Last updated: Feb 13, 2009

I recently took my first group-fitness class in eight years. And though the instructor didnt literally kick my butt for 45 minutes straight, for almost a week afterward it felt as if she had.


I used to be a regular at such classes. In my 20s, I tried Hi-Lo aerobics, funk aerobics, Zen yoga, Spinning, stepping, cardio-sliding—you name it. I never needed more than a day to recover from a workout. But I started to grow weary of the ear-shattering music and hyperkinetic instructors. When I slipped a disk in a Butts and Guts class, I threw in the towel. As I entered my 30s, I exercised in solitude, power-walking, cycling, or using an elliptical trainer several times a week. I maintained a weight I was happy with, but I was mind-numbingly bored by the unvarying routine.

Then earlier this year, I joined a sports club with more group-fitness classes than Madonna has had makeovers. I decided on a whim to take a Cardio Sports Training class.

Jumping rope, sparring with a punching bag, or doing jumping jacks before moving on to the next activity appealed to my inner-athlete. Despite my eight-year absence, I was familiar with all the equipment … except when I was instructed to do lunges off of what looked like an enormous, bouncy breast implant.
Reality hits (and hurts!)
My ignorance of DynaDiscs notwithstanding, I was ready for this class. After all, Id been exercising regularly for years. How hard could it be to keep up? I threw myself into the circuit. Whoo-hoo! My euphoria was short-lived, however. Less than 10 minutes later—when I was told to drop to the floor and do push-ups—I was convinced my heart was about to explode out of my ears. Gasp … pant … wheeze … I slowed down and still barely made it through the next 35 minutes. Clearly, I was not as fit as I thought I was. This point was made agonizingly clear throughout the following week, when every limping step was punctuated with a cry of pain.

My body recovered just in time to return for a second class. Determined to get through it without a cardiac emergency, I sheepishly confessed to the previous weeks agony. My instructor, Jeselle, assured me that such soreness was normal. “What we did in our 20s may not fly in our 30s because our bodies have changed,” she said. “It happens to everyone.” Oh, yeah? Then why does Madonna still have a butt of a 20-year-old, while my butt cheeks made a southward migration to my ankles when I hit 30?

Jeselle vouched for the intensity of the class (“Its hard-core!”) and praised my willingness to listen to my body and slow down. The key to avoiding postworkout paralysis is to vary workouts so all muscle groups are well-conditioned. My Cardio Sports class is a smart choice because the circuit varies from week to week. But even if Im a regular, Jeselle cautioned, I shouldnt expect to bounce back as quickly as I once did.

I started the second class slowly, finished strong, and cut my recovery time in half: I only limped for three days. After six sessions, Ive found that my tenderness lasts about a day. Ive accepted that I cant turn back the clock. Ill never have the same body I did in my 20s (or Madonna has in her 50s). But at least my wayward butt cheeks are back inside my underwear for the first time in a decade. And thats good enough for me.