Thursday, April 26, 2012

Meet Your Middletown Neighbor: Missy

Missy is a dynamo, machine-like. Her stature is solid and compact. Her athleticism and strength are apparent, though easy to overlook at first glance when presented with her long, thick brown hair, pretty brown eyes, and neatly manicured nails. Missy teaches an exercise class at the YMCA called "Super Sculpt" which combines cardiovascular movement with strength training. In other words, it's jumping up and down and running around while lifting weights at the same time, with a sprinkling of squats, and maybe a smattering of other classic physical challenges like push-ups to keep things interesting. If that sounds unpleasant, or difficult, that's because it is! But it's fun too, and the rewards are obvious, and that is why Missy's class is so popular. One person who has been taking Missy's class for a long time said, “She's very motivating. She makes you feel like you can do it even though it's very hard.”

Missy has been known to look out at a small sea of sweaty people with defeated looks on their faces gasping for breath and shout "Get up!" and then, with a barely perceptible pause, as if having waited an adequate amount of time for the wimps to comply, "NOW!" Her style is best described as happy drill sergeant. To this she says, “My style is very assertive, but it's always in an effort to motivate people and push them beyond the limits of their mind, but never beyond the limits of their bodies. In my experience, our mind sets limits below what our body can handle. Sometimes members are surprised at how strong they are, or how long they can maintain a cardiovascular exercise. In the end, everyone should listen to their bodies.“ 

Missy says that she grew up a tomboy and played a lot of different team sports in her neighborhood and throughout school and college, but she got involved in teaching fitness by accident. A group fitness director where she was taking classes asked her if she wanted to teach. She decided to give it a try, and has been teaching now for a little over a decade. “It has become a part of my life. I miss team sports at times, but I find that now I prefer to workout on my own, and for myself. I use my workouts as a way to clear my head, and focus on me and only me. It's probably one of the few times in the day when that's possible. I cherish it.”

She arrives at the classroom looking harried, not yet having shaken off the stress of her usual work day at University of Connecticut where she is a researcher. She says that she very much enjoys her job, but it's very cerebral, so she teaches group fitness as a way to have a physical outlet and achieve balance. A subtle smile appears on her face within the first few beats of exercise, and then she appears to melt into the music and the movement. Her instructional calls are slyly motivational because of her unique sing-song style that makes you think she's just trying to entertain you, when really she is getting you to do some feat of your body's capabilities that you would have though impossible had you contemplated it in advance. She clearly enjoys sing-shouting the calls as much as the class likes hearing them. Most distinct is "Keep go-innnnnnG," with emphasis on the long drawn out last syllable that rises up in pitch, ending high, opposite of conventional patterns.

In many exercise classes, the instructors focus on presenting various modifications that can be made to account for weak backs, stiff joints, or lesser athletic ability. This slows down the class and makes it harder for more capable students to get a strenuous enough workout. Missy takes the opposite tactic of presenting the more difficult option, fully expecting everyone to attempt that first, and then take the option to reduce the amount of weight used or the level of difficulty employed only if necessary. She says, “I use a strengths-based approach to teaching. My goal is not to do exercises that are so tough no one can do them. That seems pointless to me. I want everyone to be challenged by the workout, but also to feel like it's possible, that they can actually do it! If a member comes to class and isn't physically able to do most of the exercises, they're not likely to come back. If members don't like what I'm doing I fully expect they'll let me know, and they know that I'll listen and change it up next time. Classes can get boring if they're too repetitive so I try to vary the experience by never doing the exact same class twice. Yes, we'll do squats (my favorite!) nearly every class since they're an effective functional exercise, but in one class we might do them combined with a lateral shoulder raise, and the following week we might do them with a heel raise, or by squatting off the step. I like to keep it interesting. I have a lot of regulars who attend my Super Sculpt class so I use very similar methods week-to-week, and they're based on teaching a group of fairly fit individuals. However, if I am teaching a class with beginners I have to start with less challenging exercises and progress them slowly. I always try to err on the side of caution when I'm unsure about the fitness level of the group, and the last thing I want to do is progress a group too quickly and risk injury or overly sore muscles. The goal is to get them to come back. If someone new to fitness comes to the Super Sculpt class I try to talk with them before class starts, encourage them to use less weight,or no weight at all, and to use the modifications so they're not pushing too hard.
When asked to give advice to beginners, Missy said, “Everyone new to exercise should start slowly, and progress gradually. If you're not mobile, start by lifting soup cans or extending your legs while seated in a chair, walk to your mailbox a few extra times a day, or park your car farther from the entrance of the grocery store. Exercising doesn't have to mean going to the gym. Find something physical that you enjoy, make it a priority and do it daily. Walking is one of the best exercises we can do to enhance our fitness and well-being, and all you need to do it is a pair of shoes. I hear a lot of people say, 'I don't have time.' The reality is that we make time for things that are important to us. If living a healthy vibrant life is important to you, you'll find a way to make exercise happen even if it means getting up earlier, staying up later, or fitting it into your daily routine.”

1 comment:

Jen Alexander said...

What a great profile Karen! Thanks for writing it -