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While the rest of the fitness blogging world is out there worshiping the almighty CrossFit (“Forging Elite Fitness!”), I’m going to be a black sheep and sing a little praise for my weekly $3-a-pop, 45-minute circuit training class.

I found out about the class through a little trifold community education brochure delivered in our neighborhood. Along with circuit training, one can also sign up for Living Wills 101, crocheting, and boater safety education. A yoga class takes place in the high school gymnasium; my class takes places in the cafeteria of a local elementary school (where the smell of tater tots somehow always eclipses our body odor).

I belong to a gym, but its group classes either don’t jive with my work schedule or just don’t pique my interest. So when I found out I could take an 8-week circuit training class once per week for a grand total of $24, I did not hesitate to send in the check.

I just completed the sixth week of the program, and I come home from each session with an affirmatory “I love this class!”

Each session includes a quick warm-up/cool-down, with the circuits sandwiched in-between. The instructor demonstrates three exercises, most of which include a handweight(s) or lightweight medicine ball.

The majority of the moves are compound exercises–so we’re working both our upper and lower body simultaneously and getting quite the cardio workout–or they’re core-focused moves, such as planks or crunches while holding a weight. We do each of the three exercises for about a minute, take a super-quick breather, and then repeat them again–and then again–for a total of three sets. We learn three different routines in each class, for a total of nine different exercises.

I usually break a satisfactory sweat by the end but know I could take it up a notch. The problem is that we have to bring our own weights to class, and I really can’t carry more than the 16 pounds I already haul into the cafeteria. If I were start toting my 10- or 12-pound weights, I’d need a baby stroller to transport them.

Still, I ❤ circuit training and was super-happy to learn this week that the instructor is offering an extension period in April and May. Here are the top five reasons I’ll be there:

1. Everything is super-quick. I have a 5-minute commute each way, and the class itself is 45 minutes. BOOM. The class is packed with local working moms, because it’s the perfect time allotment when you have little ones at home.

2. No crap, no chit-chit. One of my biggest fears of going to my gym is being accosted by The Chatty Guy or being forced to listen to the high school jocks curse up a storm while grunting on the weight floor. In my circuit training class, I walk into the cafeteria, set up, work out, and leave. Another class begins immediately after ours, and there is no time for talky talky. And since the class is so fast-paced, there is no room for chatter. I HATE CHATTER DURING CLASSES.

3. Everything is modifiable. The instructor always makes a point to demonstrate the alternative ways of completing the exercise. Use 3-pound dumbbells, 5 pounds. Don’t use the weights at all. Lift your leg to the front if you can’t lift it to the side (<— my hip appreciates this one). Do side plank on your knee or up on your toes. Can’t do the complete Turkish get-up? Just do the first half. Need to keep it low impact? Squat instead of jump. Bottom line: The teacher gives us the opportunity to modify the exercise until its do-able, but pushes us to still DO it. As someone with a chronic injury, this approach is what draws me so much to the teacher/class!

4. I can do everything I learn at home. After each class, I scribble down all of the nine exercises we did so I can do the same routine at home at some other point during the week. (The class is offered twice a week, but I only signed up for the Wednesday class.) Having these routines on hand is also important for the times the instructor is on vacation for two weeks and I don’t want to fall behind on my circuit training!

5. Again, it doesn’t break the bank. 8 classes for $24. BOOM. A great workout for less than the cost of a latte.

Have you recently discovered any cost-effective or time-saving fitness programs?

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I took a step into unfamiliar territory the other night and went to a group circuit training class. It’s part of an 8-week series at a local adult school, and I knew that for this to be effective (read: for me to actually attend class for 8 weeks straight), I’d have to commit for realz and throw down the cash. I filled out a registration form, signed a check, and everything!

Yes, I belong to a gym and I also have lots of free weights and fitness gadgets at home, but for a while now I have felt the need for some structure when it comes to strength training. I love doing kettlebell exercises at the gym, but my body really can’t tolerate more than 1 day a week of that. I have a buttload of strength routines from magazines and websites printed out, but sometimes the act of just reading the instructions and comprehending where each body part is supposed to be is tiring in and of itself, and after I’ve “studied” the exercises for 20 minutes I have no desire to actually do them.

All I want is a little live guidance every now and then, to push me for 45 minutes and make sure all my parts are in the right place. Nothing too crazy (not quite ready for Bodypump yet) but nothing too wimpy either. Circuit training is perfect for my body, a chance for me to get cardio without overdoing it with jarring repetitive motions, and strength training, a time to build muscle. And dude, you can’t beat the price either! $3 per class? Community education rocks…property taxes at work!

The class was packed with people of all different ages, sizes, and fitness attire. It was so vibrant that I was never really self-conscious about my hip, that between sets I had to jiggle it a little. No one noticed that I didn’t lunge as deep on my left side.

What I was self-conscious about, though, was my knack for always looking like a dancer, even when I’m trying to be buff. I have this image of myself in my mind, that, due to swimming, I’m this ridiculously toned athlete. I mean, after 30 minutes of swimming, my arms feel spent, and while it’s true that my back and shoulders have changed form from swimming, my gangly upper body still screams ballerina. Not only in appearance but in movement, too. How come some people lift dumbbells over their head and look strong, and I look like I’m practicing a port de bras with 5 pounds of iron in each hand?

Ballet days

And don’t get me started on the jumping jacks. We did a variation of the typical jumping jack, jumping out wide-legged into a squat with the arms coming through the center of our body and out to the side. In other words, I felt like I was doing small jumps in a ballet class, a series of echappes to the tune of Britney Spears rather than classical piano. I felt so proper, so poised. And I couldn’t break free from the elegance!

I love that ballet is ingrained in my body but sometimes it’s like the dorky little sister who sneaks up on you in the school hallway when you’re trying to hang out with the cool crowd. “Hey ballet, whatevs. I’m here with the chiseled athletes now, doing my super-tough jumping jacks. We’ll catch up later. Nerd.”

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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