"They're not here." I responded, matter-of-factly. "And I need one for class."
"You have a big one in Vancouver."
"I brought my orange one over."
"No, there's one more, probably tucked away somewhere."
After discovering the utter lack of mats at LA Fitness, I took matters into my own hands. Being utterly convinced that a budget mat with fast, free shipping would suffice for the grimy gym studio floors, I resorted to Amazon. And then, in the absence of a carrying strap, I DIYed my own variation with thin elastic cord.
However, it was nevertheless, subpar for its price. After a short while in bird dog position, a dent formed where my knee was. It persisted for the duration of my workout, like cheap memory foam. The surface was decent and indeed nonslip, but gripped toes excessively during dynamic movements, causing my toe to bend underneath instead of assisting it along its path. The foamy texture further caused insulation of heat, rather than its dissipation. My POPFLEX version, albeit far pricier, was just so much better. (That said, both mats susceptible to streaking and surface discolouration, regardless of usage count.)
I learned that, while the facility offered an open Wi-Fi network, the bandwidth was largely incompetent of streaming YouTube videos for real-time workouts. The same observation unfortunately applied to Spotify streaming and sending media as well. Photos would sometimes make it through on the equipment floor, but even text messages failed to send in the group fitness studio and locker room.
"Sure, I'll take this spot." I responded, utterly disinterested in marking out territory. From my perspective, it made no difference where I stood, as long as I could view the instructor's movements.
Class started about seven minutes late. When the instructor finally strode in, she was greeted with a round of cheers. A quick gaze about me informed of a fuller class than Saturday morning's, as well as a group of frequent attendees, all above the age of thirty and some likely into their fifties and sixties. With regard to coordination and form, they were, admittedly, no better than the "backup dancers" in Golfy's dance videos. The setlist comprised of a mix of Latin, Afropop, Bollywood, and even modern pop/hip hop - two of which featured Megan Thee Stallion. In spite of the energizing nature of the compilation, the instructor's movements seemed lacklustre and barely discernible, albeit on beat. It was unknown whether her moves had been moderated to suit the pace and demographic of the class; to combat the sluggishness, I opted to up the intensity by expanding the range and adding bounce to my steps.
It dawned upon me that the same instructor would lead Thursday's pilates class - the pivotal occurence that would determine my membership-commencing intentions.
I started at a relatively quick pace, as to maximize the warmed-up state of my lower body. Rapidly reaching the 700 mark, I continued onwards, straightening my spine and regulating my breathing to prolong endurance. Glancing to my left, other users had begun to hunch over the support bars while they continued. I identified with their pain, but was also mindful of poor posture resulting in pains and injury.
1811 steps in twenty-seven minutes - not a bad sight at all!
A crippling headache caught up with me once home; combatting presumed dehydration with ample fluids, I proceeded to spend the rest of my night awaking to find the bathroom. These trips contributed to lack of restful sleep trickling into the next day's early morning commute into Midtown.
Exercise was eliminated from the day's schedule on the basis of sore lower limbs and sleep deprivation - a rare occurrence, but nonetheless vital component of recovery (as much as I refrain from periods of stagnancy).
Over the past couple years, I've devised my own array of concoctions from Lemon to Lavender to Mint Chocolate, often adapting Sunday's formulas in favour of the desired outcome. That said, I admit to lagging behind in pound cake experimentation specifically, for the cake is forever versatile and worthy of research and development.
Admittedly, it was shocking to find a cake without fat. To compensate for oil/butter and their associated moistness, Sunday utilizes heavy cream, which can viewed as a 2-in-1 element of fat and liquid.
Instead of adhering to mere vanilla, a heaping tablespoon of black sesame paste and liberal squeeze of sweetened condensed milk are whipped into the topping. A small amount of gelatin is also used to stabilize the mixture.
The following afternoon sees further dehydration in the cake, along with transfer of moisture from the whipped cream to its uppermost layer. Fragrant as always, I have few remarks towards the black sesame topping. However, I can declare far less affection for this pound cake than the supple Condensed Milk version.
When I strode into LA Fitness' Mat Pilates class the following evening, I came to realize its popularity: four other LOLË mats were spotted beside other attendees, three of which identical to my own. Durability (and accessibility) was confirmed. Unlike the past Sunday's yoga session , there were few Gaiam mats spotted.
Expectations towards Mat Pilates were generally low, but a faint spark of hope had been ignited when a staggering number of Merrithew-branded pilates rings were discovered in the equipment bin at the back.
Several classical pilates moves had been called out: Bird Dog, Rainbow Leg Lifts, Rolling like a Ball, and Scissors. That said, all (except for Rolling like a Ball) were hurried in nature, especially the Rainbow Leg Lifts, which were taking place too fast to summon the core and stabilize the pelvis. In my peripheral were a handful of middle-aged ladies scrambling through the moves with crunched spines and young women bending in and out squats and lunges with poor posture and poor pilates form.
The class was insufficient for my needs, so I opted to remain in the studio to stream additional exercise videos. However, the gym's atrociously slow Wi-Fi and cleaning lady's pending sweeping operations had me seeing myself out grudgingly instead. Naturally, I departed with a sense of inadequacy, along with slight frustration to parking at the far end of the asphalt lot due to high weekday evening turnout.
Tests were conducted via Google Forms instead of pen and paper, allowing the revision process to be quicker and absolutely touchless. Then, at quarter to three, I boarded the westward train in an impossibly sleepy state.
BOGO Baked Garlic Bread was admittedly tasty, albeit sodden after the grueling, Uber-inflicted 80-minute wait.
Stairmaster training was omitted on the basis of a pre-existing soreness in glute med.
Instead of having punch "numbers" called out, sport-specific jargon was dropped in favour of common vocabulary, such as "jab", "cross", "hook", and "upper cut". The initiative rendered the class more inclusive, rather than the elite vibe of LifeTime. We progressed onto other punch combinations, as well as some shuffling, ducking, and even a brief "cardio" session involving plank jacks and jumping jacks. Thankfully, there were no burpees. In hindsight, I'd consider the entire class to be a cardio workout.
Kickbox Cardio was a welcome change from normal routine, inciting comprehensive engagement of the upper body for powerful punches, as well as core for quick retraction and defense. Prior experiences at HUF and occasional viewing of Reps to the Rhythm's boxing-inspired videos had readied me adequately for this class. I was also appreciative of the music choice, in which brisk, 8-count beats allowed me to move to the song without needing to count reps. In addition, given that the combos would be repeated, there was ample time to review one's form from the mirrors at the front and left side of the studio.
Scissors (with and without hands), flutters, and cross-body toe touches were also included as part of the Sunday workout, appended with lying leg circles in both directions and options to enter pilates stance. Form reminders were still few to none, however it was interesting to note the drastic differences in pace and organization. Despite adhering a near-identical routine, these two factors transformed a rushed, ineffective sequence to one encouraging proper muscle activation and mind-body connection.
At the end of the class, I remained on my mat, stretching and attempting a bird dog with the supporting hand pressing against the fitness ring. During this time, it was overhead that the instructor would be moving to Vaughan in September, thus reducing the number of classes taught. Her reputation and long-standing position at the gym was undeniable, and only became more apparent in the fifteen minutes that would follow.
I was stunned that she had remembered our discussion about my one-week pass. "Today is my last day. It ends today."
Her eyes widened, partially in surprise and partially in pity, then expressed that she would "talk to the front" to request an additional one-week pass for me to try more classes, with her present to teach.
Recalling that every guest was limited to one 7-day pass and one 3-day pass per year, I voiced my concerns, to which she dismissed and led me to the front.
At first, I was regarded with disdain, informed of system limitations, then pressured about purchasing membership. It was in this moment that the instructor and manager came to my rescue: "I'll override it."
And, with that, I was bestowed another week of trial - albeit with my name spelled incorrectly and not capitalized.
Similar to Chipotle, the menu saw introductions of High Fibre, Low Fat, Low Calorie, and Keto compilations - all of which could be customized at no additional cost. Above the counter were images of each of the Signature Boxes; on the back was a listing of ingredients, enabling easy swaps in a timely manner (none of the "What does it come with?" back and forth business).
Steamed Baos came in sets of two, with each duo priced at a whopping $12.95. Mix-and-match options were not possible. While the sleepy polar bear and I had initially agreed on sampling Thai Meatball and Lemongrass Chicken & Braised Beef, I proposed sticking with the former on the basis on curiosity. A Chiang Mai Trail Mix was appended to the bill for two dollars more.
The boxes were smaller than I recalled, which could be owed to the transition from biodegradable square containers to significantly less studry wax-lined paper containers. It was nonetheless delicious and hearty, with charred bits of sweet potato, pickled carrow slaw, and flavourful bites of chicken and beef.
I returned gleefully, only to have the sleepy polar bear jeering at my solution. "You're just going to walk away with two straws? And not give them business?!"
"I will - don't worry!" I chuckled while ripping away the paper packaging.
"For real? You're going to buy?" came a dubious reply.
I cast a quick glance at the menu from our bar stools. "Why not? It looks okay."
The verdict was positive, but mildly so. I proposed it best served between two thin Rice Krispies slabs - or any rice cracker-cookie concoction, really - and sprinkled with flaky salt to combat the sweetness.
Unlike with LifeTime, I didn't feel a sense of hollowness after my classes at LA Fitness. Commuting wasn't tragic either, as I was neither required to cross a highway interchange during peak hours nor fight endlessly for parking. Most importantly, I felt respected as a guest (and potential member). Some of the standard gym dilemmas applied, of course, in that showers were always up to fifteen minutes away and my workout schedule wasn't entirely fluid. That said, the classes took place during reasonable times of the week (weekday evenings after 5 PM and weekend mornings) and could be incorporated into one's routine with minimal hassle.
Alas, time will tell for my ultimate decision.