Shape Up

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Five personal training sessions at SHaRC get the author off the couch and into shape.

As a tri-sport athlete in high school who also exercised consistently in college, I never thought I would be out of shape. I was wrong.

While I still skied over fifty days last year and occasionally hiked, skinned, or ran, the effort exhausted me. I was in the worst shape of my life. Walking up the Mt. Ellen parking lot, I was huffing and puffing—tired before I even started skiing. And I’m only twenty-six.

You see, my problem with working out is that it’s really boring. And the hardest part about getting back into shape is sticking it out during those first few weeks. I would often quit partway through because I was bored—and tired. My fiancée, Rachel, has the same problem, and thus we found ourselves trapped in a cycle of sampling, and quickly discarding, various workouts. And then there was the laziness factor: I can’t count the number of times we would be sitting on the couch planning to exercise, but instead would begin watching a cooking show marathon on the Food Network for the rest of the afternoon. 

So when a colleague at Sugarbush suggested that I be the one to try out personal training at Sugarbush Health & Recreation Center (SHaRC), I was enthusiastic—and a little amused. Was I chosen because I always talk about needing to get back in shape? Probably. So I signed us up for five weeks of personal training sessions.

Enter Roarke Sharlow, a SHaRC instructor and Aerobics and Fitness Association of America certified trainer. Roarke is also a former art teacher and fine art photographer, and the skill sets behind both are evident in his teaching style: open to questions, detailed, and good at presenting something from new angles, like when he explained a new (and safer) way to stretch the groin muscles. He loves teaching fitness and worries about the lack of fitness knowledge in the world today, which can lead to injuries while drilling a hole in your wallet. The first thing we did was sit down with him to review our medical histories, goals, hopes, and fears. I’ll admit that Rachel and I were hesitant, but I liked what I heard: that fitness should be about having fun, and that variation is the key to success.

The next week, Rachel and I met Roarke for our first training session: cardio. Now, it isn’t as if we didn’t know how to work out. Many of us have learned how to use gym equipment, but exercises, stretches, and tips have changed significantly over the years, and knowing the new techniques can make a significant difference. There’s a reason nobody does those 1980s highlighter-spandex exercise dances anymore, even if watching them is entertaining. I used to go to the gym (not in spandex) and run on a treadmill for thirty minutes, and then maybe do some random exercises on a few weight machines for my abs, biceps, and triceps and leave. Roarke gave us proper training techniques and multiple variations on cardio. We focused on interval training as a way to break up the monotony of doing cardio at the same speed. This was actually fun, and it helped boost my average running speed. He also stressed the importance of warming up, cooling down, and stretching—three things most people (including me) ignore.

Our first session was more than we expected. We were both tired after running intervals for an hour and stretching, but it felt good. I would never have had the motivation to push myself like that. Rachel wasn’t sure she’d make it the whole way through the program. But that’s why we were in it together.

We left with exercise ideas, stretching diagrams (turns out I’d been mixing up a deltoid stretch with a bicep stretch for the last ten years), and a goal to do cardio twice a week, though in the weeks since then I’ve found myself doing more. 

The next session was focused on upper-body strength—something Rachel and I both lack—and here our personal goals really came into play. Neither of us wanted to build significant muscle size, but we did want some muscle endurance and tone. Also, knowing our lazy habits, we wanted workouts we could do at home. Roarke created an upper-body regimen with weights we already owned that would help us reach our goals without getting the bulging muscles that would land us on the cover of a fitness magazine. We now have a list of exercises that can be done with dumbbells—including bicep curls, standing rows, and side lifts. And the warm-up upper-body exercise? Rachel’s archnemesis: push-ups. Roarke suggested a modified push-up exercise for Rachel that was more mellow.

Next came lower-body strength. Exercises revolved around the use of ankle weights or dumbbells, incorporating them into classics like lunges and squats. Here Roarke was able to allow for our past injuries (my knees, and Rachel’s knees and hips). He showed us modifications to protect our problem areas. 

Our fourth session focused totally on the core, and was the hardest session we had. Our cores were in need of serious help, which may be attributed to Vermont craft beers and wine drinking coupled with that cursed couch. Roarke showed us a series of exercises for our abs, lower back, and obliques, with additional exercises to work toward as we got in better shape. We learned how to do proper crunches and planks, and the speed at which to do them—not like that guy you see in the gym who’s violently shaking up and down.

The most helpful session was our final one, which came several weeks after our previous session. It was mostly a review of what we had learned. Roarke quizzed us on the exercises, which we mostly remembered (thanks to Rachel). He also showed us variations to increase the difficulty, since we were increasing our fitness level. These have helped keep our boredom at bay.

A personal trainer can seem intimidating, and I would not have sought one out on my own. But I have changed my tune. Don’t wait until you’re huffing and puffing on the way to the mountain. Roarke and the other trainers at SHaRC want to help you and enjoy doing it. It’s not very expensive (a five-session package for groups of three or more costs $85 per person; five individual sessions cost $285, or $57 each), and you’ll come away with a personalized plan developed around your needs, preferences, and habits. 

So turn off the Food Network, get off the couch, stop reading this article, and get back into shape.