I’ve been doing a free online boot camp for nearly two months, at the recommendation of my neighbor who was one of many loyal participants in the in-person version the trainer/teacher has run for years. For all the ways I’m feeling Zoom fatigue, there are plenty of advantages, like being able to converse or in this case move with other people you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I couldn’t get to to the park at 5 in the morning, when the regular class took place, but at the civilized hour of 8 in my own house, in a sliver of the bedroom I’ve turned into my workout space, with a mat and chair and a few light weights, I put my iphone on Zoom and join in.
The teacher is terrific: he gives clear instructions, he’s upbeat and encouraging,and best of all, he offers modifications. Which means, after he explains each exercise, he gives options: regular, advanced, and modified. If you have a bad back or knees, you’re recovering from an injury or for whatever reason you can’t do the full movement, there is a version of each sequence with less impact or stress – even jumping jacks without jumping.
There is no judgement, although I’m a bit abashed I have to do one of the most challenging exercises with the support of a chair. (“Work out with a chair! You can do it anywhere!” – I remember that song from Sesame Street when the girl in the wheelchair spun around and danced, setting such a good example of inclusion.) I don’t lift as much or step as high; I crunch and do bungees and other exercises I’d never heard of before in versions that allow me to complete each sequence to the best of my ability, which I have to admit is more limited than it used to be.
I had assumed that I’d eventually move on from the modifications, as I assumed most of the other long-time participants did. Nope. I don’t want to give an excuse like age because there are plenty of people, my neighbor included, who are older than me and can do far more than I. But the point is it doesn’t matter why you need them, modifications are available, and it makes the class accessible. My sister now joins in several days a week and is likely the only person who sees me out there, a small square on a Zoom screen, with my bright green three pound weights and jump-free movements, doing my best to keep up.
It doesn’t matter, there is no note to write. “Please excuse J from full push ups, she has a herniated disc and arthritis, plus she just fell off of the trampoline and is still pretty sore…” No one has to answer to anyone but herself and modified movement is better than nothing. I still am getting stronger, as we all do when we move repeatedly, at whatever the pace. Am I being lazy or not pushing myself enough, I wonder, or simply taking care of myself to avoid strain or injury? It’s all a matter of balance and judgement, I tell myself, as I still feel tired and sore (but free of pain) at the end of each session, a sign that I’ve gotten some benefit.
We’re used to modifications in this house. V’s challenges demand it. Before I go in to work out, I make sure one set of clothes is laid out (on his own he’d wear several layers) and I’ve made part of his breakfast – he’s hungry all the time and without fail comes downstairs ravenous and ready for a few plates of hot food – and lock the kitchen (we recently added locks to the fridge and freezer because he was constantly opening them and grabbing food). T makes him the rest of his breakfast and provides whatever else he needs help with; this is our job and these are accommodations I respect and understand. For people like V and others with more advanced diagnoses, people much older or more frail or vulnerable. But needing help or extra support is not an identity, it’s simply a circumstance that requires adjustments for the unique qualities we each possess which can make getting from Abs to Burpees to Crunches harder work.
I don’t see anyone else in the class so don’t know what they’ve had to do to get there – I know my neighbor has trouble sleeping some nights and it’s hard for her to get up in time. Who knows what other difficulties they face? I can’t tell from the brief glances I’ve had of them, to look beyond the workout clothes and spaces that look much nicer than mine, to know what life was like at 7:55 or what it will be like at 8:45 when they are finished with class and get on with their day. But most weekday mornings I find myself – sometimes drag myself – to the mat where I try to keep up, listening for that set of final instructions: “If you need modifications…” I do. And I move the best I can.