- Aging -

Giving Boot Camp the Boot

In last month’s blog I wrote about joining a Life Time Fitness boot camp class at the ripe old age of 62.

Boot camp.jpg
Photo courtesy of Flickr

I had hoped to keep you apprised of my progress, which I’m afraid isn’t going to happen. There will be no Hallmark TV movie or AARP magazine story to herald my success. After two weeks, I had to give boot camp the boot.

I had to admit I couldn’t do it.

A former pro football player named Walker Lee teaches the class that I joined at the Highland Park club. Outside of class, Walker comes off a low-keyed, quiet kind-of -guy. But when it comes to boot camp, watch out: He’s definitely in touch with his inner Attila the Hun.

Boot camp lasts three months, and takes place four evenings a week. Did I really think I could defy getting older by subjecting myself to such intense physical activity? What was I trying to prove?

After my first week, I was ready to report Walker to Amnesty International. Still, I refused to give up, reasoning that it would get easier as I built my stamina. Besides, I liked going home all sweaty and totally exhausted, knowing I could eat anything for dinner — if I only had the strength to open the refrigerator door.

For almost three weeks, a Civil War raged between my Mind and Body. While my Mind said, “You can do it,” my body countered, “No you can’t.” In the end, my Body planted the flag of victory. As Walker was chasing me around a large exercise ball, prodding me with the words, “Go Johnny go! Faster Faster!”, I felt something snap in my left leg.

As I limped to the side of the exercise room, Walker asked me if I was OK. When I told him what had just happened, he said, “Oh, you pulled a hammy.”

A hammy? Now how cute is that? Sounds like something Kermit the Frog would say to Miss Piggy.

Because I pulled my “hammy” on a Thursday night, I figured I’d have Friday and the weekend for it to heal. I’d be back in boot camp on Monday, raring to go. Maybe if I were a few decades younger, that might have been the case. When Monday came, my ability to walk was up there with James Caan after Kathy Bates hobbled him in Misery. I wonder if she knows Walker?

After a week of missing classes, I went to see Walker, who was working at the club’s information desk. “What should I do?” I asked him. “I don’t want to quit boot camp, but my hamstring isn’t healing.” I expected Walker to go into full drill instructor mode: “Johnny, you’re a wimp! Get back to class, but first drop and give me twenty!” Instead, he said: “Only you can answer that question.” Great, now he’s channeling Yoda from Star Wars.

It took a few weeks, but I finally did find the answer to my question. My body was right: The degree of physical exercise that boot camp offered was too much for me. But my mind was right too: As we get older, we need to challenge ourselves. In the great American spirit of compromise, I made a truce. I quit boot camp, but I didn’t quit exercising. I learned that when it comes to fitness, if one thing doesn’t work for you, there are a million alternatives that do.

And so, I am now doing kettlebells.

So far, so good. After an hour of doing cleans, jerks and snatches with a cannonball-like object, I still leave class worn out. But not so much that I can’t open the refrigerator door.

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