PUMPING IRONY: An Exercise in Humility

I was back in the Pit Monday, lifting and sweating and feeling generally OK about this fitness thing, when I ran into Robyn Wells, an LTF personal trainer who I met recently through my rugby-playing colleague JS. Robyn is a 20-something powerhouse athlete who specializes in teaching us lesser beings how to get the most out of their workouts. And she generously offered to help me out.

Now, anyone who’s at all familiar with my peculiar fitness journey understands my fitness personality. To review: I’m a 57-year-old guy with a bum knee and rusty ankles who can’t run, hates to stretch and heads down to the gym two or three times a week with only the vaguest idea of what is about to transpire. I have no plan, few goals beyond remaining functional into my twilight years, and only a modicum of discipline.

All this I confessed to Robyn when we met Wednesday evening for our consultation. And, to her credit, she did not put down her pen, crumple up the sheet of paper on which she was listing my defects, and send me away. She led me over to the EDM for a brief warm-up, after which we descended into the Pit.

I am not a confident fellow in this atmosphere, as you might imagine. So, you might think that having an actual uniformed P.T. at my side would lend a certain credibility to my efforts: You know, a guy working with a P.T. might actually know what he’s doing; he might be serious about this stuff, a force to reckoned with. That sort of thing.

Or not. I mostly worried that Robyn was attracting a bit more attention (Duh!) than I would normally receive — which, of course, added a certain amount of pressure to avoid humiliation.

And that turned out to be not that big of a deal, since she didn’t seem at all convinced that I could lift much of anything. At the bench press, she started me with a naked barbell. Same with the barbell squat. I was prepared to be indignant and slap on a couple hundred pounds and reel off four or five sets without breaking a sweat, until she pointed out how bad my form was and the myriad ways I could injure myself if I didn’t learn how to lift properly.

When I showed her my deadlift form, in fact, she was so alarmed that she found an altogether different piece of equipment — a rectangular frame with barbell-like protrusions on which the plates sat and handles on the sides, all of which is designed to be lifted from inside the frame — and urged me in no uncertain terms to abandon my former approach.

I was off on my overhead press, as well: slightly bending my knees and opening my chest kept my belly from unwanted exposure. And she showed me a more effective way to do tricep extensions (laying on the bench).

Only my beloved biceps curls seemed to be in working order.

Humility is not a bad thing.

It’s a good way to cope with one’s limitations. And I have a fairly robust capacity for humility, in my humble opinion. But I have to say that I left the gym that night feeling every one of my 57 years. Not decrepit. Not ancient. Not completely irrelevant in a youth-crazed, age-phobic, botox-and-silicon-injected world. Just kind of old, kind of pathetic.

Which, of course, I am. Especially when you consider all the elements required to create a serious competitive athlete — which I am not. My young P.T. offered me a tiny glimpse into the discipline, intelligence and devotion real athletes need, and her advice will no doubt make my middling workouts more productive — and my body less injury-prone (thank you for that). But at some point during Wednesday’s session I realized that the distance between me and a real athlete can best be measured in light years. And that made me feel a faint nostalgia for those years so long ago when I might have considered myself up to this sort of challenge.

(Disclaimer: The above is a slightly delusional form of nostalgia. I’ve never been a particularly disciplined athlete, except maybe in my youthful fantasies.)

In fact, I’m going to skip the gym tonight and take a leisurely bicycle ride home. I probably won’t even break a sweat. Next week, I’ll get back at it. My P.T. says I should try out the spinning bike. Break out of my routine. I just might take her up on that.

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