Lessons Learned From Personal Training: The Zangief Principle.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So we were at our personal training session the other day when Zangief walked in.

If you’ve ever played Street Fighter, you know Zangief: he’s the big, burly Russian dude. This local had a bit more of a hipster vibe about him, and was certainly friendlier, but he had that bodybuilder look about him: the arms so filled with steely muscles that his veins bulged out, the shoulders-in hunch of the guy who lifts a lot.

I immediately felt outclassed. We’ve got some beefy guys attending our tiny gym, but they’re mostly ordinary guys who look really good in a T-shirt. It’s like, “Okay, I’d have to go full-time workout to get that physique,” and I worried he’d judge me, the flabby middle-aged dude who’s a lot better but is still not, what you’d say, “in shape.”

(He didn’t judge me, of course. Everyone at our gym is super-nice and considerate, and though I’ve never seen anyone being mean, I think the trainers would yell at ’em if they weren’t. That’s pretty much my own neuroses coming to the fore here.)

Yet all those fears evaporated when my trainer had me lie down on the ground and start doing reaching exercises designed to bulk up the muscles between my shoulderblades. It’s what I call a “dangerous nothing” exercise – she demonstrates it, I go, “That looks like nothing!” and then I do it.

Reader, the nothing exercises are never nothing.

But they don’t look impressive – and in front of this burly weightlifter, I kind of wanted to be yanking heavy iron, not lying down on my belly and stretching in circles.

He chuckled good-naturedly. “God, I hate those,” he said.

I laughed. Told him how I feared Rachel’s three-pound weights more than her fifty-pound dumbbells because she homes in on your weakest muscles.

“Don’t I know it,” he said.

And as I watched, Rachel handed him three-pound dumbbells. She had him do the exercises that she literally gave me on my first week – and he was struggling. Struggling with that immense willpower that every bodybuilder has, but I realized:

The muscles between his shoulderblades, because he hadn’t worked out there, weren’t much better than mine. Which Rachel confirmed later – it was a chronic problem among bodybuilders because their muscles tend to pull their traps out of place, and they’re so strong in other areas that their body compensates and the shoulderblade muscles atrophy.

(Much like my overbearing quads had completely nullified any activity my glutes had to do. I know the names of these muscles now. I did not before Rachel.)

And I realized two things at the gym that day:

1) It’s hard. It’s always hard. Watching this muscled guy grunting as he lifted those small weights was proof that there’s nobody who’s gifted with fitness. Everyone starts from zero. And moving the needle from zero is always hard.

Hell, moving the needle is hard period.

2) We’re all in this together. Maybe that’s not true at other gyms, but it is at ours. They run a good shop, and I feel good about being there.

Zangief and me, man. We’re two points on the same curve. I don’t think I’ll ever get to his physique.

But we both sweat to get where we are, wherever that is. And so we both cheer for each other.

That’s good stuff.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous Alex
    Mar 26, 2018

    Envious as I am of the benefits you’ve described of personal training, I really don’t care for the idea of going to a gym (even one as supportive as you’re describing). I do my exercising at home for that reason. Just this week, I restarted my routine after a few-months hiatus, and man, is my everything sore.


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