Sunday, February 6, 2011

Operation Svelte

Here’s the thing—people are crafty.
I don’t mean the glue-and-sequins kind of crafty. I mean sneaky, unpredictable. Take the fitness instructors at my local YMCA. There’s a kick boxing teacher, and a man who conducts a spinning class, and a class called “Abs and Back”. I’ll explain their crafty elements in a moment. I came across these folks when I recently joined the ‘Y’ in an attempt to one day look good naked. Not “good for forty-something”, I mean good. I understand that this is going to be a project to rival The Big Dig, but I think I can at least stay on-budget and no one will get killed by the project, except possibly me.

A wise person would examine their level of activity (or lack thereof) over the last year during grad school, and decide to start slowly. That wise person would remember that the only “fitness class” they’ve had during that time is called “Catch The Train That’s Pulling Out”, and “Run for the Bus”. I am not a wise person, however. So, on the first day of my membership, after my tour of the facilities, I checked out the fitness class schedule. Ah, kick boxing! Never tried that. Could be interesting. Here I should point out, also, that a wise person would take into account the ankle sprain of last year (acquired during one of the Catch That Bus “classes”) that has never quite moved on. But again, I am not a wise person. The Kick Boxing class was to have lasted an hour. . . and it did. But I didn’t. This was partly because of the ankle. It was also partly because the class turns out to resemble an aerobics class, in that one needs to be able to coordinate multiple movements, and tell right from left. Moving arms and legs at the same time, while actually thinking about whether I want the right or left ones to move, and whether they should move together or in opposition to one another, does not happen to be my strong suit. I get a deer-in-spandex-in-the-headlights kind of look, and then it’s all over. But the bigger factor that forced me to cut the class short was the instructor’s barely-concealed rage. Here’s a delightful sample:

[music loudly thumping; pumping up the jam, as it were]

Instructor: “OK, now if you’re new to this class, do the best you can.”

Me: [thinking, not out loud] Ok. Cool. That sounds nice. She sounds nice. I can do this.

Instructor: “If I’m pushing you new people too hard, just say ‘Get outta my face, bitch!’ [she laughs, and some ‘regulars’ laugh, albeit timidly—Red Flag number one].

Me: [thinking, not out loud. Inner deer seen emerging from woods] Uh . . .yeah. Sure. . . right. . .I think I won’t be saying that.

[Music really pumping now. Instructor’s headset and microphone is on!]

Instructor: All right, people. Now let’s MOVE! Yeah . . . C’mon now, MOVE IT! . . . . right. . . 2 . . . 3. . . 4. . . now left . . . 2. . . 3. . . 4 . . . now punch out to the right . . . . really PUNCH IT! . . . .

Me: [thinking, not out loud] Jesus H . . . .

Instructor: MOVE! . . . 2 . . . 3. . . 4 . . . C’mon people, I want you to pretend that arm’s goin’ right in the face of someone you wanna PUNCH! . . . 2. . . 3. . . 4 [some awkward laughter from a few students].

Me: [thinking, and shrinking, and eyeing the door] Um . . . isn’t exercise supposed to make us more relaxed? Yeah, I want to get my heart rate up, but not like in a road-rage kind of way that promotes heart attack . . . it’s more of a cardio kind of pump I’m looking for, you know . . . .could we maybe . . .

Instructor: Now KICK! . . .2 . . 3. . .4 . . C’mon . . . 2 . . .3 . . .4 . . .and get ready to kick backwards, but don’t hit the person behind you in the face . . . .

Me: [thinking, as I move toward the door, favoring my ankle, which hurts, but not as much as I’m making it seem] Oh, don’t kick the person behind you. What a thoughtful concession. . . . really, kind of sweet in light of everything else . . . yeah, ok . . . bye.

[Aaaaaand . . scene!]

So I waved to the instructor and smiled, and got the hell out of there. At this point, I might add that at this stage of the game, being in a room that surrounds me with mirrors is not my idea of a good time or an ego boost. But since I had just joined and was still fired up about my Master Plan for my new bod, I looked to see what other classes were happening that evening. I see “Abs and Back”. Perfect! I need help with both of those, so this will be great! I head to the class, into which strolls the instructor; a gentleman who is skinny in his spandex shorts, wearing a short-brimmed biking hat that says “Italia” (but somehow appearing to be bald beneath that hat), with big eyeglasses. He looks to be maybe in his late 50’s, but hard to say with a fitness instructor type, and a bald one at that. He could be older, could be younger. Most importantly and deceptively, however, he is wearing socks of just-above-ankle height.

Socks that are light blue, with clouds on them, rainbows, and unicorns.

That’s not a 12-word typo. Those were his socks. What’s not to love about this man? This man will not hurt me. This man will only help me. He’s from a land of unicorns and rainbows. Well. . . .

All I can say is that I don’t care if that bastard was wearing My Pretty Pony bikini briefs under his shorts—he was pain incarnate. And thanks to him, so was I the next day. It is only now, a week later that I can turn to my right or left using only my neck, and not my whole body. It is only now, a week later, that the simple act of breathing in and out doesn’t produce pain from the stretch it produces in the abdomen region. I’ve tried just holding my breath, but that seems to create other problems, like passing out.

Now that we’ve covered the willfully deceptive fitness instructors, let’s talk about the circuit training machines. For those who are unfamiliar, these are machines designed to work specific muscle groups with more controlled movements than free-weights (aka dumbbells) can provide. My gym has machines called “Strive” that are designed to give a person a better result in less time. One gets on a given machine, and does three “sets” of exercise in no more than two minutes, without resting in between sets. Again, for the uninitiated, a “set” is a specific number of repetitions (or “reps”) of a given exercise. So, for example, one might lift a heavy bar over one’s shoulder twelve times to equal one set. Now, these machines have specific dials and numbers that change each set, making the exercise more or less difficult at specific points. The machines also have diagrams of the human body and its muscles showing how to use the machine and highlighting specific muscle groups that it will impact. For example, the drawing of the muscular fellow has red highlighting his gluteal muscles, or his biceps, depending on the motion of that particular machine. But I think the machines should come with a warning, kind of like cigarettes do.

Here’s what I’m thinking would be more helpful and to-the-point:

“This machine works your lower back. Tomorrow, when you lay down to sleep, you will find very few positions are comfortable.”

“This machine works on that ass you’ve been trying to get rid off. The good news from this machine is that tomorrow you won’t be able to sit on it as much as you usually want to.”

“This machine works your triceps and shoulders. Tomorrow, you will not be able to raise your arms high enough to brush your own god damned teeth.”

“This machine works your quadriceps. Do not even think about walking up or down stairs tomorrow.”

On a similar note, it would perhaps be helpful to put clear labels on things like the racquetball and squash courts; labels that say, “This looks like fun, but the ball moves very fast, and hurts when it makes contact with your face. Do not let it make contact with your face.”

I mean, really, in a country where coffee cups remind us that there’s hot liquid inside and hot liquid hurts when you spill it on your crotch, would this be too much to ask? Am I so far out of line to ask for a warning that trying to become Fabulous without surgery (and its accompanying anesthesia) is going to hurt like hell? It won’t keep me from doing it, I swear. It’ll just adjust my expectations, and I’ll be prepared for The Worst until I’ve attained the goal of The Best. I find such reminders helpful.

Anyway, that’s my report from the front-lines of the War on Fat, also known as Operation Svelte. What’s the takeaway? Remember people: unicorns are mythological creatures. So are fitness instructors who are free of passive-aggression, as far as I can tell, unicorn socks or not. Sure, they might cheer you on and offer encouragement, but make no mistake about it—they want you dead.

But that could just be the pain talking. Ask me in another week or two.

Painting credit: Peter Paul Rubens


  1. OMG Jen! Janet Evanovich move over!! (I will admit I am semi-obsessive with her writing.) The truth is FUNNY! Thank you for making my own pain that much more comical! Your talent is endless!

  2. @Klieka: I'm not familiar with Ms Evanovich, but perhaps will now check her out. Meanwhile, I'll take it as a compliment. Thanks--for reading, and for commenting.

  3. It is the habit of every aggressor nation to claim that it is acting on the defensive.

  4. I agree- you do remind me of Janet Evanovich. You and Stephanie Plum would be best buddies.


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