Having a wife who’s a certified personal trainer is brutal when you’re a husband who’s idea of a solid workout is retrieving the mail. She’s always trying to get me to do things. Like running, lifting weights, or stretching until I can insert my left heel in my right ear. It’s not that I can’t do these things. It’s that I also don’t want to do these things.
Now that I’m exiting the final stages of recovery from my hernia surgery, I’m trying to figure out the best way to whip myself back into shape. I know my wife knows the best way to do this but I also know that her methods hurt. They’re effective, but they’re inherently unpleasant. While I’d never wish to be married to a couch potato (I don’t need the competition), I do wish she wasn’t so gung ho all the time when it came to hurting me with her knowledge.
I don’t know much about this fitness stuff. Case in point, yesterday’s conversation after I grabbed her arms to give her a hug:
“OUCH! I told you not to grab my triceps! I’m sore from working out.”
“Sorry, you’re just too cute right now. Hey, why do they call it a tricep anyway?”
“Because it’s comprised of three muscles.”
“Oh. I thought it was because it was the arm’s third muscle or something.”
“Third muscle? What does that even mean?”
“Well, the arm has like three muscles. You know, there’s the tricep, the bicep…”
“Uh, no. The tricep has three muscles. The bicep has two.”
“Annnd, what about the unicep?”
“You’re such a dork.”
I suppose it’s to my benefit that Heather has always been obsessed with staying fit, eating right, and watching her figure because it’s put her on some eternal quest to reach perfection. A destination I feel she reached long before I was fortunate enough to meet her. She’s my eye candy. My smack. Yet even when confronted with our vacation pictures from Duck, she fails to recognize her beauty.
I tell her it’s a good thing for me that she doesn’t realize how pretty she is because she has no clue just how far out of her league I am. I married way up, I mean WAY up, and I just don’t think she needs to worry about watching her figure. I do plenty of that for the two of us.
Myself, I don’t get into all this calorie counting and obsession over fitness. I more rely on my metabolism to do all the dirty work. No sense lifting barbells ’til I can no longer feel my arms just to work off a few rounds of brisket when my internal fat-chewing-and-spitting-outing machine is still up to the task.
Granted, it’s calorie-burning capabilities have degraded a bit over the years, but it’s still effective enough to where I can get away with eating pizza, hamburgers, and chili dogs without blowing up like a parade float. While the days of consequence-free gorging are over now, I enjoyed years of carefree eating when I was younger. As soon as the metabolism police got wind of ingested sustenance, its defensive brigade went into immediate action and prevented so much as a molecule from settling on my bony frame.
What this meant was that I could eat anything and everything I wanted, in any quantity, and not gain an ounce. Unfortunately, this also meant that until my mid-30′s, my biceps envied the girth of pipe cleaners.
Throughout high school, I had friends who were all jacked up and muscled out naturally thanks to Adonis-like genes and a personal commitment to gym worship. They’d walk freely around the world without shirts and women would clutch their chests to stave off fainting.
I always envied their self-confidence and the reason behind it. They had what girls wanted, arrogance and a body to drool over. As for me? Well, I did the world a favor and never wore anything more revealing than a long-sleeved shirt. Even during the blistering days of summer I felt it best to keep my extra-terrestrial torso under wraps. At least until Cosmopolitan declared that “Pasty-white ribs are the new pectorals.”
It wasn’t like I didn’t try to be all buff and sexy for the ladies. It just wasn’t something anyone in my genealogical lineage has ever been able to accomplish. I tried everything. From adopting the Rocky Balboa raw egg diet for half a swallow to ordering muscle-building secrets from the Charles Atlas “98-Pound Weakling” ads printed on the backs of my comic books.
Poor Mac. Even his girlfriend refers to him as a “Little Boy,” something no man wants to ever hear unless he’s in Preschool.
I sat here contemplating what it was that drew me to this ad, and as intriguing as it was to dream about a string of superficial girlfriends and avoiding conflicts on the beach, I think the biggest draw to his program was gaining the confidence and bravado it takes to wear nothing but a smile and Cheetah Speedos.
Alas, like most comic book ads, the promises were never met and my life was never enriched. I was only $.50 poorer. Years later, as a junior in high school, I decided to stop wishing and start body building. I accompanied a group of friends to the local gym, signed up for a membership, and went through the rigors of initiation after being handed a clipboard.
It started with me being greeted by a gargantuan “I lift things up and put them down” body builder who looked irritated by the fact that my tour was going to prevent him from forming a fourteenth muscle in his neck. He quickly mumbled his way through each machine’s instruction and asked if I had any questions. I had dozens. But I also knew that Sven wanted to get back to curling transmissions so I nodded with feigned confidence that I could take it from there. I thanked him for his time, handed him a raw ham, and stared at the dizzying array of muscle contorters before me.
I had no idea how to use most of the machines, much less board them, but I did notice that they all had accompanying illustrations. I pretended to stretch as I studied the machines and then placed the pin in the middle of the stack praying that I could handle whatever weight that was. I couldn’t. So I’d finagle my way out, raise the pin a few plates higher, and climb awkwardly back into the contraption to try again.
Nothing. It wouldn’t budge. So, once more, I raised the pin. Again. Again. And Again. Higher and higher the pin went until the pulleys and cables finally moved from my efforts. While only two or three plates were in motion, it demonstrated progress. Albeit loudly and embarrassingly.
See, the problem with only being able to lift a few plates is that you don’t hear that satisfying “thump” of iron weight stacks slamming into each other. Instead, what you get is a girly “clink” and “clank” when the two plates above the pin kiss the giant stack of immobile plates below. This was me the entire afternoon. Everyone in the gym could hear me work out as the tink, tink, tink of my plates echoed over Motley Crue.
I thought I’d prefer the safety and form that the Nautilus machines had to offer but I noticed a completely different swagger being exhibited by those in the free weights area. The nautilus side was filled with old people, middle school girls, and me. The free weights side was like a whole new world. It had a certain mystique. Almost like the wrong side of the tracks. It’s also where all of my friends were, because according to them, Nautilus equipment was for toning and free weights were for building muscle. Seeing how I had nothing to tone, I decided to join them in the free weight Thunderdome.
This side looked a lot easier. A bunch of bars, some benches, lots of circular heavy plates, and a rack of barbells. You really can’t screw up free weights. There are no pulleys, no gears, no goofy seats. You just pick something up, lift it above your head a few times, and set it back down with a loud exhale so everyone knows you just lifted something really super heavy.
The big downside of free weights is that the lighter weights have really small plates. Whereas a 45-pound plate is roughly the size of a manhole cover, a 5- or 10-pound plate is roughly the size of a drink coaster. Because an empty barbell already weighs 45 pounds, it doesn’t take much weight before it becomes unliftable. For me, I figured I could safely benchpress around 85 pounds at that time, which meant I’d only have two coaster-sized plates on each side of the barbell.
I couldn’t let this happen. My ego wouldn’t let this happen.
So, while my friends were grunting away and inflating their muscles with countless reps, I was busy weighing the pros and cons of blowing out my ligaments. The way I saw it, I had two choices. I could do the sensible thing and lift only what I was capable of. Or, I could do the reckless thing and lift far more than I should just so I didn’t look like a big wimp.
I chose the latter. I needed to become a muscle dude. And to do that, I knew I needed to emulate those who had perfected it.
The first thing I did was ditch my newbish clipboard. I noticed that none of the gym rats had clipboards. They didn’t need them. They knew that once they had lifted the equivalent of six Volkswagons, it was time to rise, admire themselves in the mirror, and slowly walk around in circles without moving their arms before the next rep.
The second thing I did was pound away at the weights like a seasoned veteran. I did sets upon sets of bench press exercises, curls, shoulder pulls, squats, whatever. By the time I was done an hour later, my muscles were huge and puffy. I looked a lot like the Michelin man only I was less tan. My friends explained that my muscles were engorged with blood from all the lifting, but based on how I felt, I think they had simply exploded.
The next morning I realized that I had suffered a fate far worse than muscle explosion. I was experiencing the aftermath of Gym Egotitis. Only afflicting men, Gym Egotitis is a condition whereby a man’s ego causes him to lift three times the recommended weight twice as often as he should. Morning-after symptoms include the inability to raise one’s arms above the shoulders, the inability to lift so much as a spoon to one’s mouth, and the inability to flex one’s arm at the elbow. For five days.
It was brutal. I ended up with visible tears on my shoulders, bruising, and pain in my triceps that lasted several weeks. When I finally walked through the gym doors again, my pride was damaged but my spirit unbroken. I vowed to become one with the muscle dudes, only quite a bit slower than originally attempted.
All was well with my new attitude for about ten minutes. But once again, my ego got in the way. And this time, it didn’t almost kill me, it almost killed someone else.
Aside from Gym Egotitis, there’s one other inherent danger of pretending you’re a muscle dude when you’re clearly not ready to be a muscle dude. And that’s agreeing to “spot” someone when your weightlifting limits can be measured in waffles.
For those unaware, “spotting” is when you stand over a fellow gym rat in case he or she needs help getting the barbell back to its holder. Basically, if the person lifting the weights gets stuck halfway up, your job as the spotter is to guide the barbell back where it belongs so it doesn’t crush his larynx. It’s actually quite an honor to be asked so when a Sven look-alike asked me to be his spotter, I was flattered.
I knew I couldn’t help him in a life or death situation but there I stood above him, praying that he wouldn’t need me. From what I could calculate, he had roughly 270 pounds of weights on the bar for a total of 315 pounds. Roughly 230 pounds more than I could handle. His first five or six reps went without a hitch. But once he started to slow down at seven I knew I was in trouble. It was in the middle of his eighth rep when the bar started to succumb to gravity.
“Ok…,” he grunted while veins popped from his face, “…TAKE IT!”
Take it? As in, just lift it up? It weighed more than three of me. I knew he’d be dead if I didn’t take it but I also knew we’d both be dead if I did.
I proceeded to grapple the bar with both of my arms and hands and tried bracing my legs so that I could help him get the bar back to the rack. Sadly, and I’m not ashamed to admit this considering it probably saved his life, I had to position myself directly over his face which means he got an up-close and personal shot at my sweaty crotch. I was straddling his noggin mere centimeters from his flaring nostrils in a semi-squatted position and apologizing profusely as we each struggled to replace the barbell. In his struggles, he’s breathing in and out rapidly and heavily, no doubt taking in an aroma that probably still keeps him up at night.
We both learned a valuable lesson that day. He learned to never ask a 16-year old kid who weighs 1/3 as much as the weight he’s trying to lift to spot him; and I learned that the gym just isn’t the right place for me. Heather has the discipline, drive, and dedication to work out every day. I don’t.
Some of it I chalk up to laziness. Some of it I chalk up to my need for instant gratification. And some of it I chalk up to my initial experiences in the gym. I suppose I’m just not patient enough. Working out and seeing progress takes weeks, months, and even years. Whereas I more want what I was promised in that ad. Instant muscles. In one panel, I want to be me as I am today. And in the next, I want to be Mac. Not “Little Boy” Mac, but Big Mac.
Ooooo. And speaking of Big Mac, I think I just determined lunch.
Don’t worry. If my metabolism doesn’t take care of the calories, I’m sure Heather will.