When the opening ceremonies of the Olympics grace my television every fourth summer, I always commit to watching everything. After all, these people train countless hours for the betterment of their sports, so who am I not to tune in for everything from “equestrian dressing” to “artistic swimming?” Inevitably I take the bronze medal in this lofty goal, but gymnastics is the one sport I never, never miss out on.
What’s behind this amazement with people flinging themselves through the air? Good question. Maybe it’s because it’s a lot like extreme yoga: The competitors go upside down, contort their bodies in every which way, and ultimately—they stick the landing. It’s inspiring. And because we’re still over a year away from the return of the summer Olympics, I recently signed up for an adult gymnastics class of sorts, which promised to teach me the basics of rings (a gymnastics iteration that only men compete in during the games).
After a 60-minute session, I have an even deeper respect for the athletes who support their entire body weight on two circles of wood. Because here’s the thing: The Crunch Gym class that I took, which is called “The Ring Thing,” featured a harness that takes away 50 percent of your body weight—and most of the moves still felt like someone had strapped sandbags to my feet. The very act of pulling up my body felt like, well, an Olympic effort. (Read: My arms and abs really hurt the next day.)
Although the class at Crunch on New York City’s Bowery street is the gym franchise’s only location offering the gymnast-inspired workout so far, you can take similar classes at gyms across the country. (Just Google away and you’ll find one, I swear.) Before you sign up and don your leotard though, let me tell you what you’re getting yourself in to.
When I first walk in the room, I immediately feel the desire to strap myself into one of the harnesses hanging from the ceiling and fly around the room in a f*ck you gravity moment. But alas! I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of the nice folks who designed the class. Instead, I decide to play it cool until it’s my turn to kick off, like Wendy, into the air.
Once we’ve done a speedy warm up of cat cows, lunges, and hamstring stretches, we strap in and grab our rings for all the dips. I’m talking tricep, bicep, some combination of both (???). The class continues like this, with the whole group splitting their time between ab work on the floor and more ab and arm work on the harnesses. At one point we pour all of our weight into our arms and launch upward so that we’re literally standing in mid-air. At another, we’re all hanging horizontally in a dead bug position (but, like, in a cool way). Then, at long last, we end up completely upside down in a move that—if you photoshopped out the harnesses—could earn us accolades.
By the end, I’m not drenched in sweat by any means, but I do feel that kind of to-the-bone fatigue that’s common after lifting heavy weights or spending too much time in plank pose. The real soreness comes the next morning though. I reach across my bed sheets for my phone, and my entire upper body screams in protest.
I’m convinced: When you’re growing tired of your usual arm day routine, (half your) body weight workouts are a gymnast’s best-kept secret.
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