There's a gym in my neighborhood called Barry's Bootcamp. They offer one-hour high-intensity workouts throughout the day. I had known about it for quite some time but didn't really know much about it. I did some reading. It regularly comes up in articles like this one:
...and this one...
So my interest in doing Barry's Bootcamp sat on the shelf of "someday when I'm feeling crazy." I'm not an athletic guy. I never have been. I feel like bootcamp workouts and high-intensity workouts are designed for other people - but not me.
Then on Facebook, a friend of a friend caught my eye. He's an instructor at Barry's. I friended him and he friended back. His name is Kenneth Ferrer. He regularly posts a photo of himself looking quite in-shape and usually has something inspiring to say like this:
Although I didn't sleep particularly well, I had a great morning. I taught the full house 5am @barrysbootcamp Chest, Back, & Abs class in Chelsea, then the explosive 7:10am in NOHO. I finished off my workout today with the constant reminder as to why I am working so hard over and over again in my brain. A daily mantra can take you a long way... When your body doesn't want to, you gotta dig down and find your purpose. I promise you, your will has the potential to be stronger than your fatigue can ever be. 2 more today: TriBeCa 5:30pm and 7:50pm. Plan with your head. Lead with your heart. 💪🏽😄🐻👍🏽 #mindset #thefitbear #dailygrind #plyometrics #thebarrysbear #barrysbootcamp #chest #love #progress #fitness #pushup #Reebok #influencer #sponsoredathlete
One day he posted that the first person to respond "I'm In" to his Facebook post would get a free pass to that evening's Barry's class. There were already about 10 comments, but when I looked closely, they all said that they were busy, so I commented that I was in if it was still available. And the next thing I knew, I was in the locker room of Barry's getting ready for class.
I was scared. Scared like I was about to walk onto the stage of a production without knowing my lines. Scared like I was about to bungee jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.
I had a plethora of voices going through my head:
- Everyone in this class is in MUCH better shape than you
- You're going to hurt yourself
- You're the heaviest person in class (that was true)
- You're the oldest person in this class (that wasn't true)
- You can't do this
And these were some of the things I responded with:
- I'm taking the class to get in better shape
- You have to start somewhere
- This is not a competition
- I'm actually in okay shape, so this shouldn't be too bad
- Showing up is half the battle; once the class starts, the hour will go by quickly
I tried chit-chatting with someone before class. It helped pass the time, but it didn't really make the butterflies go away.
The classes are organized around sets of about 12-15 minutes each. Half of the class is on the floor. You have weights and are given exercises. You don't do any exercise more than 2 minutes so you're never bored (the hour does go by quickly). The other half of the class is on treadmills and the instructor gives you guidelines on where to set the incline and/or speed of the treadmill.
Class started and I was more than gung-ho about it. Within five minutes I was more out of breath than I thought possible. It was vastly more difficult than I was expecting. I had a moment of "OH MY GOD THERE'S 55 MORE MINUTES OF THIS!!!" There was literally no break. No chance to catch your breath. That first class was probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.
Near the end of the first set, I thought about stepping out of the room for a few minutes to try to get my breathing under control, but I knew that if I stepped out of that room, I'd set a precedent that it's okay to step out and I didn't want that. So I just kept going.
The time on the treadmill was worse than the floor. I'm not a treadmill guy. I somehow made it through that set and was now so much more out of breath than I thought possible. (After class, Kenneth said to make sure to listen for the speed changes on the treadmill. I said "Oh I heard you. I just can't do it.")
I looked around after the treadmill set and everyone was mildly winded. I still don't know how that's possible.
The third set was back to the floor and it got harder. My body started giving out. It was not a matter of will-power anymore, I couldn't get my body to hold any sort of weight. A couple of times during abs, my feet dropped to the floor. Kenneth casually gave my ankles a little kick and I found what little willpower I had left and threw myself back into things.
The final treadmill set came up and part of me had given up on breathing normally. At this point, I was just running mindlessly and sort of hoping I would pass out. During the final sprint, where you're supposed to be giving it your all, Kenneth came over and increased the speed on my treadmill higher than I had ever run on a treadmill. Man, I was so scared. I was so mentally shot that I didn't think about it. I just executed. Once that round ended, there was a brief stretch during which I stood there and tried to inhale harder than I ever had before - just praying that my body would recover soon.
When I got home, David asked me what the hell happened. He said I looked great - more alive and glowing. I think I must have looked like a crazy person that just jumped out of a plane. There was definitely an endorphin high going on. I couldn't believe that it was not only much harder than I was expecting but that I survived.
So I started going on a regular basis. In the first month since joining, I've gone 10 times. I'm aiming to go 2-3 times a week. That's in addition to lifting weights three times a week. Sometimes I work out in the morning and do Barry's at night.
It was a while before the butterflies in my stomach before class went away. And I must admit - I had a really hard time emotionally the first five or so times. I blame my elementary school gym teacher who singled me out enough times in class to make me quite afraid of gym class. I really feel like he picked on me in a way that he never picked on anyone else. As an adult, I think he was probably trying to inspire something he saw in me but unfortunately it always back-fired and left me feeling defeated (I think I'm being generous - he taunted me a couple of times that's just not appropriate in elementary school). I had a lot of internal voices going in the first five sessions that told me various things: that I didn't belong in this class; that I was not athletic and never would be; that I would never find success in these sorts of classes; that I should go home and forget about this. When those voices were going rather loudly in my head and my body would gas-out I would get insanely frustrated and defeated. A few times I took 20 seconds to take a deep breath, quiet my head, and just keep going. I had to remove all the emotion about what I was doing and just put one foot in front of the other.
I bring this up not to dwell on things that happened a gazillion years ago, I bring it up to let other people know that you may go into these situations and discover you have an Emperor Palpatine sitting on your shoulder. Or maybe the J.K. Simmons character from Whiplash. He will tell you to quit, that you don't belong there, and that you're a failure. He's very persuasive. And he's loud. But if you keep focusing on putting one step in front of the other, he eventually stops shouting at you.
(Side note: I have never had an instructor at any of these classes that single people out in class or tell you specifically to try harder. Everyone knows that people go at their own pace. Every now and then, Kenneth will see me flagging and call out "only 15 more seconds Keith" and that's all I need to give whatever I have left.)
The treadmills have heart rate monitors and occasionally I check my heart rate. I haven't told David this, but one time my heart rate got to 191. That's really too much. My doctor would not approve. I should pull back. But I've kind of become addicted to pushing myself past what I thought I could do or past what I think is reasonable. It's exhilarating.
On my tenth session, I really thought it was going to be much easier, but it wasn't. In fact, I was closer to throwing up in my tenth class than any of the previous classes. Kenneth had told me that it doesn't really get much easier because as you get in better shape, you are able to push yourself harder. I can do much more of the workout before my muscles give out. (I'm now going past a lot of the "in-shape" guys in class during the floor part. Not that it's a competition - heh heh.) I'm closer to the actual treadmill numbers that he calls out. So I mark progress where I can, but I have to remind myself that this is probably a year-long process. As much as I'd like to have instantaneous results, it's just not going to happen. I definitely see a difference in my body. My pants fit great now. I see the difference in my face in photos. But I haven't lost much weight according to the scale. Given the fact that I'm lifting weights pretty hard, I'm not expecting the scale to come down for a while. My energy levels are significantly better than what they were before and that's the one thing that makes it all worth it. It's like walking around feeling like you have magical powers.
I tried a different instructor than Kenneth, but I found I didn't get worked up into a frenzy to go beyond what I thought was possible the way I do with Kenneth. He's insanely motivational. He still occasionally comes over and increases the speed on my treadmill when he thinks I have more than I'm giving, but that happens less.
There are days when I'm really not feeling motivated to go. Luckily, Kenneth shows up on my Facebook feed with photos showing the incredible shape he's in and it reluctantly forces me to go. Here are some examples:
So I pack my bag again and get ready to torture myself.
I have used this adage over and over in the past month of Barry's and it's rather helpful:
Don't wish for life to be easier. Wish for a better set of tools for dealing with whatever life throws at you.
And when in doubt, look at this guy's progress.
So if you think you can't do one of these workouts - or any workout. You can. It won't be easy. It won't always be fun. But you will thank yourself tenfold for the effort you put in. And even if you ignore the increased energy levels, the better looking photos, and the better fitting clothes, there's still the matter of expanding the definition of myself. I don't have to resign myself to feeling unathletic my whole life.