This is a personal essay written in September 2019, about a year after having Lincoln. Push-ups were my fitness nemesis and this fitness class forced me to face them.
It’s 9:30 on a Tuesday morning. The gym studio is buzzing with conversations centering around kids, fashion and Botox. Everyone falls silent as a heavy dance beat takes over; that’s our cue to take our spot at the ballet bar for the next 60 minutes.
Looking around the room, someone might mistake this for the film set of an 80s dance workout revival video, since the only acceptable uniform is one that includes bright leggings, crop tops and high pony tails; however, the vibe isn’t really peppy. It’s serious and military like. No one moves until Melissa, the instructor, gives her say so.
“We’re doing 100 push-ups, before the bar,” she states in a drill sergeant like manner. This is extreme, I think, and I’ve never done more than five pushups in a row in my life. Then I remember, the class is called ‘Extreme Barre’ and it’s exactly what I signed up for.
As I took that first class and muddled my way through that first set of 100 pushups last January, I was about six months postpartum. While getting back in shape with baby one came naturally, baby number 2 was a different story. My abs were shattered. Staircases were my biggest nightmare - I’d either get to the top breathless or peeing my pants.
How am I going to get through this? I’m definitely going to pee my pants. My thoughts went. However, Melissa then added a silver lining: “We go for a set of 10 and then we rest and do it again.” I hadn’t slept in six months. “Rest” - that I can do.
During my first set of 10 reps, I did two. The “rest” she mentioned was a lie; it was only a five second break, enough to take a breath in and start over. The next set of 10, I could only manage one push-up; it was on my knees. After that first class, I may not have come anywhere close to completing 100 push-ups but I survived. That was enough motivation to try the class again.
My second class instead of doing two push-ups per set, I could do three. Then, the next week, I could do five per set. After two months of striving for 100 push-ups, I can go three sets of 10 no problem. All on my toes.
The toes were a big part of the 100. Each time Melissa instructed us to complete the exercise, she also emphasized there was no such thing as “male” or “female” push-ups. A full push-up is on your toes; modifications can include falling to your knees. Week after week, I, along with my classmates, not only challenged our physical prowess, but also pushed the boundaries on whatever gender stereotypes about push-ups we may have had, on our toes, one rep at a time.
Around this time, I also found myself grappling with gender stereotypes outside of the gym. These centered around my desire to level up within my career and the self doubt that a new mom could in fact land a promotion coming off a mat leave. I was knee deep in sleep deprivation and diapers. Who was I to think I could get that new role, when I had been out of the office for the past 10 months.
However, every time in my job search I felt defeated, I began to think of my Extreme Barre class and those push-ups. Much like meditation, various emotions would arise during those 100 reps. Sometimes, it was fear – how will I do this? Sometimes, it was a combination of anger and feeling victimized – I can’t believe I’m doing this. How is Melissa making us do this?
Then I realized, I’m choosing to do this. I’m choosing to level up in fitness and my career. While I couldn’t guarantee my body could keep up or my next job application would be well received, I could guarantee I had the will to try. So I kept going.
As my 15-month mat leave came to an end, I was in the best physical shape of my life, graduating to taking on the 100 push-up exercise twice a week. Then a new challenge arose: my husband thought it would be really romantic if we made plans to do Wonderland’s new ride the Yukon Striker.
Rollercoasters?!!! I hadn’t done one since having kids I thought. Death! That’s what those looked like. Reluctantly, I agreed.
Once we got to the park, I cried in the parking lot. How am I going to do Yukon Striker? I can’t even muster up the guts to leave the car.
Then I thought of the 100 push-ups. I didn’t aim or think I was going for the 100 right away; it was about getting through the first set of 10. “Let’s hit mini Vortex in the kiddie section”, I said. That I can do. We did it and I didn’t die.
We then rode the actual vortex. I didn’t die. In fact, I had fun. We got to line-up of the Yukon Striker, I can do that stop before the drop. At the very top, I shouted ‘we can do this’; it was a blast.
By the end of my maternity leave, I had not only landed a better job, but rode the Yukon Striker. I felt extremely accomplished.
The sad part about maternity leave is that it does come to an end. While working out at 9:30 am on a Tuesday morning was a temporary lifestyle luxury, I have found that my commitment to completing 100 push-ups at least once a week has been permanent.
The task of striving to do something physically unattainable not only changed my body; it changed my mindset about what is achievable. As we settle into 2020, I keep asking myself: what’s next? 200 push-ups once a week? As crazy as that sounds, I think I will at least give it a try.