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You might think that I date Ben because he’s loving and supportive. Or because he’s an ambitious and successful sports writer. Or because he’s smart and hilarious and inquisitive and fun.
But you’d all be wrong. I keep Ben around because he used to be a personal trainer and for years now I’ve been taking advantage of his free advice and training sessions. The way I look at it, I’m practically making $60 every time we go to the gym together. Sure, when we go out I have to deal with girls flinging themselves at his chiseled six-pack like how birds fly into windows and sure, I have to deal with making him feel better every time someone makes fun of the place where his neck is supposed to be – but it’s all worth it for the free health and fitness advice.
Like yesterday, for example, when we completed the Dread Circuit. The Dread Circuit is the hardest workout routine we do – and we do it probably two to three times a week. It consists of 20 minutes of throw-up-in-your-mouth ab work and 40 minutes of cardio weightlifting. Cardio weightlifting, for those not familiar, is exactly like regular weightlifting except that your body is on fire and you can’t breathe the whole time.
Still, even though this sounds bad, it’s probably the most challenging and rewarding physical undertaking I complete all week. And it makes the next day’s workout (cardio and light lifting) feel as easy and free as eating a tub of popcorn while watching Dr. Phil in my underwear.
And that’s just one of the many really general things I’ve learned. Here are some more:
A gym buddy makes everything better. I really don’t know how people go to the gym every day alone, without someone to hold them accountable. As totally awesome as I feel on my way home from the gym, I usually feel a lot more like huddling in the dark in a fetal position while moaning when I get home from work. Ben confirmed it: the people who are consistent and the people who succeed almost always have a buddy to help them out along the way – to honk with the car running in the driveway, to spot you when you’re weight-lifting, and to keep you in check.
Routine is good, but so is variety. Before I knew Ben, I did the same exact things at the gym every time I went. Even though it’s good to consistently show up at the gym it’s not good to consistently do 30 minutes on the elliptical and then do the same ten ab exercises. You have to constantly shock and surprise your body – and make sure you’re working everything and not wearing out the same six muscles day after day. For cardio, mix the elliptical with the stationary bike and the treadmill and the stair climber, for example. Ben, who is a superstar, mixes weights, cardio, boxing, jujitsu, yoga, circuits, and Pilates.
If you’re a girl, don’t be afraid of bulking up. Ben said something he always heard from women who were starting workout plans was that they didn’t want to lift weights because they didn’t want to look like a man. To which Ben said, seriously, don’t worry about it. Unless you’re really lucky, the only things weightlifting will do to you is tone your body and distribute your weight better, help you burn fat, and strengthen your bones. Oh, and it makes you feel awesome. It won’t make you look like the Hulk – women have a natural layer of body fat, not to mention we just don’t have the hormones to jack up like men do.
Really, don’t be afraid of the gym in general. In my pre-Ben years, I was certain that everyone at the gym 1) looked like models 2) knew exactly what they were doing 3) would stare at me for a moment, then nudge their model friend, then point, then laugh. But now I know that the gym is filled with helpful, normal-looking people who are generally excited that you, too, are at the gym. If you don’t know how to use a piece of equipment, don’t hesitate to ask someone – I recommend the funny, supportive guy with neck-esteem issues.
…and don’t be afraid of the free weights. Even after I was comfortably going to the gym, I was terrified of the free weights section, where the grunty men with back braces would congregate. I made up excuses not to learn free weights (which I now love and prefer) because I “didn’t want to encroach on their space” or “look like an idiot with my 8-pound baby weights.” To which Ben responded, “Screw them.” It’s a good philosophy in general.
Just because you went to the gym doesn’t mean you worked out. You have to push yourself even after you’ve motivated yourself to walk through the door. There’s this one woman I see at the gym every day reading a fitness magazine and pedaling on the reclined bike like she’s driving her grandfather to church. This woman probably thinks that she works out for an hour everyday when in fact she’s only doing some light reading. There’s also a guy who is there everyday who stands around where the weights are in his badass workout outfit, not doing much except talking about how much he can bench (if he ever tried it out). He should at least be looking for wherever his sleeves went.
Don’t feel bad if you miss a day. Don’t sacrifice your social life. Don’t miss that totally awesome Lifetime Movie about kidnapping newborns. Don’t beat yourself up if you just feel too tired or sick or just need a break. However, try not to miss two days in a row (if you’re not sick or injured), because two days usually turns into three. This week, for example, I want to go out after work on Friday when I’d usually be at the gym. So I’m getting up a little early to do some living room yoga.
Know the difference between “the burn” and pain. It’s good to work hard, but it’s just as important to know when to stop or when to take a day off. A good rule of thumb is that you should have to take a shower when you get home and possibly burn your gym clothes. You should not have to cry while taking the shower. Being uncomfortable isn’t always bad, and pushing yourself is the only way that you’ll improve. On the other hand, an injury will keep you out of the gym for days or weeks and set you back.
Take advantage of your free personal training session. You usually get one when you join a new gym, and if you don’t you can usually ask for one and get it. He or she will show you how to use all the machines correctly and give you a basic routine that’s right for your goals. For free! You probably don’t even have to sleep with him if you don’t want to.
Exercise makes you feel awesome. Duke did a study recently that showed that exercise works just as well as antidepressants. And while I don’t recommend you drop your meds and start jogging, I’ve found going to the gym feels to me very similar to meditating. You clear your mind and focus on your body. After a few weeks, even though I looked almost exactly the same (and even put on a few pounds because I was building muscle), I had so much more plain love for the awesome and wonderful machine that my body was.
Somehow I got all the way up to this afternoon without ever doing yoga. I’m not sure what turned me off about it – I suppose I’m a little wary of the Western appropriation of Eastern culture, and maybe a little hesitant to put myself in a group with my former coworker, Lump, whose favorite activity was yoga (next to comfort eating and one-night stands with yoga instructors). You know, she was the kind of person who claimed to “work out” and “be into Buddhism” when what she really meant was that she did yoga twice a week. In general, yoga looked kind of slow and boring and pseudo-spiritual. In short, it looked like a hobby for pussies.
Then I met Ben and he informed me that yoga was not for pussies. He tried it, he told me, after reading about NFL player Eddie George’s enthusiasm for yoga — George credited eight injury-free seasons to the art. It increased flexibility, muscle tone, joint health, balance, and endurance. It battled stress. It was challenging. I could ignore the harmony and oneness stuff, if I so wished.
Then I forgot about yoga for a while. I didn’t really feel the need for it. In Montana, it was easier to be active in a variety of ways – instead of just going to the gym, Ben and I played softball, driveway basketball, backyard horseshoes and croquet, and front yard whiffle ball. We rode bikes. Ben played intramural football, played pick-up basketball, lifted weights, practiced jujitsu and fighting, and took a yoga class. I jogged along the Clark Fork River and went on long hikes. In New York, however, we’ve been much more limited. More or less, when we aren’t at the gym, we aren’t active. We needed something active that was different from the gym but that didn’t require a backyard or a mountain. We needed variety.
Now flash forward again to this afternoon, as we popped in our new yoga DVD, Power Yoga by Bryan Kest (I can only assume that the Y in Bryan stands for “Yoga”). It seemed like the perfect choice for Ben and me – he could introduce me to yoga in the only way I could accept it: through an instructor with a ridiculous cascade of shining brown locks and a penchant for pairing American workout buzzwords with ancient Asian concepts (two examples: “maximum Ashtanga” and “total-body downward dog”. I could learn the basics of yoga and ridicule Bryan Kest, all from the comfort of our own living room.
And, I have to say, it was pretty awesome. Even though it doesn’t look like you’re moving much, my muscles really got a workout – I was sweating by the end. Not only that, but it truly challenged my flexibility and balance.
More importantly than that, though, it was a huge stress reliever, especially doing it immediately upon returning home from a day of receiving emoticon-littered emails from my new manager (every single one marked with the obnoxious high-importance red exclamation mark). In 45 minutes, I went from being on the verge of frustrated tears (new manager translation: ) to making fun of the divine harmony that Bryan’s mind, body, spirit, and hair had reached(new manager translation: ).
Nothing that I had feared about yoga panned out – the new-age stereotypes that I had associated with it were either not true or utterly true and really fun and campy to go along with. I can’t tell you how relaxing and fun it was to stretch and hang out on the floor for the better part of an hour (I might not have been enlightened in any sort of spiritual way, but I was enlightened to the dust bunny situation under my furniture). I would never replace my regular workouts with it, but it was a great break from my normal gym routines and just as mentally soothing.
God, am I going to start using words like “soothing” now? In a serious manner? I’m going to have to be careful not to have a one-night stand with Bryan Kest.
While surfing around WordPress, I came across this post, “The Fantasy of Being Thin,” which was getting a lot of attention. In it, the author Kate Harding makes some very valid points about body acceptance, self-esteem, and how many women wrongly believe other problems in their life (relationship issues, career issues, depression, confidence issues) would disappear if they where thin.
However, she goes a step further and encourages women to accept that they are fat and also accept their personality (if you wish you were adventurous but are not, for example, you should accept who you are). This acceptance, she says, will be freeing and help you find what you really want in life.
That’s were I get off the wagon. Call me stubborn, but I don’t much like accepting things that I don’t like about myself. If I want to be healthier or more adventurous, those are things that I can actively work on and improve, every single day. Sure, if I’m trying to get thin to impress others or because I think it will get me promoted at work, that’s probably not going to go so well. But if it’s something I want – hell, why would accept anything else?
It’s funny I read this article today because yesterday (after going to the gym and while eating a delicious salad for dinner) I watched Oprah, which was about 21 people who had successfully turned around their lives and lost weight (from a few pounds to hundreds of pounds). There are lots of shows like this, I know, but this one was more affecting, I think, because everyone used natural means of weight loss and talked very honestly about their struggles with weight and body image.
More than one person admitted outright that they were overeating – big portion sizes, processed foods, binging late at night. All of them admitted to not exercising. If any of them had said that they were happy with their unhealthy weight, that they embraced it, they would have been lying to themselves. If any of these people had accepted their weight, I’m sure a couple of them would be dead by now.
Many of the people they interviewed had been utterly energized by their lifestyle changes – and yes, many things in their lives changed. It’s biology: if you’re healthy, you are going to be more confident, more active, and – they’ve done studies — more likely to get a promotion at work. Your libido goes up, your lifespan increases significantly. That all sounds worth it to me. More than that, these facts prove that being a healthy weight is important – not just a cultural thing we do because of advertising and the media.
The issues might be why and how a person loses weight. I saw a different Oprah (I know, I know) where women who lost weight through stomach operations were immediately finding new additions other than food (alcoholism, drug addiction, promiscuity) because they had yet to solve the problems in their lives which caused their overeating. Perhaps the women who feel the constant need to be thin need to work other parts of their lives while also striving to live healthily – it makes sense that an unhealthy lifestyle and other problems go hand in hand and affect each other.
And health is the bottom line, I think. If you are exercising regularly and eating right everyday and if you don’t have any thyroid issues, you will not be overweight. Sure, it might be harder for some people and easier for others, but that’s it: calories in and calories out. Unprocessed foods, small portions, cardio, weight training. If you tell me that you’ve tried eating right and exercising regularly and it didn’t work, you’re either lying to yourself or you were doing something wrong and should contact a nutritionist and a trainer.
If you don’t want to do those two things, for whatever reasons, I suppose you should accept your body. But don’t say that eating right and exercising don’t work. This isn’t about hating or discriminating against overweight people, but it is about being truthful to ourselves and why we are the way we are.
The most dangerous thing I can think of, perhaps, is the acceptance of aspects of our lives that we’d like to change. Not much has ever gotten done by women throughout history by passive acceptance. Don’t give up just because giving up is easy. Go out and try to be the person you want to be.
Guy Talking On His Cell Phone at the Gym, it is not necessary to answer your cell phone just to tell someone that you can’t talk to them right now and that you’ll call them back later. There is a service – sometimes referred to as an answering service or “voice mail”- which will explain this situation to anyone who calls you and allow them to leave any pertinent information they have in a “recorded message.”
If you are answering your cell phone just to tell someone that you can’t talk to them right now because you are at the gym only because you really want people to know you’re at the gym, I feel 5 % amused and 5% sorry for you. What makes up the other 90% of my emotions? Anger that you are 20 inches from me and talking on your cell phone at the gym.
Guy Talking On His Cell Phone at the Gym, I understand from the business-like nature and frequency of your calls that you are probably a very important businessman, or at least would love to come off that way while on the elliptical machine at the gym.
May I offer you some advice on how you conduct your business? Perhaps you could use less horrifying and banal strings of business clichés, such as “I’ll have to pick his brain about that,” or “I’d just like to move forward with this project,” or “between you and me, money talks, my friend.” Perhaps you could also not remind whoever is on the line how serious and aggressive and powerful you are – it’s better to establish such traits subtly, through action and results.
And perhaps – and this is merely a suggestion – you could make your business calls before or after your paltry 25-minute elliptical workout, in which you don’t even lift weights afterward like I do. This way, your business partner or client would not have to hear you huffing and wheezing and panting in between words like a drowning pig coming up for air.
Guy Talking On His Cell Phone at the Gym, talking on your cell phone at the gym will not make your hair grow back, no matter how long and loud you talk.
Guy Talking On His Cell Phone at the Gym, your paltry 25-minute workout on the elliptical machine, in which you don’t even lift weights afterward like the rest of us, is made even less effective because one cannot properly both use a cardio machine and talk on the cell phone. I can often see your distance and calorie stats, GTOHCPATG, and even though you might think it is efficient to exercise and conduct vague, egotistical business at the same time, I’m guessing that you are doing neither activity well.
Guy Talking On His Cell Phone at the Gym, I thought it was really funny when you tried to send a text message while on the elliptical and was not sorry when you lost your balance and maybe hurt yourself a little. However, I’m not sure you learned your lesson about annoying multitasking and I secretly wish that you had fallen all the way off the machine. Then I could have looked down at you and said, “Text your friend about that!”