Fifteen or twenty minutes before class time, I leave home. The trip to the gym is short, and as I walk through the automatic doors, I am greeted by the most pleasant aroma—they’re baking something at the Trackside Café, and it smells good. I absolutely love the fact that my athletic club doesn’t smell like a locker room. It’s a huge P.R. advantage.

I breeze in, show my i.d., pick up a towel, stow my belongings, and head to the large, mirrored classroom which houses the step equipment and weights. The participants in the spinning class that just ended are filing out, dragging their stationary bikes with them; my fellow BodyPumpers and I are lined up to take their place. We file in, and being creatures of habit, start gathering our equipment and placing everything in the same quadrants of the room that we always occupy. We grab steps and risers—the plastic planks used in step aerobics, which we will use to lie on when we are working on chest or triceps-- and also a selection of hand weights, barbells and additional weights, and a mat for push-ups and abdominal exercises. The room holds about 40 people and their equipment; usually there are twenty-some participants.

There’s a rotation group of maybe eight instructors, all women. Approximately two thirds of any given class is made up of women, ranging in age from college student to grandmother/retired college professor. Go to a weekday morning class, and the room is filled with moms whose kids are in school. There are men in the class as well, of course (that would be the other one third…), and I’m sure other gyms even have male instructors, but here BodyPump seems to be dominated by women.

The instructor greets everyone and asks if anyone is new; if so, she will spend a few minutes demonstrating correct set position, and walk the newbie through some of the moves. Then we start with the warm-up. We do dead rows and dead lifts, while standing in set position: bending at the hips, arching our backs, and raising and lowering our bars; we straighten up and do upright lifts, switch our feet to a split stance and do overhead lifts; place the bars behind our heads, onto our shoulders, and do squats. Sometimes the warm-up includes lunges and biceps curls. By the time the five-minute song is over, you feel quite warm.

Everything in BodyPump is choreographed and set to music; BodyPump was developed by Body Training Systems, a division of The STEP Company. Instructors undergo a good bit of training, and new routines—new songs and re-combinations of the same basic exercises for each muscle group—are sent to gyms by the parent company frequently. In each class, we make our way through the major muscle groups in the same proscribed order —warm-up, squats, chest, back and hamstrings (including the clean and press ), triceps, biceps, lunges, shoulders, abdominals, and cool down. (During the cool down, the lights are turned off and we lie on the floor and stretch. Ahh, heaven.) There is one instructor who, when she teaches on Friday afternoons, messes with the order, but I don’t think that’s quite kosher. Whatever the order, the whole workout takes about an hour.

The beauty of BodyPump, as far as I’m concerned, is that it’s set to music and we’re all doing the same thing at the same time. On my own, I’d quit sooner, but when everyone else is doing 8 more reps, and the instructor is shouting “Hang in there, you can do it!”, I’m more likely to keep going. I don’t have to think about what comes next; someone is describing the moves, reminding me about my posture, and demonstrating how it should be done. Sorry if this makes me sound like a mindless drone, but it makes exercise more doable, IMHO .

The music. It’s loud, and rhythmic, and varies from week to week. We hear selections from Pink and J. Lo and Madonna, Run DMC, Will Smith; Eye of the Tiger from Rocky, and even, on occasion, Tom JonesShe’s a Lady. Apparently, one of the first BodyPump routines was set to Tainted Love. How could you not love Tainted Love?

The promotional material proclaims BodyPump THE FASTEST WAY IN THE UNIVERSE TO GET IN SHAPE. The program, developed by Les Mills, is done by about 15 million people internationally. Although it is not a replacement for cardiovascular training, it does build lean muscle and increase muscular strength and endurance. Like other weight and resistance training, it is recommended that BodyPump be limited to 2-3 times a week, with a minimum of 48 hours of recovery between workouts. Benefits include:

  • Improved body shape and muscle conditioning
  • Increased tendon and ligament tensile strength
  • Increased bone density (great preventative measure for osteoporosis)
  • Promotion of muscle balance and postural stability throughout the body
  • Increased fat burning capacity
  • Improved hormonal status
  • Stronger immune system1

The adjustable weights for the barbells come in 2.5, 5.5, and 11 lb sizes (the bar itself weighs 3 lb), and the most weight you can load on your bar (that will fit) is 88 pounds, which, plus the weight of the bar itself, brings the grand total to 91 lbs. Most people use far less--raw beginners usually lift under 13 lbs, and are amazed at how sore they are the next day. It's the repetitions that get you.

I’ve got to hand it to them, I don’t know if it’s THE fastest (or best) way to get in shape, but combined with a reasonable amount of cardio, it seems to be working. I’m ever so proud when I can move up by adding more weight to my bar, and I can now do (at least a few) regular push-ups. I’ve been going to BodyPump a few times a week since August, and I’m still enjoying the class, and I’m quite pleased with the results.

1 See ; also .

Thanks, Posmella.