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Do Yourself A Favor: Put Yourself First And Start Exercising
In shape
Dennis Wyatt in a 2009 In Shape class with Margy Nelson, one of a number of group exercise instructors he credits with helping him keep 150 pounds off for 33-plus years.

I am not a gym rat.

I say this with the full knowledge for the last 28 years I have made my way as often as six times a week to what marketers are now calling fitness centers.

I had three concurrent gym memberships once upon a time but have cut back to two — In Shape and California Total Fitness. I also at one time was hitting many different In Shape gyms — two in Tracy and two in Stockton — besides the one that is the former Manteca Racquetball & Health Club where I’ve been going since February of 1991.

That is a tad unusual. I did not realize that until five years ago when I lost my membership tag you scan at the front desk. I went in and asked for another one fully expecting to pay the $10 replacement fee. The young lady at the front desk typed my name into the computer, looked at me a tad strangely, and said “I can’t charge you. I can’t believe you’ve been a member that long.”

If you had told me 34 years ago I’d even consider stepping into a gym where I had to pay to exercise let alone having done so going on 29 years I would have rolled over laughing as would every PE teacher I ever had. It would have been real difficult for me, however, to get back up considering I weighed 320 pounds at the time back when I was 29.

While my longevity especially at one gym is a bit unusual, what is even more so is I have never touched a weight machine in 29 years. I did, however, use treadmills occasionally before I started jogging and not driving to the East Yosemite Avenue In Shape gym even in the rain, darkness, fog and once in the snow.

It never made much sense to me to jog/run in place when I could do that outside away from TVs and dozens of other people going nowhere fast. My treadmill days ended a couple of weeks after the “accident”. I was reaching for the water bottle one morning and grabbing on the handrail with the other hand to balance myself just as my wedding band got caught on the edge of the bar. Besides feeling as if I had almost ripped my finger off, I stumbled unceremoniously to the floor. That story should once and for all remove any doubts when I tell people I’m a klutz.


‘I cannot picture myself not

taking a group exercise class’

So what do I at the gym?

I go for the group exercise classes.

I cannot picture myself not taking a group exercise class. In a typical week I’ll hit four to five classes. When my work schedule forces me to cut down to two or three I’m borderline ready to go crazy.

I’ve now been taking group exercise classes for 33 years including four years of Jazzercise.

Before any guys out there start snickering, try the 2020 versions of Jazzercise — Zumba or U-Jam — at a gym near you.

I’ve done all three. There are also other guys who do all three primarily with their wives.

If you think it is an easy workout, I could easily recount dozens of times when guys have come into such classes — as well as RIPPED and step classes — and made loud noises about how it was essentially going to be a piece of cake. The guys that do that without an exception have more muscles than you can shake a stick at. And without fail they are gasping for air after the second set and rarely make it halfway through the class before they bail.

That’s because fitness and good health isn’t about looking like a model or a super-toned guy. It’s about being the best you can be.


Teens couldn’t keep up with 66-year-old

lady that had a heart attack years prior

The starkest example I can think of both underestimating the intensity of workouts and assuming that they are too difficult to stick to actually was one summer when two girls basketball players from a local high school took the 6 a.m. step class at In Shape. They were respectful but after four sets they excused themselves telling the instructor the workout was killing them. No one had the heart to tell them the lady next to them was 66 years old and who was going strong had suffered a heart attack nine years prior.

Keep that story in mind for a second while I explain an experience at the Tracy 11th Street gym during a RIPPED class that happens to be my absolute favorite workout as it combines the disciplines of a high intensity workout, aerobics and Body Pump. Two guys in their late teens wearing Tracy High football T-shirts and definitely looking athletic apparently were going to show a room full of women of all ages — and four men who were all well past 45 — a thing or two.

When the instructor explained the weights they should use, they chuckled.

The bravado started going silent during the warm-up. They were breathing heavy trying to keep up. The first full routine that involved a lot of non-stop movements had them struggling. They walked out mid-way through the next set that involves fairly light weights with a lot of repetitive movements.

All of this is a build up to why you should seriously consider joining a gym and taking group exercise classes.


The effectiveness of

group exercise classes

Since I first dropped 140 pounds some 33 years ago, I have missed no more than a dozen days of exercising. Hernia surgeries can distract you. It is safe to say I’m committed to the idea of exercising. How committed you ask? In addition to jogging every day whether it is to the gym or just a 35-60 minute jog, I have three weight benches, free weights, and assorted other pieces of equipment along with a rack holding a pair of racing bicycles in my front room. That’s it except for a futon and a bookcase. I will do short sets when I get home from work or workouts of 15 minutes on days I don’t go to the gym and just jog.

I know. I know. The “experts” say you are supposed to have rest days but guess what — you need to figure out what works best for you.

That is where group exercise classes come into play.

It is a great way to figure out what works best for you. It is also a great way to be exposed to new things that you might not incorporate into a workout routine right off the bat but eventually you may warm up to.

The best part is it is at your own pace — and level — with the benefit of having a trained instructor guiding the class.

Almost every class is a mixed bag. There are people in Body Pump who use little or no weights. There are those that do routines intense as if they are a borderline mad man — or woman — to those that take it down a level or two below the instructor.

Also drop the self-conscious thing. OK, I admit I’m always self-conscious but I also realize everyone is not looking at me either because they are working out. People tend to encourage and joke with others.

And to tell you the truth, I’m inspired more than anything else to do better.

I can give you a ton of examples but I’ll just mention a few. There is a first class lady by the name of Rose that is a tad older than me but she hits In Shape classes every chance she gets pushing weight that I had a hard time struggling with when I started using free weights back in my 30s.

In the RIPPED class there is another classy lady that started last year. She doesn’t jump around like I do and she shares the same “love” for pushups that I do — I can live without them. Again she might be a bit older than I am but she has modified the workout and stuck with it and easily gained more strength, endurance, and flexibility than I have in the past year.

I have not come across an instructor in years that I would pan with a negative assessment.

I used to think I had favorite instructors but I can assure you that they are virtually all top flight. The best part is they all bring different things to the table. And while a personal trainer approach is a bit more focused, I can honestly say over the years instructors such as Nicole, Susie, Margy, Mary, Mia, Christine, Jill, Wendy, Yorlanda, Tami, and Angel — to name a few — that have brought unique approaches and advice to the table that I have incorporated into my exercise regimens.


Making the case as to why you

should consider joining a gym

This brings me to make an argument as to why you should consider joining a gym.

First I get that joining a gym is more annoying than buying a new car.

Initiation fees are all over the map. If the rocket scientists that market gym memberships haven’t figured that out yet, initiation and processing fees are the No. 1 reason people tell me they won’t consider joining a gym. They say that after they approached gym personnel about a membership. If you’re going to have such fees you think they’d cap them at $50.

The monthly fees can be another issue.

I’m paying $65 for two memberships that covers one California Total Fitness gym and another that gets me access to all but two In Shape gyms.

I’m forking over $25 for the California Total Fitness for one reason only — the Wednesday morning RIPPED class. As I noted before, it is my favorite class by far. The gym on North Main Street in Manteca offers the only RIPPED class in the area that fits into my schedule. I try to hit it every Wednesday. If I do, the cost of that class is $6.25. Not bad when you are talking about your health and sanity.

What I get for just under $40 a month at In Shape is even more impressive. If I take just four classes a week over the course of a month I’m spending $2.50 a class. Keep in mind if I simply hit the gym every day it would be costing me less than $1 a day.

If your health is not worth $1 give or take a day to have access to workout options that would cost you thousands of dollars to semi-replicate at your home if you exclude swimming pools, hot tubs and such then I don’t know what to tell you.

Belonging to a gym you can do the loner thing or you can develop “exercise friends”.

There are people I interact with at the gym I rarely if ever come across elsewhere.

Yes, you can be self-conscious at first in a new class. I know I always am. But you get over it quick. You also get to the point where you feel a twinge of guilt if you can’t make a class because people will ask where you have been. That’s a good thing. It’s low key, self-imposed pressure that keeps some people exercising.


I know what happens when

you don’t exercise faithfully

It should be fairly clear by now that I will exercise every day come hell or high water.

I wasn’t always like that, far from it.

So what motivates me?

I’m 170 pounds today. I’ve been between 165 and 172 pounds for the past 14 years. There was a 19-year stretch before that I floated between 190 and 218 pounds.

But the numbers that are really benchmarks was tipping the scales at 320 pounds on my 29th birthday and weighing 240 pounds at the end of the seventh grade. Both weights marked points in my life where I decided enough was enough. The first time I dropped 50 pounds over the summer to start the eighth grade at 190 pounds. I did not get hooked on exercise. Between two jobs, my own photography business on the side, going to college full-time and being on a school board, I found myself going up again after high school. The last time I made a big weight drop I turned 30 weighing 190 pounds a year after tipping the scales at 320. It was after the second big weight loss that I got it through my thick head regular exercise had to be part of the equation.

I also understand completely where I can end up given I weigh 170 pounds today — almost exactly what I weighed in the fifth grade.

I am quite aware of the power of exercise and what you eat as well as what happens when you don’t exercise or give much thought to what you eat.

Along the way — especially in the past 14 years — I’ve found that diet and exercise can eliminate or reduce ills such as arthritis, bursitis and gout as I’ve had all three at one point or another. It can reduce the amount of times you get sick, reduce the intensity of an illness, and shorten the recovery time.

You can cope better with personal physical issues such as bunions, hammertoes and even cracked shoulders.

You will find yourself doing things you never thought possible whether it is jogging through the countryside, a 15-mile hike above 10,000 feet, or simply lifting more than 10 pounds without feeling it.

You can also sleep a lot better and defuse stress.

I don’t need a gadget or a medical professional to tell me what works. I listen to my body.

Keep in mind, though, that numbers don’t lie.

I have weighed myself every day except when I’m on vacation since I was 29 and marked the results on a calendar. The experts tell you not to do that. For me it is a daily reminder to stay focused and not to become frustrated or to think I earned the right to cheat myself and fall off the proverbial wagon.

For the past six weeks I’ve had a rather trying time when developments at work forced me to cancel a week vacation in Death Valley, to put in longer days, and to get less sleep. What I made sure to do even if I missed group classes because of work was not to drop my time exercising as it is time that is about me.

Three times in the past six weeks I’ve given platelets. Before the Red Cross phlebotomist sticks two needles in you for a couple of hours to collect white cells, they take your blood pressure and resting heart rate. The highest my blood pressure was during those three times was 120 over 80 and the lowest 118 over 72. As for my resting heart rate, the high was 56.

This is not bragging but an effort to drive home the point why exercise matters. It helps buffer your body — and sanity — against day-to-day stress as well as boosts your health and well-being.

Ask any medical professional the value for your health to get readings in that range and you should understand how one of the best health insurance “policies” you can have is a commitment to exercise. Toss in paying attention to what you eat and you have much more control over your heath than a pill can ever give you.

And if you like eating, it’s tough to be dismissive of exercise. On a typical day I easily eat more than 4,000 calories. At least once a week that is bumped past the 5,000 mark when I get a bit carried away with a half -gallon of ice cream.


It is never too late for almost all of

us to improve our health & fitness

You need to keep in mind what your goal is. I’m never going to — nor do I want to — bench press a bus. And I’m certainly going to never grace the cover of GQ or a men’s exercise magazine. My DNA dictates I have an endomorph body type. To save you Googling that means I have a large frame, little muscle definition due to adipose tissue, an insatiable appetite, and large amount of fat accumulation among other things. You can work to counter or improve on your body type’s natural characteristics but you are what you are. The idea is to literally be the best you can be which pays dividends with your health and life in general.

Keep in mind for almost all of us it is never too late to make improvements.

As an example, I’ve never been much into weights specifically working on upper body strength. For me to do a real pull-up would rate as a major miracle. And while I do my versions of pushups on my toes and can get a fairly high count in I would consider it a minor miracle if I was able to get an inch off the ground before going back up and do a “true” push up. I have shoulder issues.

Up until two years ago I eschewed Body Pump. There wasn’t enough aerobics to it even with pushing smaller weights in more repetition. Then In Shape cancelled their morning RIPPED classes in Manteca. I begrudgingly decided to take up Body Pump after spending months traveling to Tracy and Stockton In Shape gyms to take RIPPED and step classes.

I learned to tolerate Body Pump classes by jumping prior to the class and between sets.

About four months ago one of the instructors was pointing out form as they usually do as she did the shoulder exercise set that involves mac raises along with other arm raises. For whatever reason what she was saying got through to me and I noticed I wasn’t quite doing it right.

Up until then 32 repetitions would kill me using 8 pounds. I’ve now gotten to the point I can go the equivalent of 100 repetitions using 8 pounds at home followed by 30 repetitions using 10 pounds.

The big change? I now feel stronger jogging.

I’ve been told for years strengthening my upper body would help with my endurance bicycling, jogging or simply getting through the day.

I had convinced myself I couldn’t do it and that it really wouldn’t work. I was wrong on both counts.

Do yourself a favor. Put yourself first and exercise. It could be something as simple as walking 30 minutes a day. That is what a lady, a fellow Dalmatian owner, did. She lost close to 60 pounds by walking an hour a day.

If you decide to join a gym, hit the group exercise classes. They work big time. I know it is difficult to check the self-consciousness at the door but you are worth the effort.

Exercise and fitness has allowed me to learn more about myself including discovering an intense love of hiking anywhere in the Sierra above 8,000 feet as while as cross country hiking, exploring remote canyons, and making my way up to 11,000-foot peaks in Death Valley.