This time of year, your sveltest pair of pants might as well be a string bikini – you take one look and think, “yeah, right.” But if you’d really like to get back into those skinny jeans that once mysteriously fit you, well, there’s a class for that.
The Skinny Jeans class at Sugarfoot, a new dance and fitness studio in Toronto’s Entertainment District, is designed to restore you to your pre-holiday size with 45-minute power-lunch Tabata classes. And if that isn’t alluring enough, the exercises are all performed in 20-second bursts, under the tagline, “You can do ANYTHING for 20 seconds.”
It’s an interval training method developed in the mid-1990s by Izumi Tabata, a doctor at Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports. His research focused on increasing the aerobic and anaerobic capacity of speed skaters, but the principles – a routine divided into intense short intervals – have been adopted by trainers looking for an efficient workout.
“It works for both weight loss and improving performance,” says Bev Mitchell, who owns the business with her daughter Lisa. “For the time it takes, just four-minute groups of exercises, with a couple of classes a week, the results can be quite satisfying.”
I was not at all ready for the rigours of Tabata (my weekly yoga class is 90 minutes of mostly stretching and lying down). The night before, I prepared by eating leftover Christmas cookies and splitting a bottle of red wine. I don’t recommend this but it’s proof that anyone can survive the class.
The 45-minute class I attended was mostly women in our 20s and 30s, all looking reasonably fit, but it didn’t take long to for differences to show up. Looks can be deceiving: Our instructor, a curvy but compact and strong woman, couldn’t make it through to the end of the triceps dips (and, awesomely, admitted it to us), while the lankiest girl with the puniest arms breezed right through.
So, the 20-second thing. Sounds easy, right? Not really. While the duration of each exercise is short, you have to do eight sets in a row. For my class, this meant grunting through 20 seconds of as many push-ups as possible before the instructor’s iPad timer went off. Then we got a 10-second rest before doing those push-ups all over again, seven more times. (There’s a lot of math in Tabata.) Another thing the class taught me is just how short 10 seconds is: barely time to take one gulp from a water bottle, and no time to be chatty.
The other forms of 20-second torture included sashaying on and off an aerobics step, jump squats, planks, crunches, and jumping jacks paired with boxing jabs (no one escapes looking like a panicked, flapping chicken while executing this move).
Our instructor used the Gym Boss app on her iPad as a countdown for each set, and to start the next exercise. The iPad’s air horn sound effect, signalling the end of the eight sets, became Pavlovian: As my muscles screamed through sets seven and eight, my brain was singularly focused on hearing that sound.
The class was set to a soundtrack of hip-hop, dance and club music. We listened to some old Outkast and fun mash-ups. But I was so focused on enduring the next 20 seconds I barely noticed. Time passes quickly when you’re concentrating so intently on repetitive, and excruciating, motion.
That intense focus had another great side effect: I didn’t compare myself to other exercisers. The studios at Sugarfoot – the cleanest gym I have ever seen – contain a sparkling front wall of mirrors, but I was more concerned with surviving the next 20 seconds to bother with checking our reflections.
The main pro of Tabata? For just a 45-minute time commitment, I felt like I exhausted all of the major muscle groups, worked up a sweat, and got my heart rate going. I was also grateful that the instructor offers modifications, if you have an injury, or need to take the intensity down a half-notch.
The cons? You will pant – heavily. My whole body flushed an embarrassing shade of fuchsia. The muscle burn in my arms was so intense that after the class, I could barely lift my arms to shampoo my hair. I definitely had trouble pulling on my skinny jeans.
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