Hanging out at the gym

Yesterday was a busy day and by the time I got writing down a few details, I was pretty traumatized. It took a mere 2000 words to craft the previous post. In doing so, I sloughed over the incident at the gym which I am now going to share with you. I have to go back a little in time, though.

Last year this time, I was doing a very hearty three-times-a-week workout at the gym. I rarely missed; and when I didn’t go to the gym on the days between, if the day was dry, I would go walking out into nature. I had built up a good endurance and created muscle where none had gone before. The little I had developed in my aging career of non-participation were beefed up. I slimmed down, Hallelulia. I was more fit than I ever had been.

Early in May, I went to Santa Fe and Taos with my sister. The two weeks preceding, I was too busy to get to the gym, but the weather was fine and I got out walking.  In Taos where we stayed, there was a gym in the hotel but when I tried the equipment, there was not much that suited my abilities. We had been walking all day in our tourist activities and a treadmill was out of the question. The kind of cycling machine they had was not good for my damaged knees;  and the other equipment which I don’t remember at this point, did not engage me either. Another two weeks went by and I had not been to the gym.

When I got back, it was sunny and warm. We had a wonderful summer of sunshine. I upped the walking content of my exercise program and let the gym go. Why would I want to be in a gym on such lovely days?

Fast forward till last week. Our weather has been horribly rainy. Walking on the dikes has been out of the question. For the first time since April, I went to the gym for a half hour on Tuesday.  I was not inspired. I was out of shape and knew it.

This  and last week have been very busy with meetings, preparing for a sale of art from my house, and preparing for an interview with a gallery, so I didn’t make the time to go again until yesterday.

My muscles complained over the first three minutes of the reclining bike but learned to shut up after they realized that I wasn’t going to quit. I cycled those fifteen minutes (down ten from last May, at 25) thinking about Gershwin and his impossibly difficult passages where the right hand (in piano pieces) play thirteen notes in the same time as the left hand is supposed to be playing seven. Or he might have nine against fifteen. both passages are supposed to be played evenly and together, but nothing matches up. I’m positive that Gershwin was able to rub his tummy, pat his head and play drum with his feet all at the same time.

I got to thinking that he might have spent a lot of time in a gym. He came from Brooklyn.   Boxing and European martial arts were de rigeur if a young man were to defend himself and there must have been lots of gyms, too, for them to work out in. But would he have risked his million dollar hands?

Did they have treadmills? Or are treadmills an invention of our affluent and electrical ages.

Did he spend time training to box? Would he have picked up his impossible  rhythms from someone skipping rope or from someone rapidly aiming his fists at a punching bag? Would he have concurrently been listening to them both at the same time and saying, “Wow, Ain’t that sweet, … ”

I was listening to two joggers, one going fast and one going slower, both running with their own distinct rhythms, neither rhythm matching up ever with the other’s. These thoughts kept me from leaping off my own stationary vehicle in sheer boredom.

When my time was up, I did my circuit of exercise. The gym was not very busy. My neighbour, Mr. Stepford had remarked earlier this week that a public gym was the last place he would go. Just think of the H1N1 spreading possibilities it would provide.

In fact, the gym was very aware of the potential for virus proliferation. Patrons were asked to wipe down the machines before and after using them. There was lots of disinfectant available and clean paper towels.  I resolved my dilemma about cleaning the machines – I who never do housework if I can help it.   I soaked two paper towels with the disinfectant spray and then used these to grasp the handles of each machine, the layer of towel acting so that I never touched the machines at all and therefore never had to clean them.

At the end of my work out, I spoke to the nice young lady gym attendant.  There was an in-house advertisement for the Christmas tree challenge.

“Just what is that?” I asked.

“It’s a promotional effort to get everyone to challenge themselves a little bit,” she explained.

I’m curious, so I ask “How does it work?”

She opened up a black binder containing sheets with green triangle trees on them covered with red doughnut shaped “ornaments” . There was a star at the top in yellow and little ribbon ornaments on every row of red doughnuts.

‘Here’s the star at the top. You need to pass this challenge before you can sign up. You need to do ten push-ups before you can get one of these cards. In other words, you need to be able to pick up your own body weight. ”

I let that sink in a minute before answering, “Well, I guess I wouldn’t be able to join in then,” and I started to go.

“No! No!” she said.” This is not meant to be exclusive. It’s meant to be inclusive. We can modify this if we need to. Perhaps you could do this from a standing position and do the push-ups against the wall.”

She demonstrated against the mirrored wall behind the desk making her body shape form an M then a V with her reflection for five very easy looking repetitions. I still looked doubtful though. She couldn’t have weighed more than 130 pounds. I was a different story.

She asked me to wait until the supervisor came by and she could check if I could participate doing some other modification of this exercise. In the meantime, she showed me the rest of the challenge.

Every  red doughnut shape represented a regular work out. After two work-outs, there was a red ribbon with either a one or a two marked on it. The participant would draw a slip of paper from a box, much like a fortune cookie, and would have to accomplish the exercise designated thereon. There were easy exercises (number one) and more difficult ones (number two).  The attendant drew a slip of paper out of the box.

Balancing ball upper torso twist” it said.

“Is that something I could do?” I asked in disbelief. “I don’t even know what it is.”  It sounded torturous.

“Oh yes,  we would show you. In any case, you would have to prove you could do it before you could go on to the next thing. Do you want to try?”

“The torso twist?” My voice was getting high pitched and defensive.

“No, I mean The Christmas Challenge,” she replied.

“I don’t think I could do that first thing. I don’t think so.”

“Look, ” she replies, “I’ll help you. After all, you’ve already got today’s work out to mark off and the first challenge is not so hard. You would already have two things ticked off on the tree.”

“But I’ve never used that machine before. I don’t even know if I can get onto it with my game knees.”

“Come, ” beckoned the Siren. I felt at once challenged and willing to meet it and at the same time foolish and ready to run.

There are pedals about two feet off the ground covered in black rubber with tread, much like that used for car tires.  I was to place my feet on these.  I did so and the pedals came down hydraulically almost to floor level.

Next I was to take hold of the handles that were eight feet above.  I had to lessen the weight on the pedals by holding the sturdy white horizontal bars at midway on the apparatus.  The attendant helped and somehow (because I cant remember this part very clearly, being more totally engaged in doing rather than in observing) I grasped the handles and hung on. Now I no longer could reach the pedals unless I could pull myself up, my whole body weight worth, with my muscular (not!) arms.

Try as much as I could, I could not move an inch in this endeavor. I pulled my knees up to my chest and the pedals rose accordingly.  In fact, I never pulled up my body with my arms at all. I hung there like a piece of game – an elk carcass, an entire bison, a bear maybe)  curing in a freezer. My arms were outstretched and my shoulder sockets were screaming at me. “This is a mistake! this is a mistake! Get us down off of here!”

The attendant was encouraging as I pulled my knees to my chest. My arms had not pulled a thing except a tendon or two.

“See! You are doing it! That’s one. That’s two. That’s three. You can do five! Six! Seven! You’re almost there. Nine! Ten! Wonderful! You have met the first hurdle of the Christmas Challenge!

“Help!” I whispered in panic. “Help me down!”
I was still holding all my weight by my wrists, unable to reach the pedals because I had lifted my knees to my chest, not at all the motion that was required.

I suppose the attendant was used to athletic guys jumping off the machine and getting themselves away from it without the least assistance. It took her at least two excruciating more seconds to realize that she had to help.  My next movements were awkward and fumbling. I managed to get a hold of that white steel bar and then slide in an ungainly manner until my feet to the floor.

“Congratulations!” she crowed. “That was wonderful. See how it is when you just do a little bit more?”

She signed me up. She ticked off the star and the first red doughnut. Her supervisor happened by.  The attendant recounted how courageous and wonderful I was and reported that they now had one more person in the contest. (There are prizes for anyone who finishes, I understand).

I left feeling quite knocked out. Dazed.

It was only later that I took time to reflect on how foolish I had been. I knew my limits and had allowed myself to get into a situation of risk where there was no possibility of achieving my goal, despite the attendant’s blandishments.

Only a year ago, I was delicately building up strained muscles on both of my shoulders by adding a pound at a time to my exercise routine.  On those machines where I pulled down weights,  I could at maximum pull sixty pounds. By multiplying that weight to muscle demand, I could easily have undone all the work I had striven to achieve so far.  And if I had fallen, in descending from the rack?

If I had lost hold and fallen in amongst all those hard surfaces of white enameled steel  and pulled a knee or hip tendon in doing so? It’s only a month since I’ve overcome the summer troubles.

I’ll be back to the gym. This hasn’t stopped my resolve to work out there. But I am going to be wiser in what I ask this aging body to perform. Those Vs and Ms at the mirror look safer. And, when it comes to the upper body torso twist. I’ll have to make an evaluation before I leap in there to do it.

I may still be hanging out at the gym, but before you will find me hanging like a meat carcass, I’ll be out of there.

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4 Responses to “Hanging out at the gym”

  1. WR Jones Says:

    Hey – excellent start to the challenge. The most important thing about exercise is consistency not difficulty. Just keep going to the gym no matter how much it suck (and that is a lot). You will get fit or at least fitter.

  2. Marsha J. O'Brien Says:

    Listen to your own wisdom about your body. It’s the only place you have to live.
    I’ve been a personal trainer for years and often times “attendants” in gyms may not have the experience or knowledge to know what you need. It differs with each of us. As WR Jones says, it is consistency that makes the difference.

    Haven’t touched base for a while, but always “read you”! Love your work and your humor. Bless your sweet heart!

  3. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks for your comments, Bill and Marsha.
    I hear you loud and clear. I went back to the gym and told them (very nicely) how wrong it was of me to have attempted something that potentially could have set me back three years in my exercise program – and done me quite a bit of injury.
    Unfortunately the fellow I mentioned it to was not the person who had encouraged me to do something that I now know was foolish.
    It won’t stop me from going to the gym. I’ve been back once already and will probably go tomorrow if this giant rain storm stops for a while.
    K

  4. maggie roper Says:

    some great info here!
    i’m adding this to my bookmarks…

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