Besides coffee and a shower, I don't have time for anything else in the morning before jumping into the daily grind. That's my excuse for not stretching every morning. And while I do a quick three-minute stretch at the gym, I get the feeling -- especially when trying to touch my toes without bending my knees -- that I'm not elongating my muscles as often as I should. After all, it's common knowledge that it pays to stretch: You reduce your chances of injury and are able to move more smoothly. That's one of the reasons I recently decided to try Us Helping Us' Saturday Morning Fitness Group.
The group's main goal is to encourage HIV-positive men -- though all are welcome -- to optimize their health through exercise. We began by throwing our mats on the floor and warmed up with relaxation stretches, slowly raising our hands up, over our heads. Then onto legs. Then abs. The works. You know that feeling you get when you're holding a stretch till you feel it borders on torture? It was a little like that -- and that was just the warm-up.
We then went into ''isolation warm-up'' exercises, as the instructor pumped up the music and guided us through the routines. I was told not to overexert, but at times I wanted to for the simple reason of not embarrassing myself due to my lack of flexibility. But the instructor said not to: ''If you feel pain, your body is telling you something is wrong.'' That's the good thing about having an instructor. And when it's a small group like the one at Us Helping Us, you're treated to one-on-one attention, which comes in handy when you can't figure out how you're supposed to move the bottom of your torso, but not the top. Someone is there to guide you.
The most exciting part of the 60-minute workout was the high-impact cardiovascular segment. We were stepping and clapping and almost dancing to the music, like we were learning some choreography. The hardest part of the workout was cooling down. I had to hold my arms above my head for a few minutes, in what seemed like a battle between my body and mind. By the time we finished, it felt like both were better off.
The Saturday Morning Fitness Group meets from 10 to 11 a.m. at Us Helping Us, 3636 Georgia Ave. NW. Call 202-446-1100. $15 is requested.