Before and After

Posted: April 10, 2012 in Health, humor, Life
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Three early mornings a week, I hit the gym. It’s a new habit I’ve been cultivating since the middle of January. I’m the slightly overweight middle-aged chick on the first elliptical machine just past the treadmills, the one whose mini T.V. monitor is always turned off and whose ears are bud-free. It’s not because I’m that focused; I just want to be able to hear any bones break or muscles tear before the excruciating pain gets to my brain.

I warm up by walking the dogs a few miles and when I go to the gym, I start on the elliptical. I finally know how to program it but I consistently miss one little step: entering my weight and age. A minute into the workout, the digital readout reminds me of the omission and I dutifully punch in the numbers after which the screen cheerfully reads, “Weight and age accepted!” I snort amidst the panting. If I accepted my weight and age, I wouldn’t be sweating my ass off in a gym at an hour when across town they’re up making my favorite apple fritters at the Donut Shop.

Aside from the walking thing, which I am obsessively devoted to and have been for years, I’m a slacker when it comes to organized exercise. Prior to this year, the last time I was a gym member, legwarmers and belted leotards were fashionable exercise attire and if anybody asked if you did Pilates, you might have answered, “No, but I tried ‘shrooms once at a keg party.” It’s not exactly a lack of commitment that’s kept me from being a “Body by Somebody”. It’s that starting out in a gym can be so damn intimidating.

My current gym is open 24 hours a day and not knowing what constituted peak hours, I went my first morning at about 6:30 a.m. I walked into a two-story hive of buzzing activity, and as the door closed behind me, I had a sudden urge to run screaming out into the dark parking lot. The scene was worse than I had imagined. Not only was most of the equipment occupied but the place was chockfull of “Afters“.

In the weight loss ad of life, I’m a “Before“. It’s what you start out as when you finally realize that cold mac n’ cheese is not the perfect breakfast food, and that a chin-up isn’t something you hold to get your shirt buttoned. “Afters” run backwards on treadmills without falling down and count zero as both a body fat indicator and the size of their yoga pants. I’ve never been an “After”, but I knew that morning that if I was ever going to stop being a “Before“, I had to waltz into that gym and do what needed to be done. So I sucked in what could reasonably be constricted without causing me to pass out, grabbed a towel and marched to the first elliptical machine.

I stepped on cautiously. If you knew my history of broken bones, torn muscles and strained tendons, you’d understand why I approach anything that sways when you walk on it with trepidation.  Grabbing the arm supports, I waited for the slimming to begin. Half a minute passed before the whip-thin blond on the treadmill next to me paused in her Bionic Woman dash to say,” You need to move your feet back and forth to get it started.”

“Thanks,” I said, flush with embarrassment. I swung my good leg (actually the lesser of my two bad legs) forward and the screen came alive with instructions. I had just settled into a lumbering rhythm and could feel the sweat beading on my forehead when a 20-something with calf muscles like chiseled marble stepped up.

“When it’s busy like this, you’re not supposed to hog the machines. People are waiting,” he said.

I stopped, feeling like an idiot for what was so clearly “Before” behavior. I apologized, and quickly wiped the machine down so he could take his turn. A spot opened up on a nearby recumbent bike and I pedaled for 10 minutes before heading upstairs to use the handful of weight machines I knew how to operate. Twenty minutes later, I was in my parked car texting to my BFF Lynnette (of Wordtabulous fame) about the horrible mistake I’d made in joining a gym.

I didn’t go back for three days. I did my pre-dawn walking as usual, rode my bike at home, lifted some weights and wondered why skinny, fit people had to be so bitchy. They weren’t all BORN “Afters“, were they? Some of them HAD to have started out as “Befores“. So what was their problem?

The more I wondered, the less I cared. I paid my membership dues like everybody else and “Afters” or not, I was using that gym. I now go earlier when traffic is minimal so I can use the equipment as long as I want; I follow an actual routine so I’m not just wandering around asking myself, “Will that machine make my ass smaller?”; and I’ve begun talking to some of the other people who work out the same time I do. Sometimes they even answer me back, though the most I get from the power lifters is a nod and a grunt between reps (it seems like a positive response and even if it isn’t, I’m taking it as one).

So join me and rise up, “Befores” – it’s our time. We’ll worry about “After” when we get there.

  1. Denise says:

    I hear every word you wrote!

  2. You are too hard on yourself, but you describe the experience beautifully and with great humor. “Weight loss ad of life” and “Chin-ups”–hilarious! I, too, eschew the tv and earbuds. We people with the colorful and intricate internal lives don’t need those, but I could sometimes use a notepad to capture a fleeting thought. That would be easier to do on an elliptical than in a kettlebell class, which I have missed for two weeks running. Today’s not looking good either. Keep up the good work, I am glad you are still at it!

    • I am my own drill sergeant. Perhaps it’s the screaming at myself while I’m working out that is scaring other exercisers away? I, too, get some pretty good writing ideas while I’m working out – I carry a recorder with me during the walking but if I’m at the gym, I just continually repeat them in my head in hopes of retaining the idea by the time I get home. You’ll see my progress when I see you for spring/summer retreat!

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