Archive for the ‘exercise’ Category

Hanging out at the gym

November 12, 2009

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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By the Alouette

July 17, 2009

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A large heron lifts from the river’s edge. He flies low, an angular cut against the bright blue sky and then dips below the level of the tall river grasses into a secluded pool. Here it is, the height of summer. The height of grasses. The pathways are overgrown to the point where a single person can hardly pass, edged with wild eglantine, the true rose; with blackberry encroaching, with small shrubs tipped by fluffy pink flowers.

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Coming towards me are two dogs. One is small, wiry white one with a black patch on his eye and a small Shepherd cross, both dripping from an early morning swim. Their masters follow, shading their eyes from the hammering sun, apologizing for the liquidity of their dogs.

Last night, Mrs. Stepford declined the offer to accompany me on a walk saying, “Let’s go early in the morning. I’d like to walk. How about leaving at seven.”
I’m not normally a morning person but this hot weather is not conducive to sleep. At six o’clock, Soleil had been up a few hours and  is shining through my windows, laughing at my sleeplessness.  So this morning, bright an early, I bathe in cool waters before I  get ready for our walk.

It’s seven thirty. Mrs. Stepford was going to telephone by seven to make sure I was up but the phone is silent. It is I who phones.

“Are you ready?”

“Heaven’s no. I’m just awake. I don’t think I’ll go. I’m too sleepy. Besides, I have to call the computer contractor at nine.”  So I go alone.

The parking lot is empty of all but a half dozen early cars. Once I’m atop the first rise of the dike, the lagoon spreads before me like a sheet of glass, reflecting back-lit trees. There’s not a ripple. The lily pads form a contrapuntal perspective of overlapping round shapes.

There’s not a person to be seen. I’m in paradise alone. A dragonfly zooms by, a little moth flutters over the grasses, birds are discussing the quality of their early breakfast and deciding where best they can shelter from the coming heat. In the background, I can hear the steady drone of an excavator. It’s towards this yellow machine that I make my way through the overgrown path. I want to see what Mammon is up to in Eden.

It lifts its jaws and swings about, lowers its voracious head and snaps up a rotted chunk of log, tosses it high in the air and deposits it high up on the embankment. Once again it swings, grabs a mouthful to be spit out in the pile of waste accumulating on the verge. Were it not that brilliant orange and growling steadily with its industrial motor, one might think it was some prehistoric dinosaur grazing in the marsh.

That was a rather short path, so I return. A woman wearing logger-shirt plaid is tossing a Frisbee into the lagoon for her Labrador dog. The water spreads with liquid ripples. Something is un-Labrador-like with this dog. He gazes up at her as if waiting for something. He won’t go in the water.

We chat.

“No,  the dog won’t bother me as long as he doesn’t jump.”

“Did you notice the water lilies?”

“When I came by half an hour ago, they were all closed up  Now they are fully open,  white, pristine.”

“Funny, heh?”

Then I start my usual walk. A kilometer out and the same back, up to Neames Road. There are a few more walkers now. A woman with two children in a stroller is jogging at a slow pace. Another comes in a long running stride towards me dressed in black shorts and a halter top. She is tall, bronzed and fit. Her hips alternate forward as if driven by an inner clockwork. The light falls on her deliciously. If only figure drawing classes could capture all that aliveness!

The morning light is so different from the evening light. It’s about at the same angle but lights things from the opposite side. I stop and take pictures and then get serious about the walking. I’ve been a slackard on that account lately with excuses of visitors and seasonably high heat, but I’m missing the serotonin fix and energy that I get from the exercise.

I watch more Great Blue Herons squabbling in the sky, one chasing another away. A lone heron sticks out of the top of a tree, a sentinel.  It must be a territorial thing.  Here down on the path way, two small dogs face off with a heavy set German Shepard, but it’s all friendly posturing, it seems. Tails wag. Sniffing rituals begin. More territory.

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On my way back, there are more runners, more mothers with children in strollers, more dogs.  By the parking lot entrance, there is a single thistle plant in bloom, their furry pink Busby hats capped with a tiny butterfly decoration. It made my day, and it’s only nine in the morning!

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Out walking

April 29, 2009

The wind rushed by her ears creating a rumbling sound like thundering waterfalls. In the clouds above, an airplane droned as it headed towards the local airport.  The river flowing between the two dike banks appeared to be flowing backwards with the the surface ruffles moving southwards instead of north.

At the corner with the penned up chickens, they huddled together like penguins under the one shade tree, protecting themselves from the gusts of wind.

Though it was bright and sunny, few people were walking the gravel path but Kay had missed her walks for four days and needed to be out in the fresh air. She leaned into the wind, striding forward, urging herself on with the Nordic Poles.  Hair whipped about her face. She stopped and wrapped the shawl collar of  her cardigan closer about her neck.

“No use catching a cold,” she muttered as she  carried on.

All the trees were now sporting their new spring dresses, bright green, and where  old beaten grasses lay only two weeks ago, a new sturdy green has pushed up from below obliterating the pale ochre of winter.

A large blue heron came in for landing along the dike pathway then just before touching down, veered in towards the river and began an ascent with its massive grey wings.

“Curious,” she thought, “that in the distance, everything looked calm, but here, near at hand, everything was roiling with the wind.”

She turned at the two kilometer mark and went back home.

Dinner at Mrs. Stepford’s

February 14, 2008

I had a great dinner at Mrs. Stepford’s house tonight. It’s Mr. S’s band night and he doesn’t come home for dinner. Wednesday night dinners are getting to be an institution either at my house or hers. On cold winter nights, we like to spend an evening laughing and we’ve found that Wednesday programming on the television is scheduled just as we like it.

I like Doc Martin, that BBC comedy of an asocial doctor in the tiny seaside community of Port Wenn. Mrs. S likes Little Mosque on the Prairie. I admit that it has a wacky Canadian sense of humour and I like it too. Then there is the new Sophie comedy slash drama, also Canadian, that can get us rolling in the aisles.

I thought dinner was the black bean soup that was filled with vegetables and it should have been enough. However, Mrs. S had a spaghetti squash concoction in the oven, topped with spicy sausage sliced in rounds. We had to taste it even if we had filled up on the hearty soup. It was just heavenly. She has a way with spices that is most agreeable.

While we were just beginning the new wine discovery, a Cano Casecha 2005, a red that is best taken with food, Mrs. S. got a call from Lindsay, a single mom whom the Stepfords have figuratively adopted into their family.

Lindsay is a nurse and like many nurses I have met, she has a bawdy sense of humour. She’s full of life and fun; but she is also full of woes with her two teenagers that are being, well…., teenagers, pushing the limits as far as they can go.

Tomorrow, Lindsay is bringing over her son to do some labour for Mrs. S., clearing up the basement which has been torn apart for some renovations and needs serious help before anything further can be done.

I was sitting across the pinewood kitchen table as Mrs. S fielded a call from Lindsay. I only got one half of the conversation, so some critical information is missing here.

“Tell Lindsay to come over while there’s still a portion of wine left for her.” I insisted, since I had brought the wine.

Mrs. S relayed the invitation then sotto voce, her hand over the mouth piece, “She can’t come tonight but she’ll come tomorrow.”

“Come to the gym with us,” Mrs. S. commands Lindsay.”We’ll lock Peter in the house and he can do his work while we are away!”

“Tee hee hee’, she laughs, “A teenage abduction!” a wicked smile spreads over her face, one mixed with glee.

“She’ll come!” she relays to me. And then back to Lindsay, “Can’t you just see the headlines. Three portly seniors, ladies, overtake the Leisure Centre,” and she starts to laugh again as I shake my head from side to side, a wide grin on my own face.

“That’s what you get for going to all-women gyms!” she admonishes Lindsay, then….

“We’ll fix you up with some good looking gymnast!” she promises. “There are lots of shapely men around.” She’s always promising to do Yenta matchmaking for Lindsay (and for me and for any number of unattached mutual friends). I’ve not yet heard of any successful matches, though the intentions are well-meant.

She covers the mouthpiece again and says to me, “Lindsay has just lost twenty pounds. She’s looking pretty good now.”

I could just picture it. Three two-ton tessies hogging the treadmills, then elbowing the young bloods out of the way as we hilariously pedal our way through our aerobic preliminaries. we ladies have lost our inhibitions. We are not shy.

Later, using our practiced motherly glares, we will succeed in overtaking the rowing machine, the bicep and tricep building contraptions, the pulley activated weights. All the while, yours truly, a seasoned gym aficionado of six long weeks now pontificating on form and instructing these other two in the use of ten to fifteen different models of exercise equipment.

I just realized as I was writing this how similar the quiet chapel-like halls of the art gallery are similar in their concentration to these temples of body building. I realized that no one speaks to another whilst treading or pedalling or weight lifting. All the voices are low, with minor bits of instruction going on from time to time. It’s a serious place. People are there to make muscle. There is no time for socialization. If there are three of us there tomorrow, the others won’t know what hit them!

Kay goes to the Gym 3

February 3, 2008

Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal.

Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal.

Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal.

No need to count. The electronic counter was reporting on time spent, counting down from 25, second by second and slowly, ever so slowly counting ascending calories spent.

Kay regulated her rhythm on the reclining bicycle to the metronomic rhythm of a jogger running on the treadmill directly in front of her. There were three joggers running at much the same pace. Kay started to hum Bach’s fugue in G major which she was relearning at home. The timing was perfect, baroque in its regularity. Slap, slap, slap, slap… it continued on. Thirty minutes, these folks were doing. Slap, slap, slap, slap went the feet. Pedal, pedal, went Kay, round and round, left foot, right foot, and she started to think while the notes ran through her head. She was determined to do fifty calories or fifteen minutes, whichever came first.

If only her mother could see her now!

Every time that exercise was mentioned, Kay’s mother would quote an adage that she had appropriated from one of the vamp actresses of the twenties.

“When ever I get the urge to exercise, I go lie down on my bed until the feeling passes,” she would say with a mischievous smile. Mother had been a good athlete, a winner of foot races and high jumping events. Its deleterious effect upon her children was that they had little respect for sports and exercise.

Swimming was encouraged, but that was chiefly to ensure that the children would be prepared not to drown. There had been ballet lessons for a year or two. That had been considered much more appropriate for a cultured girl, but Kay had rebelled. Though she had dreamed of becoming a ballerina, had envied balletic agility and grace, she had felt like an awkward ugly duckling. There had been that disastrous parent’s night performance where Kay had lost her choreographic sense and done a boner.

While the ten other children danced to the left and then to the right, then twirled, Kay danced to the left and then to the right and then mistakenly sat down on the stage. The whole audience twittered then laughed out loud while shy Kay rapidly stumbled up, clumsily trying to fit back into the group of girls as the chortles continued. She was confused, horrified, ashamed and ran from the stage. That was the end of ballet classes.

Aside from mandatory high school Physical Education, Kay had never been in a gym except to watch games that other people were playing.

Forty years had passed by without a thought of exercise troubling her mind any more than it had seemed to trouble her mother’s. Year by year, she gained a pound or two or three or four. That pencil thin child of fifteen, at last freed of her baby fat, was obsessively concerned about her weight. She had turned into thirty year old, lovely and rounded; a forty year old slightly heavy, but attractively so; and a rotund fifty year old; and now she was sixty, broad in the beam, lightly jowled, heavy of arm, thick of thigh and she was peddling. She no longer recognized that girl in the mirror. “Where had she gone?” she wondered.

Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal.

The counter turned over a tick every left and right thrust she made. Slap, slap went the jogger just ahead.

“Neither of us is going anywhere”, mused Kay with a wry smile, but she conceded that it felt good.

As one jogger slowed then quit his treadmill and then another, leaving only a single jogger beating out the same tick-tock pace, Kay reflected that here was another similarity with Bach’s Fugue, with one voice after another disentangling as the fugue comes to its denouement.

There had been that first day on the machine where she poked the green Quick Start button and nothing happened. She placed her feet on the pedals and pressed the Quick Start button again. Again nothing happened.

“Excuse me, ” said the young woman, scarcely twenty and looking very trim if somewhat non-descript, “You have to pedal first and then you hit the Start button. The machines are difficult. You have to press it quite firmly.”

Kay started to push the resistant pedals and a light came on like an electronic advertisement. “Press Quick start to begin” it announced. She pressed it and red letters indicating 25 minutes starting to count down to zero came on.

“Oh Lord, it’s quandmeme simple!” she groaned to herself. “Thanks!” she said out loud to the young woman. Pedal, pedal, and the cycle worked like a charm.

That day, Kay had achieved a stellar four minutes of reclining bicycle without stopping. It was enough for the first day. Now she had been coming for four weeks and she had set herself a challenge. The last two weeks, she had achieved ten minutes of uninterrupted cycling. Today, she would do fifteen.

The worst part was the boredom. Pedal, pedal, pedal. It was not inspiring.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Today she had brought a book, Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey and now she was multitasking – singing her Bach Fugue in G in her head, keeping pace, peddling to the jogger’s metronome and reading about this man’s time alone as a park ranger in the desert near Moab, Utah.

Kay read:

But for the time being, around my place at least, the air is untroubled and I became aware for the first time today of the immense silence in which I am lost. Not a silence so much as a great stillness – for there are a few sounds: the creak of some bird in a juniper tree, an eddy of wind which passes and fades like a sigh, the ticking of the watch on my wrist – slight noises which break the sensation of absolute silence but at the same time exaggerate my sense of the surrounding overwhelming peace. A suspension of time, a continuous present….

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Kay rode on, time disappearing as she read. It had not seemed so long with a good book to accompany her. She had immersed herself in the words, in the world of the desert, in Abbey’s escapade with a rattlesnake, and his friendship with a gopher snake who drove off the rattlers. Abbey is curious, visually perceptive, literarily descriptive and captivating.

Kay glanced at the numbers. She was at 50 calories and fourteen minutes and sixteen seconds. She’d made it!

She slowed her pace and completed her fifteen minutes, took her book back to the cubicle where she kept her outdoor shoes and her jacket and continued on to her circuit of other machines.

It was a good thing, Kay reflected as she went home an hour later, that she had lost her childlike inhibitions. She no longer cared if she was only one of three women in the gym. She was too old to be noticed. They young muscle men were interested in their own physiques; they weren’t interested in an old grandmotherly woman.

She no longer cared if they thought she was out of shape. She knew she was. How could she get back into shape if she didn’t do something about it? Kay totted up the family longevity and subtracted her current age. If she still had a good twenty plus years to go, she had better be in shape. Three recent falls had been the turning point. This hobbling with a cane business would only get worse if she didn’t fight it. And here was proof. She could do it.

In three weeks, she had gone from five minutes aerobic to fifteen. She smiled. It was better than lying on a bed and waiting for the feeling to pass.