Lessons I Shouldn’t Need To Learn Again

August 29, 2004

I know! Twice in two days. But this was so striking, I had to run right home and prattle about it.

So, the Precor, right? To review, it’s an elliptical trainer, and I’m in love with it. It’s not one of the ones with arm thingies, so it’s really mostly . . . well, if you’ve never used one, it’s sort of halfway between running and pedaling a bike. That’s as close as I can get to a decent description. And the reason it’s so awesome is that it’s a really, really hard workout, but it’s absolutely cake for your joints.

See, even as I’ve gotten into better shape, I haven’t ever been able to pound a treadmill for, say, 45 minutes for several days in a row, because something winds up hurting. A knee, an ankle, a shin, a hip. It’s just a lot of pounding, and something winds up taking a beating. Bikes are even worse — I can tell you what will hurt. That one will be a hip for sure, and the next day, I will feel like crap. So, of course, when you do something that makes something hurt, then the next day, it’s very hard to go back and do it again, because it’s hard to tell whether to push through it or rest it, so you wind up on a very erratic schedule trying to work around this week’s sore whatever.

But. I can sweat like a pig — an athletic pig — for an hour on the Precor, working my ass off, and nothing will hurt. Absolutely nothing. Not that day, not the next day, not any day. My legs are kind of jelly when I first get done with it, and they were even more that way when I was first starting on it, but nothing hurts. At all. And that’s a major accomplishment, and that’s why I’ve done it for seven out of the last eight days.

So far, so good, right? Right. Well, anyway. I get up this morning to go to the gym, and I wind up putting on this pair of shorts. Now, the shorts I usually wear aren’t all spandex-shiny by any stretch of the imagination, but they are fitted, not because I think I look hot in them, but because it’s the most comfortable thing to wear. They’re like, you know, mostly-cotton bicycle shorts or whatever. So I own them in, like, forty colors or whatever. But the last time I went to buy a couple of new colors, I didn’t really realize they had started cutting them shorter by, like, two inches. And it turns out it’s a very crucial two inches. Because, as I discovered today, the shorter onces react to the Precor by rolling up on me. Which is seriously the most unflattering, embarrassing, totally obnoxious thing to have happen when you’re trying to work out. You feel like turning around to the people behind you and being like, “I know you’re looking at more of my thighs than you probably want to, and . . . you know, sorry.” But I was already there, and it wasn’t like I was going to go home and change. So I decided to just endure it.

It pretty much brought back every gross, self-conscious feeling from gym class, ever, even though I think that if you’re already sweating when somebody gets there and you’re still doing it when they leave, they have little room to look down their noses at you. And honestly, most people are thinking about themselves. They’re not thinking about you, no matter what you’re wearing. It’s much more in your head than anybody else’s. But still, I was kind of annoyed by it the entire time, and I was reeeeally looking forward to being done.

And at one point probably halfway through, this woman came and got on a treadmill right near me, and I was just thinking, “Yes, her too, she’s all, ‘That girl on the elliptical machine needs some fashion advice.’ Believe me, lady, it’s unintentional, so BACK OFF.” Yeah. My mind is paranoid.

But I survived the thing, and I left, and I went and had a shower, and when I got back to the lockers, she was there, having just come back from her workout, and only a couple of lockers away. Now, this was about 8:00 on a Sunday morning, so there was practically nobody there, and I was thinking . . . Great. I can’t get dressed in peace, because the one person in this place besides me decided she wanted to locate right here. Yeah. My mind is bitchy.

And as I’m putting my shampoo and stuff back in the locker and starting to get my clothes out, I hear her talking to me. “Can I ask you a question?” she asks. I swear to God, I thought for a minute she was going to say, “Are you aware that what you were wearing really wasn’t flattering?” I really did. But she didn’t. Here’s what she said.

“That thing . . . that machine you were on. Is that hard? Is it hard to get used to?”

So, to review, I was on the thing thinking, “That lady is on her treadmill thinking about how stupid I look,” and she was literally — literally — actually thinking, “Hmm, I wonder if I could do that.” It is at moments like this that you become embarrassed to be in the same room with your neuroses.

It gets better. I started to explain to her about how it’s easier on the joints and stuff, and she started to talk about how much less she weighed when she was younger, and I started to talk about how much more I weighed a couple of years ago, and we had about a three-minute conversation — really, three minutes — in which we discussed the fact that (1) I had done the stupid shakes and the fasting and we both think that’s really stupid, because you can’t not eat forever; (2) she’s an alcoholic and has to constantly tell people that weight is actually a harder battle for her because she doesn’t have the option of never eating again; and (3) she’s bulimic, which has made it even more complicated. And all this took place while I was changing into my clothes. And it didn’t feel weird, like TMI, it’s just that we were there, and we had this conversation, and . . . there you go.

Sometimes, the lessons just reach right out and grab you by the neck.

20 Responses to “Lessons I Shouldn’t Need To Learn Again”

  1. Shannin Says:

    I’m always worried what people might be thinking of me as I work out. The funny thing is, I usually don’t notice anyone else at the gym — what they’re wearing, what they’re doing, etc. unless they are loud about it. She was probably nervous about even approaching you, so hats off to you both for finding some common ground.

  2. Laura Says:

    I have an elliptical at home, and I do love it because it’s the most *comfortable* hard workout I’ve ever had. But it bores me to. tears. I’m lucky if I can last out 30 minutes, and then my mind starts screaming. It’s parked in front of the TV and everything. Now, if I could read on the thing I’d be all set – but that’s a hard thing to manage, isn’t it? Mine has the arm thingies on it, and I actually find it a harder workout when I just use my legs, so many props to you for routinely staying on the thing for an hour! (I said “the thing” a lot, didn’t I?)

  3. Wanda Says:

    You know, this actually goes with the entry you wrote about hating girls because they’re skinny and whatnot. This just proves you never know what someone’s issues are and we’ve got to stop being so quick to judge.

    Side note: I always wear pants to work out. Shorts always cause issues. Like the time my inseam got caught on the bike seat and I damn near depantsed myself.

  4. bookcat Says:

    I love, love, love elliptical machines. The problem is, the only access I have to one is at my school’s gym, and there’s no TV, and I’m only allowed in there for 30 minutes at a time. But it’s really awesome.

    I’ve also just been given a hand-me-down vintage exercize bike from the, like, 70s, and that doesn’t hurt much either. I think older bikes, despite not having calorie counters or whatever, are probably better and easier workouts.

  5. DeAnn Says:

    That’s awesome and it really drives home the fact that people are not thinking about you and how you look. They are thinking about their own problems/neuroses.

    I’m constantly embarrassed to be in the own room with my own paranoid/bitchy mind. I think we all are.

  6. Melissa Says:

    I LOVE the Precor!!! It’s the best workout ever!

  7. ladymisstree Says:

    Isn’t it weird how that works out.

    From the opposite side of the coin, I’ve just blogged about how two people have come up to me in my Weight Watchers class to tell me how inspirational I am and that they’ve really noticed a difference in how I look.

    And in my head, I was just the fat kid showing up for class again, unaware that anyone was paying any attention.


  8. kerry Says:

    What IS it with the shrinking bike shorts? I’ve noticed this over the past 5 years or so also. I’ve resorted to buying either really expensive padded bike shorts (which is actually OK because I do actually do long-distance outdoor rides) or what I call yoga-length bike shorts that come to my knees. Those are OK, but they’re hot in the summer on those aforementioned long bike rides. So basically now I have indoor and outdoor workout clothes, which I find completely ridiculous. The crazy thing is that I’m 5’3″ and all my pants are too long! How tiny are these bike shorts on taller women?!

  9. Alicia Says:

    Another wonderful thing about the Precor is I have asthma, and it doesn’t tax my lungs at all. It’s very liberating.

    Ugh, shorts. I have a couple pairs that are awful and I always forget until I’m on the treadmill and they’re all up in my butt.

  10. Nicole Says:

    I went to REI and bought some Hind brand mesh-type shorts. They’re highly unflattering because of where they hit my leg, but they aren’t too loose or too tight and don’t ride up much when I bike or run (and no chaffing either). Amazing how difficult it can be to buy shorts, isn’t it?

    Anyway, I’m glad you had that experience. I think we all feel that way sometimes, but if you think about how much you’re actually able to accomplish at the gym, that’s much more important than how you look while you’re doing it. I should know, I sweat like a man (and turn bright red) and always think people are looking at me funny for that. =)

  11. Tracy Says:

    To Shannin above about reading on the elliptical — my health club has these book holder things that hook on the machine and hold a book open (sort of like a recipe book holder?). If I couldn’t read, I would go insane for the 45 minutes I do the workout. They are called the THE UP’N OVER RACK cost: $30 — just Google it. (God, I love the Internet!)

  12. kelly Says:

    And here I was going to blow off my evening date with the elliptical. It’s been years since I’ve been on one, and am a bit anxious about trying it out again now that I’m a diehard runnergirl. Thanks for the kick in the pants to actually go and make use of my gym membership!

  13. Susanna Says:

    At the gym I used to go to, there was one woman who worked out wearing a sports bra and a towel. Not a big towel, either – one of those flimsy rental ones from the gym. Keeping that example in my mind, I remind myself that long as I’m dressed less precariously than she was, nobody’s looking at what I’m wearing.

  14. Glib Gurl Says:

    Y’know ellipticals always *seem* like a good idea when I get on them, but I can never situate myself comfortably . . . I always feel like I’m slouching or tucking my hips . . . and don’t get me started on what it does to my knees. But all this talk gives me encouragement . . . maybe I will give it another try.

  15. Joelle Says:

    You know I’m a whore for that thing. I love Precor. LOVE THE PRECOR! All hail.

    Once I was at the beach, sitting on the bench eating a fish taco and this woman kept looking at me from across the way. The whole time I was trying to eat, I kept thinking, “She’s looking at me, eating this fish taco and thinking, ‘That fat girl needs that fish taco like she needs a whole in the head.’, but I can’t stop eating it.”

    Of course, she walks up to me about 3 minutes later and asked me where I got my sunglasses because they were really cute.


  16. Robin Says:

    I am in love with the Precor as well. But, I did have quite a run in with her last week. I was in the 2nd row of machines and had been on for about 10 minutes. Then, Ellen came on the TV, and I love Ellen, so I decided to switch Precors. I try to step off the machine, get my foot hooked on the track, and topple head first onto the floor. OUCH. Everyone jumped off their machines to see if I was alright. I was fine, except for a big bruise on my leg, and a big bruise to my ego. Damn. It’s an abusive relationship, me and the precor. I will always return. I just can’t help loving it. 🙂

  17. Sharon Says:

    Ya know, I really wish I was writing to comment on what was important in that piece — because, hey I’ve totally been there — but the only thing I have to add is that there is a product you can get that you apply to your legs so your shorts don’t ride up. Aerobics instructors use it. If I find the name, I’ll email it so you don’t have to give up on those shorts.

    Gosh I feel shallow.

  18. Erika Says:

    I just stumbled across your blog today, but I can’t remember how I got here. The reason I can’t remember how I got here is that I read your most recent essay, and then proceeded to read the entirety of your postings.

    Your writings resonate with me–they are well thought-out, articulate, insightful, spelled correctly, and *grammatically correct* for crying out loud. I didn’t know there were people in the world who wrote like this any more!

    Thank you for expressing so clearly what I’ve been struggling with in the back of my mind for several years. I’ve been trying to lose a total of 120 pounds since 2001. I’ve been on WW since then, and at first the pounds melted off. For the past year, I’ve only lost 5 net pounds. I’m planning to try this Core thing. But I won’t–WON’T–eat fat free cheese!

    I won’t say “good luck,” because I believe that people make thier own luck. I’m looking forward to your next essay.

  19. Janice Says:

    I tried the Precor at my new gym today and it IS fabulous! Walking up stairs was no picnic after 20 minutes on the thing, but watching the calorie burnout meter tick upwards at a rate never matched by the stairmaster, recumbent bike, or the hated treadmill was pure joy. I am going to use that thing all the time!

    Oh – and your “stuff from a can” was yummy too.

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