There was a time not long ago, during the cold and prolonged months of a winter past, when I was very committed to Soul Cycle. Every Monday at noon, I would faithfully log into my account, purchase a bundle of classes (I also ate peanuts for lunch) and effectively “book my soul.” I’d waddle through the Manhattan Slushie — a frozen blend of ice, grime, and the daily commuter footprints — in order to make it to Sting or Madison or Kym’s class. I wasn’t picky about my instructors, I was just happy to have made it into the clique.
In class, I would bounce! bounce! bounce! to the likes of Kylie Minogue or a good Nirvana remix. I splurged on a pair of neon pink leggings (mind you, I was a WARRIOR). I drank green juice after class and doused myself in the lemon scented body wash that the pristine bathrooms displayed.
I even dared to go full nude in the locker room. After all, this was family.
At my peak, I was riding up to five times a week. My debit card, however, was drowning — likely eating its own flesh to survive. I couldn’t recall the last time I left my apartment in something other than sneaker wedges and neon pink leggings, and I’d started to organize social plans around whatever class had bumped me in from the wait list.
I wore headbands.
And thus began my indoctrination into the sticky world of Fitness Cliques: the near-impenetrable groups of workout devotees, divided into crews by their preferred trend, cult-like classes.
Initiation usually occurs in 5 phases I like to call, “The Kool-Aid Test.”
Phase 1: You’re Offered a Drink at a Party
You’re idling by the water cooler — making small talk with nobody — when your co-worker Nancy walks up. She patiently waits for you to step aside so she can refill her Hydro Flast insulated stainless steel water bottle for the fourth time this morning: “Ugh, I just can’t get enough of this H2O! I’m super dehydrated from the underwater spin class I did this morning. Hey! You should come with. Tomorrow? Ricky is teaching! Madonna themed! I’m telling you Esther, my ass has never felt so good. “
Phase 2: You Take a Sip…
…Then chase it with another gulp of water. The chipper lady at the other end of the phone tells you that your first class is, surprise, FREE! Your dad always told you there was no such thing, but homegirl at SpinMermaid doesn’t seem like the type of gal who’d lie to you. You get through your first class despite wishing the earth would open up and swallow you whole at every sprint. You feel good. The next day, your newfound gluts are sore enough to convince you that you need a well deserved, month-long sabbatical from fitness.
Phase 3: Then You Knock Back a Few too Many
There will be a week — it will creep up on you — that you’ll spend blackout drunk on fitness. A bender. It’ll start on a Sunday, when your actual hangover is so bad, you feel like the only alternative to death is exercise. You’ll go for a run. You’ll attend a spin class. You’ll use the yoga credit that your old college roommate gifted you for your birthday two years prior. Now flash forward to Friday and you’ve worked out five times. Your mom tells you your calves look good. You consider training for the NYC marathon. Go home Esther, you’re drunk.
Phase 4: Your Tolerance Increases
You level off. You’re now exercising, say, three to five times a week. The girls at SpinMermaid know you by your fitness name, Number 5, which is what Ricky calls you when you go too easy on the resistance. You begin canceling happy hour plans with your friends to attend 6:30 classes. You lie and tell them you have to work late but not to worry, you’ll meet them at dinner. And by the way, can we go macrobiotic?
Phase 5: You Offer Someone a Drink at a Party
Essentially, you have become that dude from the Kool-Aid commercial. You are Mr. Kool-Aid. You get so excited about the prospect of recruiting new members to your fitness clique, you could jump through brick walls. You can’t resist the urge to proposition your unassuming coworkers at the water cooler. You tout the benefits of a Paleo diet and have grown a strange attraction to the caveman from the Geico commercial. You’re drunker than Hemingway in Havana, but way, way more fit.
I can vouch for the Kool-Aid test because I’ve been there. One minute H20 Nancy’s hunting you like the heedless antelope in the Savanna that you are and the next, you’ve turned into H20 Nancy.
Except you don’t eat red meat.
But let’s face it: come winter, fitness devotees will retire to their hibernation dens and the only thing to get silly drunk over will be gingerbread lattes. Nothing sobers up Mr. Kool-Aid like an oncoming polar vortex — until spring, that is, when crop-tops make their imminent return.