I don’t like the word ‘workout’. For one, because it has the word ‘work’ in it. Exercise should be fun, not work! You get paid to work; but you’re rewarded for the other. I was never much of an athlete. I did what I had to do in school, and as long as it didn’t hurt, I participated. We swam, played volleyball, climbed ropes, attempted splits, anything to get good grades. It was never a matter of shape or performance, just something to do instead of math and biology. If it got me out of the classroom, I was game.
My parents always encouraged me to be active, so I started with gymnastics when I was six. I loved the choreographed dancing and the beautiful matt routines, but I was scared of everything else, especially those dizzying summersaults (which took me years to perfect), the repetitive injuries (ankles, wrists, noses…) and my trainer’s daily intimidations (my nickname was “little one”). I shed many a tear…
When my father and younger sister got into tennis, I decided to try it too. I was twelve then. Eventually the whole family joined the local tennis club and I quit gymnastics. I was much better at tennis. It was a real game, with points, and boys, and fewer injuries and it groomed my competitive nature. I played tournaments by the time I was sixteen and was ranked for a couple of years. I lost my spot however when I entered university and exams took priority. I kept on playing but the devotion was at half-mast.
When I moved to New York I gave up sports all together. I didn’t have any tennis partners, hated gyms, took trains and taxis every day and had far less time for that sort of exhausting recreation. I worked and I partied. I ate all kinds of bad foods too. I gained weight, lost it again, put it back on, but never thought of working out. I tried bikram yoga for a while, then got bored, or more accurately, nauseous. I joined a tennis league one year, which reignited my taste for power and sweating. But it’s all so hard to keep up. We get so distracted and caught up with work. Who has time to sit around for a tennis court to open up, or wants to schlep around with their gym bag all day?
I got lazy. Until I was diagnosed with a herniated disk about three years ago… The doctor said it was caused by the “wear and tear” of my bones, which means, in less euphemistic terms, that I was getting old. I had bad posture – the laptop syndrome – and done too much heavy luggage lifting during my travels. The disk between my L4 an L5 had semi-slipped and I needed physical therapy and home exercises to prevent any further damage. I also thought yoga would help but it actually made it worse. The downward facing dogs killed me.
And then I heard about Pilates, and the reformer and how it strengthens your core. (By the way, did you know that Joseph Pilates was an actual German man?) I took a few classes last year and discovered that this machine is in fact MAGIC. My trainer, Leslie McNabb at Clay Gym walked me through every step of a personalized routine with meticulous care for my lower back. After only five classes I started to see results! I felt stronger, longer, and leaner and I had actually developed abs! I’ve now done one set of ten classes every summer, and I am hooked. I never sweat, nor huff or puff or feel pain. It’s the least effort, with the biggest pay-off. Every new foot and hand position, how ever miniscule, targets a different muscle in your body and works it gently, not to bulk, but to stretch. The classes are not cheap but they are worth every penny.
People always freak out about my arms. They’re sculpted, but I don’t do any particular exercise for fear of looking like Madonna-on-steroids. I don’t want to look like I’m in the gym every day. I’m sure there are genetics in play here too, but I blame it primarily on my heavy-duty Schwinn bike. Come spring I ride that mastodon across the Williamsburg Bridge twice a day. It’s a full-body workout, including having to carry the bike up and down the stairs to the basement. Apparently the new Citi bikes are miracle workers. A few friends have told me how they started to notice a six-pack after riding around the city for a few weeks. How about them apples? Not only do you get from point A to point B, but if you’re lucky you also get a tan, you’re faster than a cab or a train, you use only your own energy, not the environment’s, and you’re in better shape than the woman on the bus. And when people say it’s dangerous, I say bullocks! They’re just looking for excuses. Wear a helmet. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years. (Knock on wood!)
For cardio, I run. It’s something I never thought I could do. I always said I couldn’t run to the end of the block if you paid me. Now I do three miles in twenty minutes. I run on the treadmill at the gym, or around the block in Williamsburg or in the Hudson River Park on weekends, with pumping techno or hip-hop blasting in my ears. Twice a week at best. The greatest thing is to run in a new city. I take my shoes and sports bras everywhere with me. I’ve run along the Seine in Paris, in the Botanical Gardens in Sydney, in the Public Park in Milan, on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv and around my old neighborhood in Belgium. The adrenaline rush you get from running is like no other. You can’t fuck up. You’re just moving your feet.
I teamed up with Stella McCartney and Adidas for this video, because there is one, shall we say important, thing we’re forgetting. Shouldn’t we also look good while we get fit? I never considered wearing performance gear until I discovered adidas for Stella McCartney. But her fabrics are so soft and smooth you can easily imagine yourself running faster. Everything fits right. The colors and patterns are flashy and cool. It’s half the experience, honestly.
So while many women have a debilitating fear of getting sweaty, red-faced and messing up their coiffure, I am here to tell you that you don’t have to get dirty to be in shape. Maybe you won’t look like me, or your neighbor, but you will feel good about yourself. It took me years to realize that sports are not only physically beneficial, but also mentally. Jump on your bike instead of taking a taxi. Try to run (or walk fast) for fifteen minutes twice a week. Take a Pilates class. And find an interactive sport you like, to meet people and push yourself. You don’t have to suffer and be in pain. If it were torturous, why would our body reward us with endorphins?
All outfits provided by adidas by Stella McCartney: Trochilus Boost (Lizard/Green Zest/Running White) running shoe; Climalite sports bra, Climalite shell jacket and and Run Climaproof shorts. More available at Nordstrom.