My Near-Death Experience On The Upper East Side


As far as New York City neighborhoods go, the Upper East Side is one of the safest. But on Tuesday night, I nearly died in the East Eighties during a work-out class. It was one of those boutique fitness classes that promises to melt your fat and tone your glutes and thighs. All it costs is four and a half hours of minimum wage! I managed to get a discount for one of their circuit training classes, so I thought I’d give it a try. I sometimes lift a weight – just a single, solitary one, not even a pair – once a year or so at the gym with my mom. Usually, I’m a yoga kind of girl. For extra conditioning, I tone my biceps by toting around an over-stuffed purse. So if there was anyone in need of a serious butt-kicking, it was me.

We start off easily enough: jumping jacks, squats, side shuffles, lunges, kicks.

“Can you feel your heart rate shooting up?” the instructor, a peppy blonde in a ponytail and neon booty shorts, shouts over the music.

I can. I have a pretty good handle on this. Why was I nervous? This should be a piece of cake. Not that a single member of the class has tasted a piece of cake since ‘N Sync was together.

We move into our first circuit, which involves complicated moves with weights and a medicine ball. I covertly side-eye the clock. Four minutes have passed. My heart sinks.

When resolve falters, I imagine I’m fourteen years old again and working out with Russian gymnastics coaches three times a week. If I concentrate hard enough, I can hear the instructor’s voice in a Russian accent. My coach had given me the pet name Hanchik, which sounded sweet until it was yelled across the gym at my less-than-flawless pull-ups. I think back to how terrified I was if I didn’t finish a set of reps, and invoking the strength of my teenaged self’s six-pack abs, I finish a core-shaking plank exercise.

After the second circuit is done, my breath comes in gulps and I suck down the rest of my water bottle. I head into the lobby to refill it. A Gwyneth Paltrow look-alike from class funnels lemon water into her bottle, and I compliment her red and black work-out tank while I wait in line.

“Thanks!” she says. She caps her bottle and turns to breeze back to class, exposing the Lululemon logo nestled between her sharp shoulder blades. “You should really buy some LLs.”

Back in class, I start to feel lightheaded and dizzy. I wished I had eaten something with protein or carbs for more energy. The quiche I had four hours ago wasn’t cutting it. I’m determined not to die, if only so I could write about the experience later on. I also recognize that driving my dead body home in a taxi would be too expensive.

If I include round trip subway fare, I’m paying $40 for this class. With such a hefty price tag, it seems strange to me that there’s no automatic guarantee along the lines of, “Drop 10 pounds in 60 minutes or your money back!” I look around and wonder how everyone here can afford this. The girl in front, the obvious teacher’s pet, is wearing a string bikini top and a sock bun. Her thighs resemble Apollo Ohno’s. I’m reminded of Shoshanna’s crack-fueled rant on GIRLS about how only the engaged girls are at the front of her kickboxing class, and how she totally deserves to be at the front of the class, too. I check out Bikini Top’s left hand when she reaches to grab a medicine ball. Yep, giant rock. Cushion-cut with a pavé band.

Even though I’m doing the most basic of the modifications, my muscles feel like they’re on fire. We move into a plank with our arms on top of a large exercise ball, then do 30 seconds of push-ups. My body is shaking so violently, I’m surprised I don’t fall off. The instructor looks surprised, too. Electronic music thumps in the background.

I’m shockingly okay with circuits three and four, if only because I’m too focused on staying upright and breathing to pay much attention to the movements. I catch a view of myself in the side wall mirror, and my stomach looks mysteriously flat. It’s possible that I actually did lose those 10 pounds simply from the waterfall of sweat pouring from every pore.

Class ends, and I’m just barely alive. During our group stretches at the end, I move deep into a lunge stretch. I may not be Tracy Anderson, but I can do yoga. My breathing returns to normal.

I don’t know if my work-out counts if I made a beeline for Chinese food and a glass of rosé afterward, but we’re all about baby steps, right? Muscles, see you again next year.

image – schjelderup