A Year And A Week Of Personal Training

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 0.603% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

About a year ago, our daughter revealed she was having nightmares about our funerals.  We were out of shape, and didn’t seem to be doing much to fix that; we’d both had heart problems.  She was panicking, because she was going to lose her beloved Mom and stepdad, and they were old and set in their ways.

“I mean, I’d go to the gym, except I don’t know what I’m doing.  And your Mom needs a cheerleading section, and I’m not that.” 

“So get a personal trainer?” she suggested. 

“We’re not rich, sweetie,” I told her.  “I can’t afford a personal trainer.” 

“I did.” 

“…what?”  

“I got one.  To help me out during a rough patch.”  

I pondered.  When I was growing up, hiring a personal trainer was something only the richest of the rich did.  But apparently, according to my daughter, personal trainers were kind of ubiquitous now, like Uber drivers.  You could get them at affordable rates.  

“Lemme look into it,” I said. 

————————–

“Hi,” I said.  “I need a personal trainer who can train both my wife and I simultaneously.” 

“We do separate appointments,” they told me.

“No, that won’t work, because then we’ll skip out.  Gini and I have to do it together, so we’ll guilt each other into going.” 

“Well… maybe we could accommodate that, for a fee – ”

“Oh, and we’re both heart patients.” 

*click* 

But we finally did find one place – Fitness Evolution – that agreed to take us on.  It was not a comfortable place – it had that gym atmosphere, people in shorts who were way more muscular than I was, people discussing supplements, folks who moved with a practiced grace between complex pieces of equipment. 

I remember saying to Gini, “I know you wanted to sign up for a month, but we have to do three months.  That’s long enough to make a life change.”

“It’s expensive.” 

“And if it saves our lives?”  

She sighed.  “…okay.”

But signing up for three months felt like joining the army – a stint that would last forever.

——————

The first day, my trainer called the other trainer over for a consultation. 

“Look how he stands,” she whispered in horror.  I didn’t understand what she meant, but now I do – my feet were splayed out, my spine hunched, my knees locked.  “We have to work on that.”  

Instead of working out on my first day, she rushed me in back like I was a cardiac patient and began squeezing me into position, a painful process I was then aware was called “body work.”  

I failed standing, I thought.  On my first day.  But at least this can’t get any worse. 

After the body work was over, she had me do some stretches.  Then she called the other trainer over again. 

“Look at how he breathes,” she whispered, and I realize that yes, things could get worse. 

—————-

The trainers were cruel in odd ways. I thought they’d push me until I either wept, or threw up, or both.  But they told me to work until I was unable to maintain the proper positioning, then stop – which was useful, as before I’d work out until my muscles absolutely failed.  

They were cruel because they never hit me where I expected it. 

I had good biceps, and great quads, so of course they avoided those.  Instead, they focused on tiny muscles I never knew I had – the muscles between my shoulderblades.  The muscles anchoring my hips to my legs.  The muscles in the arches of my feet.  

It wasn’t strength training, it was rehabilitative training.  “You can’t lift weights yet,” they said.  “You’d hurt yourself.  We gotta get your core up.”  

I wanted Wolverine-buff abs, and here they were working on the range of motion of my shoulders.  Parts of me ached that I didn’t know could ache.  “I didn’t have these muscles before you got here!” I cried, complaining about these mysterious “lats” they’d discovered.  “And I’m never gonna use ’em!”  

“We’ll see,” they said.

——————

“You’re taller,” people said, repeatedly.  Which was true.  After a few months, all those tiny exercises had pulled me into position, hoisted my spine tighter, got my legs aligned.  I’d gained two inches.  

But I had to keep shuffling my feet to do it.  It wasn’t natural.  I’d stand slumped, then remember to put weight on my heels.  I’d breathe in to the bottom of my lungs.  

Everything was in flux.  

But the compliments got us to sign up for another three months.  

——————-

“You must feel great,” people told me, and no, I didn’t.  Despite my daughter’s fears, I was healthy enough for my previous lifestyle – I could walk the dog around the block twice a day, lift furniture when I had to.  My cardiologist thought I was in fine shape.  

Now I ached all the time, because I was forever recovering from yesterday.  My body was nothing but twinges.  

For some reason, I thought if you worked out, you’d get to a plateau where you’d just coast on your old fitness – where it didn’t burn or hurt.  But no.  They just make it harder, all the time, so you’re always a little sore the next day.  

The trick, I learned, was just getting used to being forever uncomfortable.  

——————-

Going to the gym three times a week was weird, because I’d never been a gym guy.  I crept around the space like a spy, never sure what to do with these barbells, keeping a wary distance from these healthy folks with their bulging muscles.  

I looked as gangly as I felt.  

I made Rachel, my trainer, get all the equipment for me, because I was afraid to touch it.  Not that I’d break it, but… I wasn’t qualified to work gym equipment. I’d probably screw something up.

But going three times a week became a rhythm to my life.  I got to know the regulars – not like buddies, but in that sense that I knew the other dog-owners in their neighborhoods.  I have no idea whether the guy who owns the white Samoyed votes Republican or is married, but I do know he walks that beautiful dog twice a day because she needs a lot of activity. 

Likewise, I came to know the diets and weak spots of the folks around me, learned which ones bore down and which ones whined (I was a whiner), which ones liked the band exercises and which ones wanted stretches.

(Not squats.  Everybody hates squats.)  

Eventually, I felt the anxiety dissipate as this became part of my routine.  I knew how to set the machinery to work for me, fathomed which exercises activated which muscles.  

And one day, Gini called in sick.  “Go without me,” she said.  And so, solo, I went to train with Rachel. 

“I’m surprised you made it,” she said pleasantly.  “I thought if Gini took a day off, you’d take the excuse.” 

And I thought of my social anxiety, how I’d hate sweating in front of strangers. All my former terror.  Then I pondered thought of how I’d gained a foothold here – yes, there were still people I didn’t know showing up, but this was in part my space and I didn’t feel nearly as foolish clomping about.

“I would have a few months ago,” I admitted.  “But now things are different.”  

“Attaboy.  Let’s get to work.”  

——————–

My lovers noted my body’s changing.  I didn’t quite have a six-pack, but I’d acquired enough definition that I looked like a guy working towards a six-pack.  Sometimes, in bed, they’d frown and ponder the difference. 

I even got the “You’re still gonna love me, even though I’m the same, right?” a few times.  

I became more willing to send out photos of my body, and then less.  Because eventually, it felt vain, continually sending variants on the same shirtless pose, the one that kinda-showed off my lats.  And I wondered if my sweeties were thinking, “Oh, God, it looks the same as the last one.”  

Because this had never been about quick change.  This is stop-motion change, little alterations that pile up over time, so incremental you question their existence until you run into someone you hadn’t seen in a while.  “Your arms,” a friend stammered.  “They’re really… yeah.” 

They weren’t really yeah, but they were definitely more yeah than they’d been when I’d last shaken hands with him a year ago.

This was a slow journey to yeah.  

——————–

It’s a year now, and I look back at old photographs of me, slumping forward.  I literally don’t know how I stood like that.  

Because in the last few months, it’s not only my spine that holds me up, but my belly.  If I relax, I can feel my lats and obliques tugging me into place.  I joked with Rachel that those muscles hadn’t existed before she made me work them, but the truth is they’d been dormant – now they’re awake, and actively participating in my body, which is a bit unsettling at times.

Because that means I didn’t know my body at all before.  Which I should have; I lived in that fucker for forty-eight years.  But now I’m being shown new things that it can do, baseline functions I’d somehow functioned without, and if that’s the case then what do I really know?  

Rachel smirks sometimes.  I think she knows.  But she can’t tell me until my body knows first.  

——————–

Last thing:  “Let’s do the inverted pull-up,” she said. 

The inverted pull-up consisted of stepping on a bench, grabbing the bar, and seeing how slowly I could lower myself to the ground.  

The answer: I plunged straight down.  My arms sucked.  

But after a bit, I began to lower myself slowly – all my muscles working in conjunction.  This was a combo platter of lats and biceps and triceps and stomach muscles.  

And I realized: After a year, we were working up to pull-ups.  We were finally getting around to actual weightlifting, because I’d gotten there.  

It had been a year, and I had become somewhat of a gym rat.  I can’t say that I’d crave this if we couldn’t afford it any more.  But I can say that I don’t mind it any more, which is a huge change in and of itself.  

We signed up for another year – a whole year’s commitment at once, which helped lower the price.  And frankly, if that lets us live another couple of years, well, think of it as paying rent on our bodies.  

I’m more fit than I need to be, probably.  I am way overqualified to walk the dog.  And truth is, outside the gym, I don’t have much need for pull-ups or bench-press strength.

But my daughter doesn’t have nightmares any more.  More important, I think she feels that we’ll listen to her if it’s important enough.

Old dog, new tricks.  

Let’s see what the next year brings. 

10 Comments

  1. nex0s
    Aug 14, 2018

    <3

  2. Unlike you, I love working out; if I could give you, Gini, and Steve, just half of the endorphins my body cranks out, the three of you would love it, too, AND I’d still get a workout high. But gods, I was awkward and insecure and didn’t get even an inkling of what my body might be capable of until martial arts in my early 40’s.

    Everything you’re talking about so fits with my experience. My posture was crap, my knees had reason to want me dead, and I could tear an ankle just walking around the block. Functional fitness has saved me from probable incapacity in the next decade AND shown me I’m capable of amazing things.

    I hope you and Gini keep rocking this.

  3. Raven Black
    Aug 14, 2018

    “This is stop-motion change, little alterations that pile up over time, so incremental you question their existence until you run into someone you hadn’t seen in a while.”
    Do you wish you’d made a “stand on this spot, photo at the same time every monday” sort of thing so you could actually do a stop-motion of it? I did a half-assed daily picture of me growing a beard for a month which worked pretty well, but a time lapse of proper improvement would be better. 🙂

    • The Ferrett
      Aug 15, 2018

      I did, and I also regret wearing such a baggy shirt for my first set of photos, because it doesn’t really showcase the difference. But I’m also bad at regular, scheduled activities.

  4. Anonymous Alex
    Aug 15, 2018

    Your training stories almost make me consider doing the same myself, but if only I could do it without going somewhere. Until then, I’ll have to continue making do with exercising privately, without a trainer.

    Good on ya for keeping up.

    -Alex

    • The Ferrett
      Aug 15, 2018

      I mean, a lot of them do come to your home. Mine doesn’t, but she’s not everyone. (And she also does Skype sessions in case you don’t want to leave the house.)

  5. Raven Black
    Aug 16, 2018

    Incidentally, I appreciate your honesty about exercise just being uncomfortable forever. It means I’m not being ridiculous with my rationalization for not going out of my way to exercise (essentially I’d rather have a short comfortable life than a long uncomfortable one.)

    I did some math on recommended exercise levels and estimated impact, and apparently you do earn about an extra half hour of life per day in which you exercise for 15 minutes, so it more than pays for itself in raw “free time not spent exercising” on average, but once you take into account the time spent dreading exercising and the time when you’re not exercising but you’re still uncomfortable because of it, it doesn’t seem like a trade worth making for someone with no responsibilities who doesn’t in any way enjoy exercise. (And I imagine I’ll get hit by a car or something anyway as soon as I would cross into those extra earned hours, and then I’d be really mad to have wasted all that time exercising!)

    • Anonymous Alex
      Aug 16, 2018

      That’s a fine rationalization, but you’re not taking into account the fact that (IME) you feel better the other hours of the day when you’re not exercising. The exercising itself doesn’t feel good to me, and sometimes there’ll be some aftereffect, but on average it’s a net plus, even ignoring the hypothetical added lifespan.

      -Alex

  6. Rachel Waller
    Aug 21, 2018

    This post inspired me to go talk to a personal trainer, I just had my first session, and it went great! Thank you. I’m a lot younger than you, but pretty sure I’m also heavier proportionally to my height, so I figured I should start doing something about it while I still physically could.

    • The Ferrett
      Aug 21, 2018

      I am SO happy to hear that! Please lemme know how it goes for you!

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