House of Pain

In my last blog I mentioned that whilst I was busy doing my spin / swim combo, my wife was off doing back-to-back gym classes. I  also stated that it was crazier than a lot of what I have been doing this year, knowing there was no way you would catch me dead doing step class followed by zumba. Firstly there is far too much dancing involved, and sadly I am insufficiently coordinated to get through that many steps without shattering an ankle or worse. And secondly I am a bloke, and there are no men in either of those classes, mainly for that reason.

Unfortunately like all men, I also have a Marty McFly-esque inability to say no to a physical challenge, so when my wife pointed out that today we could be doing back-to-back Body Combat and Body Step – both of which have a reasonable turnout of men in the classes, and involve either punches or weights so are not too girly – I was trapped by my own undeniable logic. If she was going to do both I kind of had to…

Combat and Pump

First up Body Combat. For those who have not come across this, it is a series of mixed martial arts routines choreographed to music (generally of the mid-90’s happy hardcore variety). It is pretty good for cardio, flexibility and general fitness, so I use it to mix up my triathlon training to help with stamina for the latter part of races. Now I have been doing this class on-and-off for the last five years, so am fairly au fait with the moves, but the thing is for that exact reason, they change the whole program every quarter with brand new moves and music tracks, to make sure you don’t get too comfortable (read: lazy).

Having been away for the last few weeks on various work related events, this was my first time doing the latest ‘release’ which came out at the beginning of October. In fairness it was not too bad, with a few new moves thrown in, but plenty of combos that were similar enough to old favourites. It so happened that this week I was the only guy in this class, so again like all men, felt I had an obligation to put that extra effort into my hits. Please don’t ask why. Anyway, despite being slightly rusty, I managed to get through the 60 minutes with no real problems, other than downing most of my (only) electrolyte drink by the end of the class.

Once we got through the final series of moves – a plank session which lasted far longer than it should have – the usual scrum happened where the Combatants tried to get out, whilst the Pumpers (?) started filing in. Straight away I saw one of the main appeals of Body Pump – just like a triathlon you use loads of kit! Having done this before my wife kindly helped me grab various barbells, dumbbells, plates, steps and mats, which were all laid out in a neat little space, which became increasingly little by the minute as more people streamed in. By the time the class started there was barely room to move, let alone lift weights.

The class started as they all do, with the leader asking who was new to it, and like a goon my hand shot up identifying me as the only noobie there, and instantly guaranteeing that my technique would be scrutinised throughout. The advice I was given was to make sure I used relatively light weights as there would be a lot of reps, but as per paragraphs two and four above, I obviously did not pay enough heed. The thing is, during the course of the last decade I spent most of my time in the gym lifting weights in a misguided effort to bulk up (I later decided I would rather go the other way), but on getting into triathlon this reduced significantly. So much so, that whilst doing the Chile Challenge during 2014, I have been so focused on training in the main three disciplines and losing weight to get faster, I have not lifted a single barbell in anger, and have lost a lot of my old strength, particularly in my upper body. So this was going to be a real challenge.

The class involves about 8 or 9 tracks, each focusing on a different part of the body – legs, biceps, shoulders, abs and so on. There is some commendable usage of the equipment, such as using the stepper as both a bench press and tricep dip station, and the weight plates for overhead tricep presses and Arnold presses. As I should have expected, there were a lot of reps for each, often very fast and in time with the music (from the same stable as combat naturally), and being a) new to the class, and b) already fairly tired from the one before, it turned out to be a killer! My squat technique in particular was singled out as needing some focus “Back Straight!” as was my overhead press. Next time I might use some slightly lighter weights to get through all of the reps without having to skip any out…

House of Pain weight

Despite these niggles, the class actually went well, but the biggest problem was the heat. This might sound strange for late-October, but with the whole gym currently undergoing a refurb, the aircon has managed to break. The combination of 20 odd people lifting lots of weights to music meant the place was quickly like a sauna, and as well as ensuring everyone felt twice as tired, it also added an element of danger to training, with sweaty palms trying to grip barbells or trying to keep balance during the heavy lifts. It also did not help that I had finished off most of my drink in the class before. I guess it will have helped with the calorie burn anyway….

Unbelievably we finished the class off with the same move as combat: planks. Except this time it involved side-planks, a relatively new one on me – but no less painful – ending up with the same trick of “hold the position until the music stops… only a few seconds more… and a bit longer…” and so on. Clearly all Les Mills instructors are taught to lie about how long is left in a track to extract the maximum pain from participants!

Either of these classes on their own would not have been too bad, but back-to-back there were few parts of the body that had not been destroyed: by the time we staggered back to the car neither my wife nor I could actually lift our arms to open the door properly for the short drive home. Would I do it again? Unquestionably! I can see some massive fitness benefits both for triathlon and in general, and whilst perhaps it won’t be every week, I can certainly see this becoming a regular combo for us.


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