Keeping a diary throughout this fitness journey has kept me accountable. It also has chronicled my daily activities, experiences, thoughts, conclusions, evaluations … and, yes, even my complaints!
I feel myself getting stronger. (I think.) Eddie said that he has seen an improvement in me since the first few weeks of this journey. Each session, he adds something new to increase the duration or intensity. So gradually I am building upon what I did the week before. He calls them “progressions.” Today during upper body strength training, we increased the amount of weight I am using. Eddie told me I have a well-defined bicep, and I felt somewhat athletic based on his comment. (Until I caught a glimpse of my sagging underarm skin. C’est la vie!)
Yesterday was my birthday. It was not a milestone birthday that ends in a five or a zero, but it was significant to me because I’m older than I ever planned to be. You see, when I was younger, I made up my mind that I would “live fast and die young” just like 1950s cinema idol James Dean, and I assumed (erroneously) that the best of my years would be over once I turned 24. Now that I am decades older than my miscalculated, projected life expectancy, I hope to add another 20 or so years to my life.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that research links physical activity to better health and quality of life. That is the real reason for taking this fitness journey. I am not setting out to achieve the “perfect body” (if such a thing exists). I simply hope I can improve my chances of longevity. I am looking to feel good about the body I am in and get a few more miles out of it.
I woke up late and knew I had a hectic day ahead of me. I decided that in order to get in all my exercise, I needed to break up my physical activity into 10- to 15-minute sessions throughout the day. So I started with a few stretches and squats before I got ready for work. When I arrived at the Dwares JCC, I did my customary jaunt on the treadmill, but because of time constraints, I was only able to get in 15 minutes of walking. “So be it,” I thought. “I’ll manage to incorporate other forms of exercise throughout my day.” And so I did. If I needed to call or send an email to Alliance colleagues, I chose to walk over to their desks instead. I stretched a little before taking my lunch break and took the longest route to get to my car when it was time to leave.
When I got home, I found a generous pile of mail on the table, an empty yogurt container on the counter and a sink filled with dirty dishes. Instinctively I flew into “tidy-up mode” and chose to clean with determination so that I could count it as a form of daily exercise. I turned on the radio and went to work: dancing with the dishes as I loaded the dishwasher, swaying with the broom as I swept the floor and skipping to the recycle bin outside to deposit the junk mail and the plastic yogurt container. The minutes added up fast while I was moving during this clean-up time. Did I look foolish? Probably, but I was having fun. (And my house was in much better order than when I first arrived home.)
I hate to kvetch, but I need to express my frustration about some things that have really been bothering me….
I know I am a bit of a neat-freak and a stickler for rules, but, putting those idiosyncrasies aside, I simply do not understand why some people can’t (or won’t) follow protocol in the Fitness Center. They seem to lack the common courtesies with which the rest of us are naturally graced. Today was the day I reached my limit with other members’ disregard for procedure and etiquette. These are my top five pet peeves:
1. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. (And I mean this literally!) Please do not wear the same footwear that is your “street shoes” even if they are sneakers. No one wants the grit from the salt, sand or soil that you’ve just tracked in on the exercise equipment. I have a pair of (inexpensive) sneakers that I keep in my locker at the Dwares JCC that I use exclusively at the Fitness Center. This way, when I get on the treadmill, there is no “sole soot” on the bottom, and the machine remains relatively dirt-free.
2. And speaking of cleanliness, whether you sweat, perspire or “glisten,” it’s still gross and slimy. So please wipe down any machine, mat, dumbbell or other piece of equipment you might have shpritzed on.
3. Put away the crap! The other day there was a woman’s pocketbook, a string backpack, two water bottles, a heavy winter coat, a kettlebell and two magazines on the floor of the workout areas. My fitness training suddenly turned into an obstacle course! I always say: A tidy fitness space is a happy fitness space.
4. However, my penchant for cleanliness does not stop in the fitness area; it extends to the locker room. Why, in a room full of lockers, would you not utilize them? Must you carelessly dump your personal belongings on the floor? Did you choose to toss your things in front of my locker on purpose?
5. And while I am still discussing the locker rooms, let me voice my displeasure regarding toiletries. Please do not leave a greasy ring of gunk on the benches, a dusting of powder on the floor or a cloud of fragrance in the air. My day was off to a bad start because for the second time this month, I sat in a puddle of baby oil because someone neglected to wipe up the mess. I spent the entire day explaining to coworkers that I was not incontinent.
Today marked the beginning of Week 5, and I was ready to try another piece of fitness equipment thanks to Eddie’s encouragement. The Cybex assisted pull-up machine was the behemoth that generated post-traumatic stress every time I looked at it. I got flashbacks of a younger, chubby Kara in junior high gym class trying desperately to succeed at the President’s Fitness Challenge, a seemingly impossible battery of callisthenic exercises designed to keep the youth of my generation physically fit. While the overall goal was a good one, apparently my P.E. teacher believed that embarrassment and shame built muscles. For me, the only thing it built was resentment and anxiety. I was ridiculed because I could not do a single pull up or chin up. So you can only imagine my delight when Eddie suggested I try a piece of equipment engineered to take the tough punishment out of pull-ups.
The machine has a weight-stack that offsets one’s body weight and allowed me to practically float when I reached for the bar. Of course, I still had to use my upper body strength to perform the task, but it was made easier because I had some assistance in the “lift.” Eventually I may be able to do a pull up unaided. But for now, this felt like success.
I was proud of myself – really proud! It was a breakthrough for me today because for the first time in more than a month, I felt capable, courageous and strong – not just physically, but mentally, too.
While I only use these machines on the days when I am with Eddie – I don’t feel comfortable using the apparatus in the gym when he’s not around – at home, several days a week, I’ve continued to do the core exercises that he designed for me, increasing the repetitions and the intensity. In addition, I’ve been on the treadmill consistently each weekday. I have paced nearly 25 miles since I started – that’s like walking from Providence to Newport!
KARA MARZIALI is the director of Communications for the Jewish Alliance.