by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Although I live in the Midwest, I try to keep up with what’s happening on the coasts. You can bet if a hot trend develops in New York or Los Angeles, a few years later we are mimicking it here in the heartland.

For example, in the ’70s, we didn’t know what therapy was, and by the ’80s, everyone had a shrink. Just like LA.

Or remember a few years ago, when you could buy bagels only in supermarkets, and now you can’t drive half a mile without a bagel shop that sells 15 flavors. Just like New York.

The coasts give us food (California Pizza Kitchen) and they give us fashion
(remember when every business exec was slicking back his hair like Gordon Gecko in “Wall Street”?). But nowhere do we feel the coasts’ influence more than in fitness.

That’s right. Staying in shape seems to be something that originates by the oceans and meanders its way to the Great Lakes. We are always a few steps behind.

When we were smoking, the coasts were jogging. When we started jogging, they started NordicTrack. When we got to NordicTrack, they were already on StairMasters. When we got to StairMasters, they were into spinning. (I can’t tell you what spinning is, as I haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m moving at a Midwestern pace.)

And now comes a recent story in the New York Times detailing the latest trend for staying in shape. New Yorkers, bored with the repetitive drone of stationary bikes and treadmills, are, more and more, getting into fantasy workouts.

Like pretending they are firemen.

I kid you not.

Lug hoses for muscle

There is now a health club in New York City where you can sign up for a fireman’s workout. For some ungodly fee — if I’m going to sweat, someone should pay me — you can join a class of 20 to 30 others in racing through a mock fire. This includes running up steps, carrying real hoses and saving a mannequin from the inferno.

“I put them through the real training,” says Eric Torres, an actual New York City fireman who moonlights as the instructor for this course. “I might yell:
‘We gotta knock this door down’ or ‘Hurry up, the stairs are on fire!’ “

(Question: Do beginners work out by saving cats from trees?)

Torres says his clients can burn 900 calories per workout (although maybe
“burn” isn’t such a good word here). He says after lugging hoses, carrying mannequins and dealing with the pressure of his yelling, participants don’t even realize they are working out until it’s over. Which, I guess, is the point. That, or the gym hasn’t kept up its fire insurance payments.

(I keep wondering what happens if the gym actually does catch fire, and they’re screaming, “Get out! The building is burning down!” and the participants are saying “Wow. This instructor is really good. I bet I’m a size 4 by next week!”)

But playing fireman is only one of the new fantasy workouts catching on in the Big Apple. There are simulated Broadway dancer workouts — “One-two-three, work with me, people!” — and simulated boot camp, with an ex-Marine barking orders.

All of this is to relieve the boredom of daily workouts, which of course were invented by the same people who are now trying to find a way to endure them.

But why stop with fires and chorus lines? I mean, as long as we’re playing make-believe …

Do arm curls with hot dogs

How about the Rock Star Workout, in which you swing a guitar, dance across the stage and run away from groupies?

Or the Roofer Workout, in which you carry heavy shingles and nail them in with make-believe hammers?

Or how about the Baywatch Workout, in which you pretend to race down the beach and save drowning swimmers — while wearing nothing but skimpy bikinis and moussed hair? Or the Presidential Intern Workout, in which you run from room to room, trying not to get caught?

I could personally teach the Sports Writers Workout, in which you trudge up many stairs, as if climbing to the press box, do endless arm curls, as if lifting a hot dog to your mouth, and furiously snap your wrist, as if dialing your boss to say, “What time was that deadline again?”

Not that many people would sign up.

My point is, pretty much any job can be made into some kind of workout. But then, didn’t we create working out as a means of getting away from our jobs?

Never mind. It’s coming. Like coffee shops, aroma therapy and Leonardo DiCaprio, if a trend starts on the coasts, it’s only a matter of time before we Midwesterners follow suit.

Get out your fireman outfits. Get out your ballet tights. Get out your checkbook.

Me, I’ll take a bagel.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom,

E-mail albom@freepress.com or call 1-313-223-4581. He will sign “Tuesdays With Morrie” noon-1 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble in Bloomfield Hills and 1-2 p.m. Saturday at Borders in Novi.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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