Working with equipment: like a slow dance between an elephant and a flamingo

The other day I went to a functional training class with my gym buddy Jaclyn.  She’s been taking classes at the Y like crazy, and she invited me to this one because she thought I’d like it.  I described it in a previous post.  However, now I’m thinking about it again.  More specifically, I’m thinking about the ludicrous nature of gym equipment and how we look when we’re using it.

No pain, no gain, right?  What about ridiculousness without gain?  The other day, I had to parade through the Y in my bathing suit because the new women’s locker room had been built, but there wasn’t yet a door connecting the locker room to the pool.  Instead, I had to walk down the hall, through the family locker room, and then out to the pool.  Good thing I brought my one-piece that day.

I could have opted to leave before swimming.  In fact, I’ll admit that it crossed my mind, but it was a small victory to go through with it.  Then, of course, there was walking back through the hall afterward, dripping wet.  Blah.

Anyway, equipment.  Since my first few awkward workouts, I won’t say I’ve become less awkward, but I will say that I’ve become more used to them.  I’ve also noticed that other people do weird workouts, too, especially those who work with trainers.  And the other day, in functional training, we swung kettlebells over our heads and did push-ups using stirrups suspended from the ceiling–I felt like I was in the circus!

Actually, a circus workout would be AWESOME, but then I’m from Sarasota, and we all love the circus.

The point is that the hot Australian trainer had us doing the same stuff that my trainer had me doing, which made me feel more confident about my own training and about the Y’s training.  Consistency=legitimacy, in other words.  If we’re all doing it, it’s not so crazy, right?

I mean, just look at breakdancers.

Plus, it wasn’t just me doing it.  There were many of us, men and women.  Attending a class like this as part of my regular working out schedule should help my confidence, reminding me that there are weirdos out there like me, weirdos who take pride in balancing on orbs and tucking their knees to their elbows.

What’s the weirdest thing you do at the gym?

In which I fillet perfection

Yesterday, I failed.  And I didn’t even fail in a dramatic way, the way that poor athlete lost control of his body at an Ironman several years ago.  No.  I failed in the way that makes the other cyclists in the line a little bit slower.  I failed in the way that makes people constantly ask if I’m okay.  I failed in the way that made me curse my stupid knee, in the way that made my quadriceps feel like they were ripping from my knee ligaments, and in the way that I hated myself for what I was doing to my body and what would surely happen if I took a break.  Hello, fatty.  Hello, acne.  Hello, high school, all over again.

This was the kind of failure that I felt deep down, beneath my muscles.  I felt it in my nerves, with every turn of the left pedal, like a railroad spike bearing into my knee.  Wait, was that physical or mental?  Either way, I was crying, trying to pass my sobs off as pants, even though I felt fine, cardio-wise.  I was glad to be sweating and wearing a helmet and sunglasses and to be riding in a line so that the others couldn’t really see.

By the way, I know this is dramatic. I actually have waited a few months to post this, and I’m hoping that maybe it will help those who’ve felt discouraged know that they’re not alone, even in the most dramatic and isolating moments of despair, which I hear happens to everyone.

It started with me keeping up, mostly.  Starts were tough.  And then, well, everyone was going 20, and I was leading for a while at 19.6, 20, 21.2, great.  And then I hit the back of the group and almost lost them.  I was stuck at 18.5 and 19 while they zoomed forward.  This happens, yes.  It happens to everyone sometimes.  I don’t like to call out, though.  I don’t like to show weakness.  They knew, though.  These women know me.  They asked how I was feeling, and they didn’t believe me when I said, “Just fine!”  Maybe that’s a good thing; maybe it’s a sign that I normally do better, and I should take it positively.

I brought their 20 down to 18.  I thought about pulling over at a 7-11 to call my boyfriend and ask him to pick me up.

I made it home.  The ride’s leader stayed back with me, as she’s very nice and supportive, and I kept turning my legs in the lower gears.  I was moving, I just wasn’t making the strides with each pedal stroke that anyone else was.  My knee was being torn apart, but I made it home.  However, I couldn’t get in.  The door was locked, and my boyfriend wasn’t visible through any windows.  I know this because I walked all around the condo in my bare feet, stepping into the cool, squishy grass and dirt and banging hard on windows and doors.  I was about to go to a neighbor’s in my layers of sweat, grime, and spandex to try to give him a call (I hadn’t brought my phone because I had been afraid it would rain).  Right then, as I sat on the stairs to think and pout, I saw him walk around the corner, talking to someone on his cell phone.  I flagged him town and broke into tears again.

He was helpful.  While I showered, he prepared the ice packs and dishtowels.  He looked up physicians that were under my health plan.  He listened.  He ordered pasta for dinner, and I offered to pay.

I used to be a perfectionist.  Maybe that’s the sort of thing one doesn’t ever grow out of.  I’d like to think I’ve grown more lax in my ways since fourth grade, that I understand the world won’t end if I miss a workout and that sometimes, in college, time spent skipping class can be more valuable than time spent in class.   Yesterday, though, it hit me full-force.  I was back in soccer practice in fifth grade, being made to kick the ball against the wall over and over again while others ran drills.

Here’s where it all leads: as I got out of the shower after that ride, I thought, “Why subject ourselves to this?”  Why subject children to this, as I was in fifth grade?  Why tell kids that sports are good for them when, at any level, failure is not only a possibility, but it’s a guarantee.  In order to feel the thrill of winning, one must feel the agony of defeat.

I grew up in the age when everyone was considered special.  Gold stars, all around!  I am now a higher-ed teacher, and I keep coming across articles about students who have been inflated with levels of self-confidence close to bursting.  Only in this case, self-confidence can quickly go from happy helium to dangerous hydrogen, at risk of burning up.  I have no doubt that each student is special in his or her own way, the way that each of their teachers is special and the way that I am special for running my five miles or whatever.

However, at the end of the day, what’s on the page is on the page.  You rode at 20 mph with the rest of the group, or you didn’t.  You wrote complete sentences, without fragments and run-ons, or you didn’t.  At the end of the day, good intentions aren’t good enough, and that’s the hard truth.

And kids need to know this.  Some days, they’re going to be at the top of the world.  Other days, they are going to feel like shit, physically and emotionally.  Is it a good thing?  No, of course not.  Is it easy to feel myself, let alone watch in others?  No.  But out of ashes rises the phoenix.

I used to have a yoga instructor who often said, “This is perfect.”  No matter what happened–if the floor started coming apart or all I had witch which to pay was quarters, it was perfect because it was meant to be, for some reason or another.  Does everything happen for a reason?  As someone who has experienced infant death and grown up around mentally challenged children, I think not.  However, some things are perfect.  Some things are meant to be, for good or for bad.  These are the endings to stories that are inevitable rather than predictable.  These are the skies filled with lightning, the hurricanes that lock us inside.   This is my knee pain, horrible yet necessary to tell me to slow down.  This is me, perfect.

Mixing it up and adding pumpkin to my stomach’s contents

This is my favorite time of year for food.  In a month or so, I’ll host my annual Pumpkin Party (note to self: get those invitations e-delivered pronto!) in which every dish except for the requisite salad and meat is made of pumpkin.  That’s right, folks: pumpkin beer, homemade pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup–it’s all represented in beautiful form.  And the next day, watch out for the pumpkin sweats and the pumpkin runs–I do not recommend a group bike ride six hours after this party ends.

This is a good time, to me at least.  I’ve been known to drink of G&Ts and Pumpkinhead beers and then wield knives as I not-so-gracefully slice fruit.  Part of the entertainment is my illustrated story hour, followed by the non-illustrated worry hour, in which I say, did I really say <i>that</i> to my co-worker/former lover/new bff?  Yeah, it can get awkward, but only in the best, most pumpkin-filled ways.

Yesterday, I was introduced to the glory that is Publix-brand Pumpkin Pie ice cream.  My mouth died, I swear to God.  This followed a salad for which I’m running out of adjectives to describe.  This was a Tuscan salad, covered in red peppers and sundried tomatoes, from my favorite local restaurant, Pom Pom’s.  And this brings me back to the topic of the gym, since Pom Pom’s is located near the downtown Y, where I met good ol’ Jaclyn for a  workout.

All two of my readers  may recall how yesterday I decided that I was going to punch boredom in the face by returning to a Spin class (my first in what? two years?) and then trying a functional training class.  Now, let’s add that I’ve had a bout with tendonitis in my left knee,  which basically means that the tendon is inflamed and scraping over the knee joint like a violin bow missing half its strings, with each of the remaining strings pulled taught.

I actually did well in the beginning, even though I got there late.  Standing on the bike was a glorious thing, and it brought back all those memories of smoothness and strength.  It wasn’t long before I had to relinquish myself to first position only, though, lightish weight, in order to keep the tears from streaming.  Yes, it’s dramatic.  I agree.  However, knee injuries in a want-to-be triathlete are nothing to take lightly.

I tried to stay positive: the music was good, and I got my sweat on, which was the main goal (cardio without pain, or at least too much pain).  Afterward, I followed Jaclyn to the functional training class.

This was set up in a forgotten loft right above the membership desk, and it was led by a hot Australian guy with curly hair.  My friend said, “He’s going to say the exercises real fast and then we’re going to take off!”  She wasn’t kidding.  He zoomed through the exercises.  Basically, we were to do a circuit of leg work, upper body, abdominals, and more upper body.   We’d repeat one exercise three times for 30 second intervals, sandwiches with 15 seconds of rest.  Then, we had 20 seconds to change equipment and take on a new set of tasks.  We went around the circuit twice, doing different exercises the second time.

This felt pretty good, though I had to make some modifications for my knee.  And let me tell you, as high as my self-esteem can be some days, I did not enjoy looking in the mirror at my puffy arms and thighs.  I hate that I can’t exercise “more” in the same way that I kind of love the excuse (I have an injury, so that means I must work hard!).  However, this day offered me the motivation to kick some ass, even with a knee injury.  Got to keep swimming, lifting, and gradually adding other cardio activities.  The thought to keep in my head right now is that ANYTHING is better than sitting on the couch all the time.  However, it’s time to lift the bar from ANYTHING to ANYTHING I CAN, stopping short of pain.  And by pain, just for the record, I don’t mean “it’s good for you” pain.  I know what that feels like.  I mean “emergency” pain, pain that tells me I’m pushing my body’s limits in a way that they’re not intended to be pushed.  While I appreciate how game shows like <i>The Biggest Loser</i> get people up and moving, I despise how they suggest that injuries are all mental.  They don’t show all the EMTs standing on the sidelines.  They don’t show all the doses of Advil and ice.  Take care of yourself, and your body will (hopefully) return the favor.

Much like pumpkin, the favor that keeps on favoring.

Progress, Shmogress

I’m really working here, but I’m feeling so dumpy that I don’t want to even poison the gym with my negative energy. Okay, so that may be a bit of an exaggeration. Still. I’ve opted to do my weight set/conditioning at home lately, rather than going to the gym. I have been going there for pool workouts, and I’ve gotten some tips for speed training from USA Triathlon’s website. Man, flippers really make me feel every muscle in my legs! Also, I’ve felt some knee improvement, as my knee no longer hurts after a simple swim.

I’ll admit I need to get back into a daily icing routine, though. I’ve also been riding my new commuter bike to work and to the gym a bit.

Today, I’m going to accompany Jaclyn to my first Spin class in two or three years, and I pledge to pull back if my knee hurts. I also plan to attend functional training with her (a type of conditioning class), and I’ll modify where necessary: no squats, no lunges, nothing that hurts that tendon.