Amid ear-piercing whoops, whelps and the boisterous clamour of a fitness thirsty coterie of 30-somethings sectioned off inside an intimate gym, my heart rate is climbing into the “red zone” again, sweat is cascading down my face in a way that makes Niagara Falls look like a gentle water slide and my legs are uncomfortably numb.
On reflection, this was the pervading kinaesthetic throughout the 45-minute class at the recently launched Total Elliptic Centre in the Gloria Yassat Hotel, TECOM. But the high-intensity all-over body group workouts here are not for the uninitiated or the faint of heart.
The machine: for those who haven’t had the pleasure of using one, an elliptic machine is essentially a cross trainer, with a few more handles and levers that adjust its limbs at various points, enabling more unique physical contortions of the human anatomy than can be achieved on a prototypical X-trainer.
The sessions are drawn on the principle of interval training, ie, you exercise at different intensities and speeds at different stages of the workout. The underlying idea being that you unknowingly exceed your workout limit by reducing the resistance after short bursts — far easier written than done.
I also want to point out that, for me, the name of the class is misleading because there is nothing “excessively economical” — as one definition of “elliptical” has it — about efforts in the Total Elliptic class. Not that Webster’s definitions have ever remained constant and truthful to an exercise class. The lower body session I took at the centre was the most painful and at times left me feeling physically insolvent. But, I have to say that it was very satisfying.
The killer component is the constant increasing and reducing (interval training) resistance of the machine. At the seeming caprice of the buoyant Argentinian instructor Javier Lanfranchi — also the General Director at Total Elliptic — he yells at the class to crank it up amid more yelps and motivational cries as booming 1980s and 1990s hits remind you that you’re “simply the best” and that you’re “living on a prayer”.
Not satisfied with a mere minute of higher intensity work, you’re commanded to turn the resistance up again, then again, then again, until you’re on full whack and panting like a dog chasing an eagle. Each exercise in the 45-minute workout includes three to five intervals.
The relief of turning the resistance dial all the way down after each “set” of exercises, is short lived because before you know it, you’ve moved onto another exercise and you’re cranking your elliptic up again, all the way up to the zenith of physical improbability — or so it seems at the time. It came as no surprise to me after the class to learn that regular Elliptic goers have collectively burnt off over 6.5 million calories since the TECOM gym opened its doors last year.
Forty-five minutes and 400 calories less later, having squatted (yes, it’s possible), ran and ellipticed myself into a frenzy, the endorphins were swimming freely and I’d forgotten about the notably better heart rates of the others in the class.
How did I know what were the heart rates of others? No, I’m not a doctor. No, I don’t have X-ray cardio-attuned vision. I knew their heart rates thanks to the tech aspect of the Total Elliptic classes.
Before the class, you’re hooked up with a tailored “MyZone” belt which nestles over your sternum to detect your heart rate throughout the session. Prior to the workout you need to provide requisite details including weight, height and age so the device can monitor your optimum zones and workout thresholds.
The MyZone cloud technology belt in itself is a great inclusion — every member gets one on joining. It is an easy way to keep a tab on how hard you’re working throughout the session — the belt stores your workout data and a printed report sheet is made available to you immediately after your session.
But the more uncomfortable aspect of the device is when you realise your workout performance level (heart rate, calories burnt and fitness level) are beamed to the rest of the class on two plasma TVs behind Lanfranchi’s dais-raised elliptic machine.
The fact that your vitals are proudly displayed to the rest of the unnervingly fit class does make you push yourself, if for no other reason than that you’re not identified as the lagger or the new chap with laughable fitness levels akin to a retired IT consultant. But that’s pure egoism, which if you’re a sufferer, is no bad thing in this instance.
But more importantly, the monitors allow Lanfranchi to keep a statistical eye on the class. Sometimes exhaustion doesn’t show physically, so the internal information is actually helpful for avoiding over-exertion.
The “red zone” I mentioned earlier occurs when displayed data turns red and signifies when you’re working at over 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate: a feeling you’ll become acquainted with if you take one of these classes.
The overall experience is a rewarding one. But time will tell whether swaths of the UAE’s healthy minded will opt to use the Total Elliptic for weight management and toning over other classes that have already taken root in fitness circles.