Confession: I spend a lot of time working out. But rarely do I find an activity that forces me to expend so much energy that I'm sore the next day--to me a sign of a good workout. I've found a few but they're few a far between. First it was High Intensity Training, then it was Cross Fit and most recently it was the Caveman Workout.
Last Monday I tried i.d. gym's Caveman Workout for a story I'm working on for Competitor magazine. Four days afterward, my quads are still sore, to the point where it hurts to descend stairs and stand up to climb on a spin bike. I've comprised my yoga workout, even skipping because it just hurt too much--not because I was running late or had a scheduling conflict as it usually the case. I'm two weeks out of finishing the Boston Marathon and I was in less pain after those 26.2 miles than after 45 minutes of bringing out my inner cavewoman. And to me, that's the sign of a good workout.
How it works: eight stations set up around the room, each using a different piece of equipment. But we're not talking your regular gym fixtures like hand weights, resistance bands, body bars and the like. Instead it feels like i.d. raided Home Depot and the junkyard to prep for class with the tires, ropes, slosh tubes and sledgehammers. There's even a keg at station No. 8--one guy jokes that we're going to do keg stands on it during class.
Wrong. Each station means a different workout move and while keg stands might rush the blood to your head, it's a burpee--using the keg as a platform and lifting it over your head--that tuckers out your muscles. And that's the goal at every station. You have 45 seconds at each station with roughly 30 seconds rest--20 if the instructor catches you loafing--and the goal is to figure out a way to survive without flat-out stopping for three rotations through the eight stations.
George, our instructor, showed us suggestions for moves to make at each station and their modifications. We had a tire to do push-ups around, a 60-pound sandbag to push, ropes to lift and ripple, kettlebells for squats or bicep curls, a tire to hold above our shoulders as we climbed up and down stairs, slosh tubes (PVC piping filled with just enough water to test your balance) to lift, a sledgehammer to whack into a tire, and a keg to use for more push-ups or ab curls or burpees. And at each station he encouraged us to get creative with the moves and try something different.
My initial game plan was to follow George's suggestions for each station figuring that would be the best way to meet the class's goal: to burn the most amount of calories in the shortest time period. How long did I last? I didn't even make it through the first 45 seconds at station No. 1 without having to switch from push-ups to plank. Push-ups for 45 seconds is not easy, and even holding plank with your feet elevated on the tire is a challenge. George announced we had 35 seconds and those 10 seconds felt like a minute. The good part is you start to hit a groove and the 45 seconds doesn't always seem like a death sentence. Instead you're ripping through the stations too fast to remember how you made it work, until you have to face it again. Plotting ways to endure each station helps the time fly by, like kettlebell squats that switched to bicep curls with 15 seconds left, or rippling the ropes together before going one by one. But the slosh tubes? The second the water tipped to one end, I couldn't find a good method of attack. Let's just say there was a lot of teetering at that station in an attempt to balance myself. And the sandbag? First rotation, awesome. Second and third, not so much--I could barely push the darn thing.
At least we're all too busy working out at our stations to note the progress--or failure--of others. You know that self-conscious feeling you get when you're trying but the exercise isn't coming as easy to you as your neighbor? Not here--class varies from week to week so you won't see the same rotation twice. Plus you're moving too fast for it to matter. So fast that you're dripping sweat and panting like you finished a 10K. But that's the idea: survival of the fittest. My legs might think otherwise--more recovery time maybe--but it found my inner neanderthal.
Classes available on Sundays (9:30 a.m.), Mondays and Thursdays (5:15 p.m.) at i.d gym, 2727 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.