Environmental Factor, February 2006, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Stretching and Toning
By Colleen Chandler
The oldie song, "Spinning Wheel," starts the Stretch and Tone class in the NIEHS exercise room. The music, says instructor Gina Goulding, is important in setting the pace for the class, making it fun instead of work, a pleasure instead of a "must do."
"If it's not fun, I'm not going to do it," Goulding states. She is a biologist in the Laboratory of Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology at NIEHS.
Conversations that started before class continue as class begins. Small talk and casual chit-chat bounce back and forth between members of the group, but the conversations slowly dissolve into an easy silence as the stretching continues.
Goulding, a 34-year veteran at NIEHS, describes the class as "half exercise, half social." It is a tradition of sorts, started in the early 1990s by a group of middle-aged employees who wanted a form of exercise that was low impact. It began as a group of "squatters" who held class wherever they could find space: in the lobby, in the library, in buildings that at the time were unoccupied, and on the patio.
Goulding and Jack Bishop, a research geneticist in the Toxicology Operations Branch, were among the original members of the exercise group. Now, the class has younger members as well as middle-aged members, and maintains a core of about ten people, with an average of six to seven at each class.
"The stretch and tone classes are easy enough to be enjoyable, but hard enough to help keep you fit," said Betty Mills, who has been coming to the class for two years.
When the exercise room was established by remodeling existing storage space, the Stretch and Tone class began to include hand weights from the exercise room. Goulding laughs as she describes other changes to the class. "We steal [moves] from Stephanie with some regularity," Goulding said. Stephanie Bullock-Allen is the fitness room manager and teaches a number of exercise classes.
Bishop talks about the social aspects of the class: "In addition to the physical exercise, the class also provides psychological therapy. Sometimes we laugh so much it hurts. Of course, it is the building of fantastic bods us 50+ guys are hoping for, but in the end we are well satisfied to just keep our weight and flab down a little and our spirits up," Bishop said.
Bishop says that besides the camaraderie, it is Goulding's dedication and commitment that keep him coming back. The class is so much fun, he says, that the pushups, crunches and bicycles are a pleasure. Well, almost.
Class always begins with a series of stretches followed by weight-bearing toning exercises, then more stretches. Overhead, just loud enough to set the pace, Rick James, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson keep the group in sync as Goulding leads the group, working and stretching muscles from head to toe.
"Ready? Lift," Goulding says. "One, two, three, four, five, six..." Goulding leads members of the group through a set of leg lifts, pulsing slightly bent legs upwards while lying on their sides.
Goulding teases Bishop. "Jack, you are so quiet. What's the matter? Not feeling well today?"
The Stretch and Tone class is held on Mondays and Thursdays from 5:15-6:30 p.m. in the exercise room located near the lakeside entrance to the library.