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Class action

A gym loner gets in the mix at a group jump-rope class.
Photograph: Nicole Radja; Photo Illustration: Jamie Divecchio Ramsay
By Kevin Aeh |

When it comes to gym workouts, I’m usually a solo artist. My routine at David Barton Gym involves running on the treadmill while lip-synching to Janet Jackson, followed by a few push-ups and crunches. When I’m there, I always look in the windows of the studio, see the sweaty people taking classes and think, Hmmm. I’m intrigued by the group classes, but the thought of making a fool of myself (not only in front of the class, but also the whole gym, thanks to the studio’s wall of floor-to-ceiling windows) always stops me. But, in an effort to take my workout to the next level—you can only run so many miles to “Rhythm Nation”—I finally sign up for “Rope Burn,” a 45-minute jump-rope class. To make the transition from working out on my own to a group setting, I get some tips from Marcelo Ehrhardt, Chicago-area group fitness manager for Equinox gyms.

Arrive five to ten minutes early, and let the instructor know you’re new. He or she will get you up to speed on equipment and expectations.
I show up 15 minutes early as an abs class is ending. I linger outside the studio door, and a few other jump-ropers show up and inform me ours is probably the hardest class at the gym. Great. We enter the studio and instructor Liu arrives with a box of speed ropes. I tell him I’m new; he hands me one of his ropes and tells me to grab a weighted rope and a couple of light free weights with which to do jumping jacks in between rope sessions. So far, so good.

Once in class, place yourself where you can see and hear the instructor. For movement classes, stay in the back center, since advanced participants usually hit the front row.
I try heading to the back of the room, but unfortunately, others beat me to it and the only place left is front and center. At least I have a clear line of vision to Liu, so I can easily see the positions he is showing the class. Plus, since I’m practically in his face, I’m the first one he helps out (there are other newbies and we all need extra instruction). The only drawback is my awareness of everyone behind me—especially when I get caught up in my rope or when it thwacks me in the back of the head. I quickly get over my self-consciousness, figuring no one has time to laugh at my rookie mistakes.

Always remember this is your workout so take it at your own pace. If you feel winded or tired, take a breather and rejoin the exercises already in progress. Bring water and constantly hydrate.
Those women at the beginning of class weren’t joking: Holy crap, this workout is intense! Liu stresses the importance of listening to your body but also says we should push ourselves. I forgot my bottle of water in the locker room, so after a few rounds of jumping rope, jumping jacks with the weights and push-ups, my mouth is drier than the Sahara. I sneak out to the water fountain a couple times, but for the rest of the class I’m putting forth all my effort and doing a decent job of keeping up.

Most important: Remember to have fun.
At one point during the class, Liu announces to us new folks that this does get easier, though the woman next to me yells, “Why are you lying to them?!?!” I find myself actually having a good time. A highlight is when Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” plays and I am able to focus on the jump rope while mouthing a few of the lyrics, even though my legs quiver. (The lyrics, “I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one,” have taken on a new meaning for me.) I notice a couple of people looking in on the class and, I’m assuming, admiring how hard we’re working. The class ends, my shirt has never been sweatier and I’ve never felt this sense of accomplishment at the gym. I’m not giving up on the treadmill and Miss Jackson, but I think I’m officially becoming one of those guys I used to watch from the other side of the window.

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