Growing up, I was one of those girls who hated gym class. One of those girls who the boys never wanted on their team during games because my fellow gym-haters and I would stand around gossiping, determined not to break a sweat in 90-plus degree Florida heat, reciting the words to “The Real Roxanne” until we had them all memorized–instead of, oh, I don’t know, chasing the softballs that came our way in the outfield, or hitting the volleyball over the net?
A big reason that I hated gym class was because I was chronically unfit and overweight. Nary a Presidential Physical Fitness Test did I pass during my entire school career, not the overall test, nor any of the sub-tests.
In adulthood, I remained generally unfit and sedentary–the occasional gym membership (which eventually went to waste) notwithstanding. When I became pregnant with my oldest child in 1998, I began my current mostly healthy, whole, organic way of eating, but exercise continued to be something I did in spurts.
In 2003, I lost nearly 40 pounds through a combination of food-related lifestyle changes and step aerobics at home about 5 times a week.
In 2005, I lost my mother to breast cancer. That same year, my grandmother died of colon cancer, and my father died of a massive stroke. Among the many effects these tragedies had on me were these: 1) I gained back about half of the weight I’d lost, due to grief and stress, and 2) I took to heart the fact that weight loss could reduce my risk of getting breast cancer.
So, I resolved to get healthier. I tried to do it the way I had before, but to no avail. So I joined a gym (again), and considered getting a personal trainer. It seemed like such an indulgence; ladies who lunch get personal trainers, right? But then I looked at it another way: Clearly, trying to do this by myself wasn’t working. I didn’t like going to the gym, and could think of at least 50 things I would rather be doing. I had the desire to get fit, but lacked the basic motivation to see it through–if that makes any sense.
Then there was the question of money. Personal training isn’t cheap. But just as I justify and make adjustments for the short-term expense of whole and organic foods by considering the long-term savings in health care costs–I looked at personal training the same way. The money I spend on any number of “wants” (as opposed to needs) could cover the cost. For example, I work from home and don’t require a whole wardrobe of business attire, so what would it matter if I didn’t buy new clothes unless I absolutely needed to for a few years? (Trivia: Old Navy jeans will rip at about the 2 1/2 year mark.)
Books can be bought for as little as pennies on Amazon.
I’ve never been into gadgets. I was perfectly happy with cassette tapes and VHS. I’ve been laughed at because I have had the same “regular”-sized TV for nearly a decade, and it’s the only TV in the entire house. I own an iPod Nano only because my family gave it to me for Christmas.
Nothing is more important than my health. If I don’t put my health first, then I risk not being around to enjoy all the Stuff anyway. Kind of a dark way of looking at things, but it’s the truth. So, I decided to sign up for personal training.
To date, I have had four trainers in about 18 months. But not because I’m a hard case! I had only two sessions with the first trainer before he left to go back to college. I had the next trainer for many months; I really liked her, but she had a lot of personal problems, and eventually quit her job at the gym. The third trainer, Jamie (not her real name) reminded me of a UCONN basketball player–lean, fit, sunny disposition, blond ponytail…collegiate. She worked me harder than the two previous trainers, but she too left the gym after a few months of training me when her boyfriend got a new position out of state.
During this time, I felt I became stronger, but I did not lose weight or become leaner/more muscular. I was hopeful with Jamie; she was great at motivating me. I thought I would begin to see progress in time, but then she announced her pending departure. “But your new trainer is great,” she told me. She then pointed to a tall, fit Latino man running on a treadmill. He was sweating, but he made the run look effortless. “That’s Don [not his real name]. He’s in the [military branch] reserves. A great guy.”
“Great,” I said. “He looks hardcore.”
“He is,” Jamie said. “And he’ll be good for you.”
A month later, I said good-bye to Jamie, and had my first session with Don. He wanted to spend half the session talking so that he could get to know me and design a program that fit my needs and my personality. I knew that Jamie had left detailed notes of everything we’d done, but it seemed that Don wanted to start from scratch.
First, we chit-chatted about ourselves. Turns out, he’s not only in the reserves (currently non-deployable for at least the next four years–after my luck with trainers, I had to ask!), he’s training to be an officer, and he’s an ex-cop who is also a freelance writer for cop training-related magazines. For himself, he writes short stories and is working on a novel. Oh, and he’s working on his degree in English Literature at a local university.
He was perfect for me. We talked about books and writers we liked, and I started to be lulled into what I have since realized was a false sense of “hey, maybe he won’t be so hardcore.”
Once Don was clear about my personal workout style (non-existent) and sports I like to play (racquetball), he told me how we would proceed. I cut him off to interject that earlier that morning, I had taken a zumba class, so maybe he might want to go easy on me. He laughed. “You forget that I’m Latino. That’s like saying you went for a walk in the park this morning!”
I tried to convince him that for uncoordinated me, zumba was no walk in the park. “Well, since we’re dabbling in stereotypes,” he said, “I find that hard to believe.”
“Nope,” I said, “I do not possess the black-girl-natural-dancer gene.”
We got up and got started. Push ups first. On my toes. I told him that I’d never done those. His reply: “First time for everything.” I did them! Then I did twice as many on my knees.
“Good,” Don said. “Our goal is for you to double the amount of each of those.”
We did a few other things here and there, but what stands out is what I did to amaze myself. I jogged on the treadmill. I hate jogging. I hate treadmills. I’ve never lasted for more than a few minutes. This time, however, I jogged a mile in just over 14 minutes. According to Don, some of the women he knows who are training to be officers can barely do a mile in under 20 minutes.
“We’re going to get you to 7 minutes.”
And you know what? At that moment, I believed it was possible.
Unlike my previous trainers, Don didn’t just plan to isolate the areas I said I wanted to improv, abs and arms, and simply have me do different weight lifting and ab exercises. He planned to work my whole body to improve my metabolism, burn fat, and build lean muscle. I hadn’t done cardio with the other trainers. So I was a bit nervous, but still optimistic.
So fast forward to today, our first full session. My instructions from Don were to show up a little early, jog my mile and then be prepared to hit once our session started. “It’s going to be intense,” he warned me.
Guess who jogged the mile in a little over 13 minutes. Me!
I bounded down the steps to Don’s office and made my big announcement.
“Okay,” he said, “Let’s go back up there and hit it again.”
Guess who went back up there and jogged another mile in under 12 minutes. Me! After that, I jogged another half mile in 6 minutes.
As I ran, Don broke down the science between the different speed intervals he was setting (1/8 of a mile at a lower speed, another 1/8 at a higher speed, then back to the lower speed, and so on), and the overall science behind how he planned to train me and the benefits to my body.
Oh, and I needed to get actual running shoes. Note to self.
After getting a quick drink of water, we hit the weight machines. About 7 different pieces of equipment, 15 reps per machine, no breaks in between. Don explained how too many people mistakenly lift like bodybuilders when what they really want to do is lose weight.
After the weights, we ran–ran!–up two flights of stairs to the basketball court. He showed me how to do this set of sprints that would eventually have me running the length of the court. Adrenaline pumping and feeling invincible, I set off. About halfway through…I started breathing really hard…and then wheezing. I do not have asthma. I had to stop.
We figured that the wheezing was attributable to my never having worked so hard, how fatigued my body already was, and the fact that we went from the warm downstairs, to the really, really cool air upstairs.
(Needless to say, I’m going to talk to my doctor about it when I go on Monday for an unrelated check up.)
I rested a bit, and then Don asked if I wanted to try the sprints again, at a slower pace, or if I wanted to go back upstairs to do ab work. I opted to try again. This time, I did it, with no breathing problems. I even ran the last two, longest sprints, at top speed (well, top speed for me).
Final stop: Abs. First, 25 regular crunches. Then, holding that 25th crunch, I did 25 more in that position. Then, still holding that position, I did 25 bicycle crunches, cycling my legs, elbows to opposite knees, as I crunched.
I did this 3 times in rapid succession–stopping to beg for mercy only 3 times for a few seconds. No mercy was granted. I did 225 crunches.
Then I was dismissed.
Not sure I’ll be able to walk tomorrow, but right now, I’m walking on air. Tired, but floating.