I just returned home last night for the final time after a weekend of driving back and forth daily to the Midwest Mania fitness conference in Rosemont, Illinois–about 25 miles from my house. I am exhausted, but in a good way.

As an ACE-certified group fitness instructor, I have to take part in continuing education in order to recertify every two years, and a great way to earn lots of CECs (continuing ed credits) at once is to go to a fitness conference and be a part of classes and lectures presented by Master trainers, coaches, and other respected individuals connected to the fitness industry.

The cost of CECs (and conferences) is not cheap, but I discovered upon receiving my Midwest Mania brochure that I could be a Staff Assistant (Maniac) over the weekend for 25% of the cost of going as a “normal” attendee; sure, I’d have to work part of the time, but I would also get some great benefits in addition to earning my CEC’s, like dinner at the staff meeting, an invitation to the Friday night staff appreciation party, membership for a year in SCW Fitness Education, and other mini perks that showed themselves over the weekend.

Overall, the weekend, though completely exhausting, was amazing. I had a great time, much better than the two times I have attended fitness conferences before, as a regular person and non-worker. Those of you who follow me on Twitter got the flavor of it, because I tweeted constantly on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (not so much yesterday). But don’t worry, I’ve got a tweet-filled summary right here. Settle in, because I’m not breaking this up into two parts.

Thursday evening: Staff meeting. I drive to Rosemont, excited about the weekend and completely open to meeting lots of people. I don’t know anyone who is going to this, so the fun I will have is totally up to me; I plan to put in lots of effort in order to make it a great experience. It takes me practically forever to get there (90 minutes). I find the ballroom where the meeting will be held, and feel immediately self-conscious because my body doesn’t remotely resemble what is normal for a fitness industry person. I notice that everyone is checking everyone else out, which doesn’t help me relax much.

TWEET: If u blogher ladies thought there was lots of sizing up going on, try going to a fitness conference. #hopeifindmytribe

At the meeting, I introduce myself to a totally adorable 20-something personal trainer; this is her second year helping out and we chat for a few minutes about our home clubs. I am assigned to the blue team, which means I’ll help do room turn-arounds all day on Friday. Turning around the rooms means that we have to set up and/or take down any and all equipment that the presenters are using; also, we did a lot of transporting equipment to other rooms around the hotel. We would be allowed to attend the classes of our choice on Friday after our turn-arounds were done. My other duty on the blue team was to be a door monitor in six sessions: five on Saturday and one on Sunday.

After the people in charge fill us in on other important information, we are asked to help move boxes and boxes (and boxes) of barbell weight plates. I quickly discover that I have chosen the wrong outfit.

TWEET: helped move about 3 tons of boxed weight plates, assemblyline style. #wearingfleecewasabadidea

The boxes of weights were assembled by a late-night crew into these (half of them had been moved to a room when I took this picture):


Friday: Turn arounds and classes. Setting up more than 150 steps (with risers) was one of our first jobs. Those blasted steps haunted me all weekend. I had no idea how popular step aerobics still is; thinking it’s some kind of cult. We Staff Assistants worked hard to get the room set (in addition to other tasks elsewhere) and my self-conscious feelings dissipated the more I interacted with others. When the step room was done?


I could then go to my first class of the day, which was “Indoor cycling/heart monitor training”, taught by Nautilus Institute Master Trainer Jay Blahnik. I love a big cycling class; we were so close to each other that we practically held hands:

Jay taught the class in which I got my indoor cycling instructor training initially several years ago, and I’ve done a couple of other classes with him since then. I really like him very much. The cycling classes at the conference included a lecture first and then a ride so that the trainer can demonstrate what he or she just talked about. As usual, Jay didn’t disappoint and I got lots of great information as well as a kick-butt workout:

TWEET: me, in a room w/ 59 other hootin and hollerin spin instructors @ #midwestmania? WOOT! #ifoundmytribe

As an instructor, it’s always great to take other instructors’ classes, because it’s a better workout. Jay’s class was very difficult for me, and I loved it.

TWEET: Just finished the hardest spin class ive taken in forever. Jay Blahnik rocks! #midwestmania

I had help getting through it, though:

TWEET: would like to thank the instructor who rode in front of me, whose tramp stamp I focused on for 30 min.

My original plan was to take a BOSU class, but I decided instead to do another cycling class, “Make your Mark” (about being unique as an instructor), taught by another NI Master Trainer, Julz Arney. She rocked.

TWEET: 2nd awesome spin class: CHECK. I want to be Julz Arney. www.julzarney.com #midwestmania

After Julz’s ride, I had a realization when I remembered why I had planned to take a BOSU class in the first place:

TWEET: It just occured to me that the second spin class might work against me in Bodycombat class. oops.

I suddenly had a massive sweet tooth and would have given my right arm for some M&Ms. Should have brought some from home.

TWEET: need m&ms

I couldn’t find any, and not because fitness people don’t eat that stuff. Are you kidding me? I saw some girl eating a big bowl of Froot Loops right before spin class. My M&M search would have to wait; it was time for another room turn-around and then for Bodycombat class. Bodycombat is a workout through the Les Mills program; it’s a prechoreographed class, meaning participating health clubs get a newly released CD with the accompanying choreography every three months; the idea is that you could go to any health club for a Bodycombat class, and do the same choreography to their music no matter which club you were at. Les Mills has other workouts too, probably the most famous being Bodypump.

Anyway, I was looking for a butt kicking, and I got it. Something random I learned (again) on Friday? You never really know how out of shape you are in certain ways until you leap out of your box. Spinning is the main cardio workout that I do, besides speedwalking with the dog. Not good.

TWEET: Bodycombat? I had five minutes of interior scolding: “you are getting WAAAY too old for this, melisa!”

TWEET: Then my own instructor voice popped in to tell myself to shut my mouth.

I tried my best to find a Youtube video that would accurately portray the energy in the room and the spectacular teaching, but I really couldn’t. Get a bunch of highly motivated group fitness instructors and personal trainers together for a high-energy class, and the room becomes electric. But this will have to do; I wanted to show you what the workout is like. It’s difficult, fast-paced, and just as much brain work as body work.

It was hard, loud, fun, and tiring. See?


The Expo was near the classrooms, and with several workout music companies represented there (and all of the classes going on), there was a constant BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM in the air, sort of like a metronome. I swear, whatever pace I was walking at, I’d hit the expo area and my stride would immediately adjust to the music, sort of like John Travolta in the opening scene of “Saturday Night Fever”, but a little faster. As a staff assistant, this was even more fun because when passing one of my co-workers, we’d usually give each other a goofy grin and do some bouncy step as we glided by each other, sometimes with a high-five or an “Isaac from the Love Boat-style” point(click and FF to 1:24), and sometimes not.

Class number four on Friday? Airope. I was late, though:

TWEET: late for airope class cuz we had to move a bajillion steps and risers to the lower level. bringing them back up in an hour!

Airope class was taught by Shannon Fable, another of the Nautilus Institute Master Trainers. I’ve participated in cycling workshops with her before and her enthusiasm is contagious. She is cute and perky, and so friendly, however I think that even Shannon couldn’t win me over on Airope. Here’s a video so you’ll know what I’m talking about (that’s Shannon in the video):

TWEET: cant decide if Airope (google it) is innovative or stupid.

I left class a few minutes early; I felt bad but really couldn’t take it anymore. I think I’m leaning towards “Airope is stupid”. After class? More turn-arounds. More steps.

TWEET: okay, one more time moving those bajillion steps and risers upstairs, then its time to change for the party.

TWEET: i thought i hated step before: now i despise it with every ounce of my being. on the brightside, i finally found my m&ms


Friday night? Staff party. Fun stuff! The SCW Fitness Education lead staff (who we were working for over the weekend) served all of us staff assistants margaritas (I only had one since I had to drive home later) and catered Mexican food. It was a great opportunity to hang out, bond, and share workout stories with the others. They did a raffle for prizes donated by the Expo exhibitors, and I won a workout CD from a company that I love. As an added bonus, I won the grand prize of the evening: Free admission to a Mania of my choice! (there are about 8 of them) I was told that, as an attendee, I would have a really boring experience as compared with working, and I wouldn’t get staff benefits, so they are giving me the option of inviting a friend to come with me: we can both work PART time and get FULL staff benefits. And that’s what I”m going to do! I have a friend who wants to be a cycling instructor and she was thrilled when I called her and offered her the other half of my prize for next year’s Midwest Mania. (and maybe I can talk her into splitting a hotel room with me next year, just for Friday night. Commuting sucks.)

Saturday: Door monitor day; had to be there at 6:30 a.m. When I registered for the Staff Assistant position, I got to pick my top three class choices for each timeslot so that even though I had to monitor the door, I would still be enjoying the classes (and earning my CECs). Although I could have worked it out with my fellow door monitors to take turns doing the workout parts of the classes, it was not in my plan because of all the physical activity I did on Friday. Oh, and another thing:

TWEET: every inch of my body hurts.

It was a long day, 6:30 a.m.-5:45 p.m. The day in tweets?

TWEET: i am door monitor for @robglick^s “more music magic” spin class. this is 1 of the classes i was most looking forwd to!

TWEET: just had a mini crisis w/ the spin rm lighting. all fixed; now i am eating baked lays while watching Jay Blahnik teach.

TWEET: i am door monitor in a room that has almost 200 women in it. Class name? Abs &Lower Body Sports Conditioning For Chicks.

TWEET: all of the master trainers @ this fitness conference are trying to outdo each other w/ the volume of the music. Love it!

TWEET: tired.

TWEET: currently monitoring the door in Leslie Benders (from tv, yanno?) “Bender Ball Build” class.

Something random I learned during all of the people-watching on Saturday? Fitness people love that “barbed wire on the upper arm” tattoo.


Sunday: Last day! Another early one: 6:30 a.m. I had to monitor the door at a lecture during the first session, and then was free to attend the next three classes of my choice. Apparently being a glutton for punishment, I decided to attend another boxing-based workout.

TWEET: oh my hell. Five words: Cardio Core Combat Strength Class. Good thing this conference is over today. Spin next!

That class was one of the toughest I’ve ever taken, EVER. Luckily, I still enjoyed it because I was with my new buddy Jessica who was my fellow door monitor in the lecture before. We connected immediately and even exchanged contact info so we can stay in touch. Jessica is an instructor also, and teaches kickboxing. She was all over the Cardio Core Combat Strength class. I kept taking breaks. Whatev.

We had a staff meeting after that class, and then it was time for my final cycling class, taught by my new buddy, Nautilus Institute Master Trainer James Gekko. Besides being a presenter, James was also in charge in the cycling room. I worked with James for much of the day on Saturday since I was in the cycling room for three sessions; he’s a great guy. His class was about interactions in the cycling class and I had a great time with it.

After James’ class, I had one final timeslot. I decided to go to a nutrition lecture. The lecture was awesome and very informative, but it was hard to sit still for 90 minutes without falling asleep! Next conference, I’ll finish up with a workout.

I helped pack up the conference and load the semi so the equipment could make its way to the warehouse while waiting for the next Mania, in Boston next month. Then finally, HOME.

All in all? SO MUCH FUN. I had way more fun as a staff assistant than just an attendee because of the team spirit and cameraderie that was created. Instead of going to classes and floating through the conference all alone, I had new friends everywhere I looked. I can’t wait until next year!

TWEET: I’m home. Have collapsed on the couch. Survived day 3 of the fitness conference. Yay me!