Into the Land of Gravitron

(Originally published in the Vacaville Reporter, October 19, 1998.)

Proof that fitness is not a battle; it’s a war that never ends.

I don’t much care for exercise, and at the ripe old age of 42 it shows.

I’m the veteran of numerous past battles with weight and fitness.  I’ve jogged, walked, aerobicized, Jazzercised, dieted and ordered promising exercise equipment over convenient toll-free numbers (using the equipment wasn’t nearly so convenient).

I even have a lifetime membership in Weight Watchers (they must have known it would take a lifetime).  After reaching my goals (or just giving it that old college try), I would abandon good diet and exercise for that borderless realm of self-indulgence.

About five years ago, I realized that short term efforts would just give me short term results.  I did the logical thing; I stopped making any effort at all.  Just let the potato chips fall where they may, so to speak.

The years of no limits have paid big dividends.  Almost every numerical rating related to my physical self has skyrocketed – weight, dress size, blood pressure, just to name a few.  This incredible success finally impelled me to once again tackle the twin beasts of diet and exercise.  Certainly anyone who could process calories with such efficiency could do the same in reverse.

I decided to start out with exercise – no sense fighting the entire battle at once.  I found myself a knowledgeable and sympathetic personal trainer who started out with a body fat assessment – a new measurement for me, but once again I surpassed the average mortal.  I could have been served for dessert.

My trainer, Lori, started me out with a modest treadmill workout combined with calisthenics.  I worked out in a side building, away from the main gym with the other beginners.  It wasn’t bad.  I rarely broke a sweat.

Inevitably, the day came when Lori broke the news to me that it was time to start weight training. This meant graduating from the baby pool and going to work out with the big kids.

That first day, I walked into the chrome and glass expanse of the main gym.  Here there was no place to hide; mirrors were everywhere.  This was the land of the slim and well-defined.  I had never seen so many distinct muscle groups.  A woman strode past me, perspiration glistening on her face, her short hair clinging attractively to the nape of her neck.  She carried a towel that she actually used.

I could feel the pits of my underarms start to tingle along with an irresistible urge to flee.  Somehow I made my way to the locker room to change into my knee-length Mickey Mouse shirt and spandex pants.  I looked down at my legs but saw no evidence of the muscles I assumed were there, somewhere.

Lori met me outside and gave me a short course on weight room etiquette – don’t hog the equipment and feel free to ask to “work in” if someone else seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time at a needed machine.  This was unnecessary.  I didn’t plan to get near anyone.

We entered the weight room – rows of imposing big black and red machines resembling an intricate Chinese puzzle.  Again, I felt my armpits flush.  Where were those exits?  We started with the upper thigh, my strong suit.  I found myself pushing a heavy metal plate from a cramped seating position.  Fortunately my ample thighs prevented my knees from slamming into my nose.

I followed the petite Lori from machine to machine, feeling like an overgrown chick.  I pulled, twisted, and huffed my way through the equipment maze, encouraged when I wasn’t relegated to the lightest weight.  There was light at the end of the tunnel.

One more to go.  I froze.  “This is the Gravitron.  If you do nothing else, this is the machine to work out on.”  I looked up.  Gravitron was an imposing structure over eight feet high, a knee platform counterbalanced by weights to help me do … what?

“It’s actually an assisted pull-up,” continued Lori.  “Once you get used to it, it’s not so bad.”

Pull-up?  She had to be kidding.  I had never even successfully raised myself three inches.  Why did they have to call this monstrosity “Gravitron” anyway?  I had visions of a man-eating robot.  Why not “Body Buddy”?

Reluctantly, I stepped up, grasping the high handlebars, and kneeling on the platform.  I attempted to pull myself up.  There was no perceptible movement.

“Too heavy?” Lori asked cheerily.

“Yes” I grunted through clenched teeth as I…let…go.  The platform abruptly slammed to the ground taking me with it.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have done that.” Lori admonished.  No kidding.  The woman and her step machine next to us barely suppressed a laugh.

“No problem,” I said as I laboriously clawed my way back up into position.  I took all the assistance the Gravitron had to give and barely eked out eight pull-ups.  It was done.

Since then, I’ve returned to the land of chrome, glass, and Gravitron.  I’ve discovered that even I can do weight training.  Even though I’ve yet to lose much weight.  I feel better.  I look forward to the day when I’ll not only feel my muscles working, but see them as well.

Oh yes, I now carry around my very own towel, and occasionally I even use it.

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