We have reached the madness portion of the plague, which means that my girlfriend is currently in the middle of a two-week workout challenge designed by the fitness guru Chloe Ting. Her popularity cannot be understated; as of this writing, Ting has 2.7 million followers on Instagram, and over a billion views on YouTube, so it speaks to the overwhelming female-focused nature of her brand that I had no idea who she was until these past few gym-free months. Her program became viral after hundreds of women on TikTok uploaded videos demonstrating just how swole they’ve rendered their abs under the tutelage of Ting’s guided YouTube exercises, and like most viral phenomena, the Chloe Method eventually metastasized into mainstream news. Today, everyone from Today to The Stanford Daily is publishing first-person experiential essays about their endless days of up-and-down planks.
My girlfriend and I haven’t spent much time outside of our Brooklyn apartment since March, so it shouldn’t be surprising that we’ve been more sedentary than we’d like to be during the pandemic. It was inevitable that one of us was going to give Chloe’s videos a shot. And so, mornings in our apartment are now christened by my girlfriend, flat on the living room carpet, heaving through mountain-climbers as Ting beckons in her delightfully clipped Aussie accent from the TV screen. I’d look on from the kitchen, usually in the middle of a typical coronavirus-era carb-heavy breakfast, fully at peace with my decision not to participate in all the lunges, Russian twists and tricep dips. It didn’t look like much fun, and frankly, how hard could it really be?
I imagine that I have an archetypically male relationship to fitness. Before the world stopped moving, I made my way to the gym about four times a week to work loosely through a standard muscle-building regimen I picked up from Muscle & Fitness. There’s a lot of squats, deadlifts, and bench presses; big, beefy weightlifting challenges designed to bloat your ego just as much as your muscle fibers. I earned mild, workingman gains, and made peace that I was probably never going to engage in a stringent diet plan to earn visible obliques or awesome deltoids. More importantly, I never, ever did cardio. I don’t run, I don’t do 30-minute yoga mat stuff — the sweat and juiced heart rate I earned came purely from lifting heavy things and putting them back down. I’m not saying that’s the most viable way to work out, but again, it’s one of the many weird biases of being a straight cis dude.
You probably see where I’m going with this. Once my girlfriend was a week into her Chloe Ting shred challenge, I finally felt compelled to give it a shot with her. I’m not totally sure why. She’s asked if I wanted to participate in the past, but never made me feel pressured. Honestly, I think my motivation had something to do with the unspeakable psychic envy that courses through a shared living space when someone is busting their ass while you sit around on the computer. Or maybe I was simply tired of being so inveterate during this endless, meaningless year. Whatever the case, last week, I too took my seat in the church of Chloe Ting for what was supposed to be a three-video workout gauntlet — first a full-body breakdown and then intensive sculptings of the legs, abs, and glutes. Again, seriously, how hard could it be?
My girlfriend has the defeat documented on her Instagram stories. I’m on the couch, head hanging between my knees, completely and utterly drained by the third set of the first video. I still don’t know entirely what happened; like most exercises I entered with boundless enthusiasm and euphoric overconfidence, but somewhere between the bicycle crunches, side kicks, and those infernal body-torquing planks they ask you to do in body weight routines where you touch your knee to the opposite elbow or whatever, I realized I was totally cooked. My girlfriend, of course, didn’t miss a beat. She completed the cycle with lung capacity to spare, and I felt like I did on my first day at the gym. The next morning, I had the textbook soreness of someone who just worked out muscles they didn’t even know they had. Who cares how many slabs of polyvinyl I slide onto the rack; Chloe Ting will always be more hardcore than me.
I’ve done a lot of hapless Googling these past few days to find out if, just maybe, the Ting brand of exercise might be more difficult for cis men than it is for women. Maybe there’s something about the masculine frame that makes all of these contorted hell-planks especially awkward for those of us who wear polo shirts and shorts? Is it my muscles? Can I blame my muscles? Please let me blame my muscles. The answer, of course, is no. My Chloe Ting catastrophe was the result of far more mundane shortcomings; in particular, my categorical refusal to whip myself in anything remotely close to cardiovascular integrity for several decades. The crows have come home to roost.
So please, let that be a lesson to any boyfriends and husbands out there, who might be living with someone deep in the Chloe Ting church. Laugh all you want, but as soon as you hit the floor alongside your better half, you might discover something that you didn’t want to know about yourself.