Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Muscle sculpt class

The YMCA's Muscle Sculpt classes involve no posing in the gym mirror. Your muscles will be flexing - a lot. Photo / Doug Sherring
The YMCA's Muscle Sculpt classes involve no posing in the gym mirror. Your muscles will be flexing - a lot. Photo / Doug Sherring

What is it? A class to music focusing on muscle strength, rather than cardio work. Equipment may include weights, Swiss balls, exercise benches and rubber bands.

What's needed? Gym gear, gym shoes, water bottle. The gym supplies the rest.

The experience: Mt Albert YMCA instructor Caty warns me at the start of the class: "I'm pretty tough". And only minutes into the workout I see what she means.

I've got a giant, thick rubber band around both ankles and I'm stepping simply side-to-side then forwards-and-backwards against the tension of the rubber, to music, and I'm wearing a strange sort of contorted smile. What I'm doing looks bizarre. I know this because I can see myself and the rest of the class in the mirrors. So I'm kind of laughing at the view, but grimacing because my muscles are screaming. Already.

The rubber band is getting to my gluteus maximus muscles - my buttocks.

It's also reminding me I have quads (muscles on the front of the thighs), hamstrings (muscles relating to posterior thighs) and that a good core would be helpful about now.

It looks like it should be easy, but it's quietly and quickly torturous. However, if I thought it felt painful at the time, then I'll tell you that for days afterwards I could feel I'd done that exercise properly.

Caty says she loves getting out the rubber bands. "Guys usually look at them and think, 'Whatever'. But then they put one on and I watch them die!" she giggles.

But before one thinks buying a rubber band is a cheap way to get fit, think again. No one would do this to themselves, I'm sure. It's the combo of Caty and the rubber band that's doing the trick. She's driving our pain thresholds, trying to "sculpt" bodies.

I'm not alone in not expecting the use of rubber bands today. No one here ever knows what to expect as Caty's classes differeach time. Therefore, no one can get used to a "same-old routine". Different muscles are woken up at her whim.

Caty says when she arrived at the YMCA (not that long ago) everyone in the muscle sculpt class had their Swiss balls and weights ready for a familiar routine.

She ditched that and at first clients were unsure about it, but now they keep coming back. They like being "challenged", she says.

Through the class we do things like lunges on benches (holding hand weights), squats against the wall (with hand weights), assorted arm exercises (again with hand weights), abdominal crunches (against our own body weight), then we hold our own weight up on our elbows and feet to finish, for what feels like a very long time, but in reality is probably the length of time it takes to warm a cup of tea in the microwave.

During the hour, Caty keeps ducking out into the audience of a dozen people for an objective look at the class to make sure we are doing the actions correctly to protect our joints. She knows names, she knows abilities and she's watching for technique and performance. Meanwhile, she slots in the odd light-hearted movie review, raves about a new shoe on the market and generally has people smiling.

It's all very clever because while we're amused, we're distracted from giving our bodies hell.

A guy alongside me tells me he loves the YMCA because it's for "real people" and "it's affordable".

I was surprised by the rubber bands, surprised by the great workout and pleasantly surprised by the great people and facilities at the YMCA.

I also liked "pretty" and "tough" Caty, who flicked me a rubber band souvenir at the end of the class to make me "smile".

How much? Muscle sculpt class $15 or $150 for 11 sessions. The gym has a wide range of memberships available including a 12-month standard adult membership for $18.50 a week.

Worth it? This gets the thumbs-up.

Try it: See here for your local YMCA (they're nationwide). The Mt Albert YMCA has a muscle sculpt class on Wednesday mornings at 9.30, 773 New North Rd, Mt Albert, ph (09) 846 0788.

Rating: 9/10.

- Herald on Sunday

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