Okay, Sarah has really waited for this one.

Finally, finally, I am back on a regular workout routine, which has stabilized my mood and taken a few pounds off and all kinds of good things. I have a pretty decent daily schedule set up, which I’ve been pretty good about sticking to, except when it’s disrupted by weird little things.

One of my staples is the new set of The Firm workouts, which no longer require that you have a big plastic step in your living room, which makes them much more apartment-friendly and also keeps me from having to throw things at the television when they keep making me step up to the high step.

This one includes “Hi-Def Sculpt” (with Annie!), “Cardio Overdrive” (with Alison!), “Hard-Core Fusion” (with Allie!), and “Cardio Party” (with all of them, plus Rebecca!). The one that Sarah and I have spent the most time talking about — even though she was flatly refusing to do it last time we talked — is “Cardio Party.”

IT IS NOT A PARTY, you morons. If I wanted to go to a party, I would know how to do that. It would not involve Allie Del Rio announcing that she is beginning the “fiesta,” and it certainly would not involve Rebecca at all, for any reason. I fully understand that everyone likes different instructors, and I’m not really mad at Rebecca, but…she drives me crazy, you guys.

For one thing, Rebecca has a hard time figuring out the timing to take you from one move to the next. She frequently says “do whatever” at a moment when it’s impossible to tell whether she means THIS time or NEXT time, and it isn’t consistent from one time to the next. Furthermore, there is this part where…man alive. There is this part where Rebecca keeps saying “step touch…both arms,” and she does it about a hundred times in a row, and she sounds precisely the same every single time: “Step touuuuch…both aaaaarms,” and it sounds like she’s a robot, seriously.

Annie has a different problem. Annie stops smiling, and then someone off-camera tells her to smile, and it’s way too obvious, because she goes, “DING!” all of a sudden. She’s working out perfectly normally, and then she suddely flashes this completely random toothy grin.

Among other things, these workouts make an interesting contrast with Jillian Michaels of The Biggest Loser fame, whom I have also grown to like even though I don’t watch that show. There’s something about the way she announces that taking the stairs is bad advice compared to doing jumping jacks that I just really like. “There is no modification for jumping jacks; I have 400-pound people who can do jumping jacks.” I like her, and I like the fact that she spends workout time making you want to die of sweat, instead of doing what some of the Firm videos fall into, which is making it too complicated so you spend half the time just trying not to step on your own feet. Alison’s “Cardio Overdrive” is like this; it keeps making you change feet needlessly, alternating sides by inserting one-beat pauses instead of just doing, like, eight on one foot and then eight on the other. Constantly changing the lead foot is actually sort of hard, and it distracts me.

There’s no getting distracted with Jillian. It’s like, “Hi, do this until you pass out.” I also really, really like her patter. It’s very encouraging, but it’s not demeaning or insulting. It sort of says, “The only way the body changes is by being placed under stress, so that’s why you’re doing this thing that feels really unpleasant.” It’s not like this is news, but the way she puts it really works on me. I have her “30-Day Shred,” and I can juuuust barely get through the first level (it’s not even a half-hour long, really) with a few little stops in the middle to catch my breath. It’s very, very challenging, but it’s also pleasantly mindless., because it only changes once every 30 seconds to a minute, and it changes between easy, obvious things.

I also took a tip from the Tomato Nation commenters and tried Inhale, the yoga show on Oxygen with Steve Ross. When Virginia Heffernan reviewed him at Slate, she made him sound kind of mean and negative, but I don’t find him that way at all. I think he’s almost always kidding, and I find the fact that he actually has a sense of humor to be refreshing. I mean, I can’t imagine a yoga class that wouldn’t be somewhat annoying at some level, because IT’S YOGA, and Steve can certainly get pretty goofy going on about your center and accessing magic by touching your belly button and so forth. But for the most part, I find him amusing.

But when Heffernan talks about the balancing poses that she finds are “difficult,” she’s singing my song. I can’t do that stuff at all, and I doubt I could with a year of practice. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never done it, but if you come equipped with some soft squishy spots on your body that Steve doesn’t have, some of his poses simply aren’t going to work for you, and the balancing stuff is among the hardest, I think.

Still, I do find it kind of interesting and invigorating, and I’m happy to have something else to fit into the routine. Right now, I’m not feeling an overwhelming need to join a gym, which is nice. I figure that if I can be as artificially happy as Annie and as mellow as Steve, but also as plain-spoken as Jillian, I will do fine.

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Everybody Hurts

October 28, 2006

You will remember how Dave The Personal Trainer approached me over the summer while I was on the elliptical trainer, and you will remember that I didn’t do anything about it at the time. This message is being brought to you by my sore… everything, the result of the fact that finally, I got around to getting it going.

I am not working with Dave TPT, which is probably just as well, because Dave TPT would be distracting. I would conk my head with weights while staring. So it’s just as well that Dave TPT was not there when I showed up at the desk one day. Instead, at the desk, was… well, TPT. Different TPT. TPT was not sure whether he wanted to train me at first, because as we talked about what I was looking for from the experience, he quickly became concerned about a deep philosophical divide between us: I professed not to care that much as between the Browns and the Bengals. He immediately announced that he would not be training me, but would find me someone good. I asked him why he cared, and he said he was from Cincinnati. After I explained that I had relatives in Cincinnati, and after I was able to explain to him within a reasonable degree of certainty where in Cincinnati they lived, he agreed that perhaps it would work after all.

That was before my glorious vacation of early October, during which I visited my beautiful sister, increasingly awesome nephews, lovely pal Ames, and inimitable Music Stylist — now accompanied by his charming family, which finally got out from under the horrible strife of living in Wisconsin. Yuck. At any rate, TPT and I agreed that rather than skip a week and a half when I was just starting out, I’d just start after I got back. I got back on Sunday the 15th, and because the world tends to conspire to make me procrastinate even when I’m not trying, I immediately became deathly ill with a chest full of crackle paint and sinuses full of wet sand. This did not seem like a good way to start either, not to mention the fact that I wouldn’t make even a Bengals fan sick on purpose (just kidding!), so I had to cancel, and we reset for this past Sunday as opening day.

Here’s the thing about me and stuff like this: the most important thing is getting past the part where I feel like a complete wad. Seriously, you get me out there with my hair in a ponytail and my clumsiness blazing (although, in fairness, I was rocking my special-edition Glarkware shirt that says “Is This Because I’m A Recapper?” on the back), and I am in goddamn gym class all over again, and I can’t climb the rope, and you would think that maybe some of this would have left me, but none of it has. So the first thing I have to do is get used to the fact that if we’re going to do weight machines and whatnot, I’m going to hang out in the half of the gym with the Guys Who Go “RUH!” You know, those guys. They wear muscle shirts, and they wear little leather gloves, and with every move, they go, “RUH!” At least they’re thinking it. My half of the gym is the half where the people walking on treadmills and watching TV and playing their iPods hang out. That’s the mellow half. The half where it’s just distracted sweating. Hanging out with the GWGR is totally different. RUH! There aren’t as many of me over there as there are over by the treadmills. I instantly feel more… presumptuous. I trail TPT around very carefully, partly because I’ll get lost otherwise, but partly to lend myself legitimacy. “He’s making me do this,” I try to say to the GWGR via mental telepathy.

The first day was really not bad, with the exception of one thing, and for those of you who know what I’m talking about, you’ll instantly know what I’m talking about: GODDAMN BIG BALL. You know how those balance balls look kind of friendly and floaty, like you could cuddle up with one to listen to someone read you a story? Well, you can’t. Because they are made of evil. If you’ve ever seen the episode of The Office where Dwight is sitting on one and Jim stabs it with a pair of scissors? I now love that episode for an extra reason, which is that those things are not nice. TPT makes me sit down on it, then roll forward until my head and shoulders are on it and I’m flat like a plank out to my knees. Are you picturing this? Okay. Now, he wants me to lift up each leg in turn.

This sounds easy. It is not easy. It is designed to humiliate you, as he basically admitted. See, once you have nothing but your head and shoulders on the ball, moving your leg means moving your hips, which means falling off the ball. You wouldn’t think you could fall off a ball, but I assure you that you can. This is the soundtrack from me, doing this exercise: “Oops. Whoops. Oops. Oops. Whoops. Shit. Oh, sorry. Oops. Goddammit.” All I do is fall off. If falling off were the exercise, I would already be queen of it.

The rest of it? Not that bad. Acceptable, though very difficult. At the end, I wasn’t sore, exactly. I was just made of rubber. I went downstairs and discovered that changing for your shower is very hard when you can’t lift your arms over your head. I waited a couple of minutes.

That night, while I was over at M. Giant and Trash’s, Trash tried to convince me to drink, like, eight gallons of water before bed. “It will wash out all the… I don’t know… the thing? And the whatever? There’s a thing that makes you sore, and the water. Mm. Drink water! Shut up!” If you know Trash, you know that this is almost an exact transcription. I chose not to take her advice, because I think its only possible value is that it would have made me get out of bed five times overnight, which might have helped keep me from stiffening up, I admit.

And then, there was the being very sore. Not bad, not like I was injured. Just… sore. And as I explained to Tara, the only things that didn’t hurt were the things I care about not hurting: back, neck, knees. So I give TPT big props for that.

Today was round two. We started out with treadmill walking, which saves me a few minutes with the GWGR, but which also makes me… stand there while someone watches me walk on a treadmill, which is disconcerting. I feel like I should be entertaining him or something. I’d tell jokes, but… I don’t think so. We somehow got on the topic of him trying to help me keep from dropping weights on my head later, and we discussed what would happen if I did drop weights on my head and need to be taken to the hospital. We agreed that he would probably call me an ambulance, but he would definitely try to get himself another client for whatever remained of my hour.
The only bad development was that this was the day TPT learned that I will not be doing pull-ups. At least not at this time. I was a good trouper and I tried. But… no. Actually, more like “HA HA HA! No.”

For whatever reason, the machines were more crowded than they were on Sunday, even though it was Wednesday (crazy Minnesotans), so we did a bunch of other things, including walking lunges. What I “love” about walking lunges? It’s the closest you’re going to come to actually going up to every individual person at the gym, knocking on the side of his head, and saying, “Hi, would you like to stare at me?” Because “walking” means “walking.” Down the aisle. Of machines. I kept feeling like I should wave to everyone. I almost stepped on the head of a guy doing sit-ups. This was also the only thing during which I actually hurt myself. You may or may not know this, but you have this muscle halfway down the outside of your thigh that you use for getting out of the car. You aren’t even aware that you’re using it, but you are. You’ll only learn you have it if you ever harm it in any way, as I did, while doing walking lunges. Getting out of the car will immediately become substantially more challenging.
Also on today’s agenda: something that felt a lot like a field sobriety test. Stand on one foot, put the other foot forward… to the side… behind you. Do this for one minute. I told TPT that this would help if I were ever pulled over, which resulted in his telling me a very amusing story about proving to a friend that he wasn’t drunk by doing a row of back flips. This is why he’s a trainer, and I’m… a writer.

At the end, we attacked the thing on the side of my leg. The Getting Out Of The Car Muscle. Specifically, he taught me how to give it a massage (this had an official name starting with “self” and ending with “release,” which caused me to do my Beavis laugh, but only on the inside), which he told me would hurt like holy hell at first. Which — mission accomplished!

At any rate, I am still what I would describe as “fuck-all sore,” but mostly in a good way. Today wasn’t as much Arm Day as Sunday — it was more Leg Day, which is why instead of being unable to lift my arms over my head, I almost had my leg give out on the way down to the locker room. But other than the Getting Out Of The Car Muscle, it’s all going well. I am encouraged by the fact that TPT tells me what to do, but does not feel the need to be all “rah rah,” because I would have to punch him in the face if he did that. In fact, we have a growing sense of trust — a dude came strolling by while I was working out today, and he was clearly kind of watching and observing, and he slapped TPT on the back, and I was thinking, “QUIT STARING.” But it turned out that it was TPT’s boss. “So this would be the wrong time to scream for help,” I said. “No,” said TPT. “That would be good. It would draw attention to us and make it clear that I’m a jovial trainer.”

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.