vigorous workout at the end of each session. There is without a doubt a difference in my ability to ski each winter from having legs that are so strong and fit. But my absolute favorite reason to love Free Style Step?  It is the knowledge that this hour of complicated choreography is exercising my brain as much as my body.

Rico takes time to teach us the individual maneuvers each week, which are then put together to form "combinations" set to music. He will teach us up to eight different combinations in each session, which we must then remember and perform in one long routine, sometimes in reverse order, as he calls out the names of the movements from the front of the room. As for those complex maneuvers for which I choose a less foot-twisting alternative?  When he calls out the name of that particular move, I must remember on my own which alternate maneuver I am doing instead, how many and what particular steps it takes and how to join the rest of the group at the end of that movement at precisely the right beat, on the proper foot, and in the correct position on (or off) the bench.  I tell you, by the end of the hour, I feel as though my brain has been as mentally stimulated as my body has been exercised.

If you haven't tried a group fitness class at your gym, you should.  From yoga to Pilates, from Body Pump to Zumba, there is a group fitness class to meet anyone's needs. I enjoy them all. But Free Style Step is, and will always remain, my very favorite.

"The important thing to remember about workouts is they only work if you do them."  ~


  1. Lynell,

    Thank you so much for this! It's because of your enthusiasm and dedication, along with the group fitness family, that makes it so worth it. I am so honored to be part of your blog - the feeling that I have is beyond words...

    Thanks so much!

    Rico Samuel

    1. You're very welcome, Rico. The pleasure is all mine.