It’s been a while since I’ve been to the gym. Like returning home from a long trip, the memory and reality of the place don’t quite match and leave me somewhat uneasy. I glance at the treadmills. The runners ignore me.
My anonymity gives me courage to try one of the new High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts popularized last year by the New York Times. This one involves 30 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest for a total of seven minutes.
The split-timer I’m using is an app with this workout preloaded. It also has a neat feature where a synthesized voice announces every exercise. The downside is that the voice - we’ll call her Hilda - sounds like a bad version of Siri.
The voice announces, “Jumping Jacks.”
At the prodding, I begin. I remember these as great warm-ups that involve most of the body in a safe manner. They’re also humiliating. As my belly winks back at me in the mirror, I wish I’d worn a longer shirt.
Thirty seconds must have passed, because Hilda tells me I can rest. The timer ticks down: ten, nine, eight …. Feeling good, my heart rate elevated, I look to see what the next exercise is. All too soon I hear the helpful voice: “Wall Sit.”
I take my place against the wall with care. Fifteen seconds in and my legs are starting to burn. A slight trembling begins at 20 seconds. Then the gym door opens and two women enter. One gives me a look of mild amusement. They’re off to do serious work while I sit against a wall, as if I’m in an invisible chair.
The 8-bit voice tells me to rest. I’m relieved to leave the wall and hope for a more flattering exercise. Before long, my phone prompts me again. “Push-ups,” says Hilda.
I move through six pushups. During the seventh, I quickly slide one knee forward to avoid hitting the ground with my nose. After a moment of rest, I grind out two more. Another few moments of rest. Then two more pushups. At this point, I’m kind of done. There are five seconds left on the timer. Crap! I wait them out.
“Rest.” The voice is more irritating than before.
The next round is crunches.
The additional rest has given me an energy boost. I continue through the full 30 seconds, averaging one crunch every two seconds.
Siri’s less-interesting sister directs me to rest. I look at the next exercise: step-ups. I search for something suitable - and safe - to step up and down on. It’s time like these that you remember that helpful advisor or mentor in your life, the one who urged you to plan. Always plan.
I decide to use the flat bench to step-up on. (I know, I’m the jerk misusing the gym equipment.) My face is red from exertion and embarrassment. I feel the eyes of the other exercisers on me; my shame is their shame.
After what feels like minutes, I hear the magic word: “Rest”. I finish stepping down and silently promise the gym to clean the bench the moment I finish my workout.
The next exercise is squats. To distract myself, I grab two dumbbells from the rack.
Last year, I was doing a lot of squats as part of a regular workout program. Unfortunately, late in the year I injured my elbow. That, plus Minnesota’s interminable winter, caused me to drop the program altogether. But here in the gym, seven months later, I was confident I had much of my mojo left.
A few squats in, and I realize the dumbbells are too heavy for me. Going from not working out to heavy lifting is putting unnecessary strain on my knees. Stupidly, I finish out the 30 seconds. I put the dumbbells down and look to see what’s next: triceps dips.
Another planning failure. Dips are a bad idea for someone with an injured elbow. Frantically, I start casting about for an alternative. In the corner I see a machine that will let me substitute leg lifts. Annoyingly, I hear the electronic tones command, “Triceps Dip.”
Feeling defiant, I begin the leg lifts instead of the prescribed triceps exercise. These aren’t too bad, and allow me to take my ten seconds of rest with dignity. Jarringly, Hilda announces the next exercise.
Planks are an odd exercise. You hold your torso horizontally, more or less parallel to the ground, supported only by your toes and elbows. The goal is to strengthen your abdominal muscles by holding this position. But despite the silliness, the exercise passes without event and after the short, requisite rest, I move on to high knees.
I move to a mirror so to see for myself how much of a dork I look as I cycle my knees in the air. A fleeting thought passes: “Should I extend my hands and try to hit them with my knees, like I learned in grade school?” Maybe I was teased during school or during gym class, for I feel an almost irrational humiliation as I work through these 30 seconds. Everyone else is performing a more respectable set of work, and here I am, running in place – no, running with high knees in place – and feeling totally silly doing it.
My love-hate relationship with the timer continues as it barks out the command to rest. Sweat dripping in my eyes, uneasy feelings of grade school in mind, I’m now officially tired. Taking a few seconds, I glance at my phone. Next up: lunges.
I forgo the dumbbells and perform the lunges as a bodyweight exercise, which is what the program recommends. After the high knees and the too-heavy squats, I feel myself struggling with the lunges. I find myself looking forward to the voice of my captor freeing me to rest.
Breathing hard, I almost miss the command. “Rest.” Sigh. I prepare for Pushups with Rotation.
Push-ups with Rotation
What the heck does “with rotation” mean? I pause the timer and use my phone to search the web for an answer. Apparently, the idea is to do a pushup and rotate one arm skyward. I manage six of these during the allotted time. At the sound of the simulated voice, I collapse to the floor.
Hilda’s voice gratingly demands that I resume. “Side Plank.” I hate that voice. Inwardly I laugh at her awkward pronunciation, which makes me feel superior.
As the name implies, Side Plank is a more intense version of Plank, in which you’re balancing on one side or another. It’s another static exercise that gives your heart rate time to slow down. I remember to switch sides halfway through. I’m a burger being flipped on a grill.
And none too soon, I hear, “Workout complete.” I love that voice.
Immediately I prostrate myself floor-wise to recover my strength. As I lay there, panting and urging myself to stand up, I’m reminded of an article I read that suggested repeating the 7-Minute Workout two or three times in a row. Yeah, right. Maybe next time.