I used to have a dim view of “fitness culture”. Not because of the weird tendency by “body positive” types to trash anyone trying to be healthy as “fatphobic”. It was because it had a strangely shallow and silly image when I was growing up. It usually consisted of a room full of brainless, big-haired blondes in leotards and leg-warmers, alongside their Ken doll looking boyfriends, dancing to electronic music while being exhorted to push themselves to the edge of collapse by a frenzied instructor at the head of the class.
The aerobics studios of old seemed to be a place people went to trade brains for beauty. Sure, they’d look like Greek gods by the time they were done with their workouts. But they always seemed to be dumber than bricks. Then they’d lie down in tanning beds and get a dose of future cancer in return for darkly tanned skin. It all seemed to produce people who were dim-witted, insipid, and vain.
But maybe that perception was a bit uncharitable. I mean, I wasn’t wrong that many of the fitness freaks of the late 20th century were vapid, dull-eyed ignoramuses in tight-fitting jumpsuits. But not all of them were. Some of them were on to something. Because I’ve learned many of these programs are quite good for you.
Take the fitness craze that seems to be all the rage with every suburban mom: Pilates. Something that I for some reason thought (given how many people complain of how brutal it can be) must have been based heavily on certain Roman punishments involving starvation and excess exposure to the elements. But no, even though crucifixion is a good way to lose weight (with certain downsides), Pilates isn’t that. It isn’t even Roman. It was developed by Joseph Pilates of Mönchengladbach, Germany. A town name that proves yet again that Germans lack the ability to be succinct or use words that don’t require us to dislocate our jaws.
Pilates is a series of workouts involving balance and some resistance training. This could involve things like various stretching activities, bodyweight moves like leg lifts, or certain rowing movements involving small weights or those little stretchy strap things that I’m too lazy to look up the name for. It’s a pretty decent way to stay healthy. Someone my size will burn about 200 calories per hour doing this.
Then there’s the most common form of cultural appropriation used by bourgeois women in the suburbs: Yoga. Which is similar to Pilates, except with a greater focus on stretching and less of the resistance training and weights. And there are variants like “hot” yoga. And no, “hot yoga” isn’t a description of the people doing it (it can be, but not necessarily). It means there are a bunch of lunatics stretching in sauna-like conditions. Or, as it’s known here in Florida, “outside”. And for the eccentrics, there’s even “goat” yoga. Which apparently involves doing yoga while there are goats wandering around, for some reason, and occasionally randomly walking on the humans while they’re in a plank or child’s pose.
I’m not sure how the goat got involved or what purpose it serves. But the goat isn’t really necessary. Any form of yoga can burn 100-300 calories per hour. Although I guess goat yoga can burn more if the little farm animals knock someone unconscious with their hooves and send them to the hospital for weeks. I’m sure the hapless victims of goat hooves lose a lot more weight during their convalescence.
Sadly, there’s a major drawback to yoga. Farting. Apparently, all of that stretching can cause various gasses in your body to release at exactly the wrong moments (such as during “downward dog” where your rear end is poised for maximum flatulence dispersal). This is why Yoga is the last place you should go to pick up chicks. If you want to get healthy by farting, try eating beans instead.
But I’ve discovered recently that this isn’t the most boogie suburban fitness routine there is. Nor the most culturally appropriative. Zumba is another fancy exercise form, based on Latin dance. It’s from Columbia, so we probably stole it from them to pay them back for all of that cocaine they send us.
At first blush (at least to my South Georgia eyes) it looks vaguely like country line dancing. Except its being performed by people who are sober and dressed in fitness gear instead of chaps and cowboy hats. And performed while listening to high-energy music (Latin) not music primarily about heartbreak and industrial accidents (Country). But it is pretty good exercise. Like most dancing, it will burn 300-500 calories per hour.
All of the things I’ve mentioned so far are things that seem to be most popular with women. Or husbands who are henpecked into it by their wives. But there’s an even more girly fitness fad than these. It’s called Barre and was literally created by a ballerina. It involves…doing ballerina things. On a “Barre” which is the wooden bar that ballerinas use to learn contortionism. And it can burn about 300-400 calories per hour. So any ladies feeling nostalgic for their youthful ballet classes might be into it. And may also drag in their husbands into it too, after they shred their man cards.
But not everything is for the ladies. “Spin” is fairly gender neutral. Although the name was confusing. It doesn’t involve stuff like spinning in a circle until you’re dizzy, as I originally assumed. I mean, that was great exercise when I was five but I’m a little old for that. And vertigo isn’t nearly as fun as it used to be. Fortunately, “Spin” is really just a new name for what Boomers used to call “riding an exercise bike.” Except there’s an overly ebullient instructor involved, who yells at you to “power up a hill” or “crush the flats” even though you’re not actually moving. But like a bike ride where you actually go places, it’ll burn 500-600 calories per hour. And perhaps way more if the instructor is a raving lunatic pushing you to the limits of human endurance.
Then there’s kickboxing exercise classes. This is not a real martial art. Anyone who knows a real martial art will probably drop/pin/knockout/kill you in five seconds if you try to fight them using what you learned in a Tae Bo class. But it does involve lots of punching and kicking and things. Which can still burn off 400 calories per hour or so. And it’s probably really good for people with anger issues.
But if you’re a dude and you want to be a proper giga-chad, I’d go with circuit training. This is just weightlifting, something I’ve recently gotten into. Except, instead of just doing endless benchpressing and deadlifting, you mix it up and do multiple exercises in an attempt to work every muscle. And instead of resting between sets, circuit training adds in a little cardio (like high knees or jumping jacks) between sets while your muscles recover. This is properly manly, so I can do it, burn 400-600 calories per hour, and not sacrifice gender identity. And I don’t necessarily need a gym membership. A good training app like FitBod can create a workout for you that you can do with just a few dumbbells and a mat in your living room.
I was wrong about the aerobic exercise world. No longer is it dumb blondes in leg warmers with crimped hair or eighties Madonna bangs gyrating to eighties techno music. Not entirely, anyway. Nor is it necessarily some class where manic instructors yell at you to exert yourself into unconsciousness. Well, sometimes it is, but you can find a non-crazy instructor. You don’t even need a gym membership. There are streaming apps where somewhat less excitable instructors will talk you through a routine, as well as plenty of free YouTube videos, and also exercise apps that allow you to do things yourself. Your fitness class doesn’t require an instructor who appears to be overdosing on Adderall.
So if I can’t go outside for a run or bike ride (a common circumstance during a Florida hurricane season), some of these things are a good way to stay in shape. Any gym will have classes like this. But for the misanthropic or agoraphobic amongst us, there are options that don’t even require us to leave the house. There are DIY versions of Pilates, Yoga, Barre, and all of the others. Although I think I’ll stick to circuit training, kickboxing, and spin. My wife can do the girly stuff.