Thursday, December 31, 2009

Queen of the Gym

If you follow the TV show "Bones" you are familiar with the phrase, "King of the Lab." It means you've risen to the top; that at least temporarily, you've done the best job of anyone at your work. You get the T-shirt.

I am officially proclaiming M "Queen of the Gym" for her extraordinary work with me last Tuesday, after which I have been sorer that I ever remember being at any time and for any reason in my entire freakin' life. It hurts to get out of the car. It hurts to bend. It hurts to roll over in bed. It hurts to sit quietly in a chair with my arms folded, being reverent. She has definitely found some of my muscles that must have been wondering, "What about me? Don't you care enough to abuse me, too?" She cares. Passionately.

Also, I am officially changing her blog persona from this:

To this:

Don't thank me, M. You earned it, fair and square.

I also have to just mention that M seems to have her own favorite torture device, sort of like J has "drop sets." M likes lunges. A lot. Apparently she also likes seeing old fat guys fall over.

This is what a lunge looks like when someone who is strong and thin and graceful does it:

And this is what it looks like when I do it:

That's what it feels like, too.

Well, I have to go get ready for my hour with M. Should be fun. I'll bet she can't wait to show me "The ATOMIC Lunge." Can't wait.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


He's in charge, he's the boss, the head man, the top dog, the big cheese, the head honcho...

-- Rex Kramer, Airplane!

They say near-death experiences heighten your appreciation of life, your family, the things that really matter. I now know that to be true. Because J2 left for a couple of weeks in Australia, lying on the beach, shrimp on the barbie, that sort of thing. A well deserved rest after being beaten up by his English professors, I say. But of course, the question remained, who would then put me through my paces? As it turned out M was out of town, too, so I got to work with J himself this week.

My initial impression of J was that he really knew his business, and that impression was confirmed this week. In working with me, he discovered that my slow-twitch muscle fibers, the ones used for long-haul, endurance-type activity, were even worse off than my fast-twitch muscle fibers, the ones used for quick bursts of intense activity. Regular readers of this blog (Hi, Honey!) will recognize this as the reason that 10 is a much better number than 20. And so, J decided we needed to build up a lot more of those slow-twitch fibers, which means tearing down those current, wimpy slow twitch fibers to make way for the new ones.

And that means drop-sets.

For those of you unacquainted with medieval torture techniques, drop sets consist of doing a set at your usual weight (you know, the weight where you almost can’t do the last ones), then dropping the weight 10 or 20 pounds and doing another set to exhaustion, and then perhaps dropping the weight yet again and doing a third set to exhaustion. As body builder and coach Dane Fletcher observes,

“Drops sets are very effective for two reasons. First, they require the muscle group to exert force using both the fast twitch fibers (from the heavy initial repetitions) and the slow-twitch muscle fibers (from the final high repetitions). Additionally, the overall volume of blood that is moved into the muscle group - the "pump" - fills that region of the body with oxygen- and protein-rich blood, which makes the muscle grow.”

And there you have the two basics of my near-death experience in a nutshell: 1) ALL of my muscle fibers pretty much got trashed, and 2) it was a much more cardiovascular experience than usual. In short, I was pretty much freakin’ exhausted by the end. During my final set on a pretty low-key exercise, I actually stopped to rest after the first 10, and J told me I was done. I think even he knew I was seeing the bright light, and considering moving toward it.

Now, I was exhausted after J2's first session with me too. As I waited for my wife to come and claim the body, I sat on a bar stool, drooping, with my eyes closed, thinking gray thoughts. But I managed to walk on my own power out to the car to meet her.

Tuesday, in what was likely my most manly and masculine moment yet, my wife came to pick me up and found me lying on the floor with my feet elevated. It might have even seemed that I was moaning a little, but I will continue to insist that it was just heavy breathing. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Yes, it is clear that J knows what he’s doing. The question is, have I fully realized just what I’m doing, yet?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

10 Is My Favorite Number

In order for you to understand the carefully crafted argument of this post, I need to tell you that I'm a numbers guy, a math teacher by trade, and I've already explained how J2 is an English major (OK, admittedly he's an English major that could kick the crap out of me if he wanted to, but still....). So when it comes to numbers, I think it's clear which of us has the moral and intellectual authority.

And so, when I voice an opinion about numbers, I would think people would listen. For example, I think 10 is a very good number. A better number than 20, as a matter of fact. 20 is not a number to be trusted; it hangs around on street corners smoking and punching smaller numbers and kicking little old lady numbers. Meanwhile, 10 is back in the 'burbs, mowing lawns, picking up litter, doing its homework, listening to real music, not this stuff that kids are listening to nowadays. 10 has grit. It understands that money doesn't grow on trees, and it wouldn't jump off a cliff if all its friend numbers did. 10 is an Eagle Scout. 10 says "please" and "thank you."

I do not think 20 is a very good number. 20 is Eddie Haskell. 10 is Richie Cunningham. Marsha Brady is 25, but that's another story.

The main point is, that 10 is better than 20.

The first 10 reps are much better than the second 10. And it's the second ten reps that turns 10 into 20. They're rotten. They hurt. I don't like them. But do you think I could convince J2 of that? No way. Not on your life. He'd just spout a bunch of English-major propaganda about the last one being the one that builds, or something, and laugh his evil little laugh, and keep counting. "11, 12, 13. . ." like something in an Edgar Allen Poe story.

On the other hand, 20 is much better than 30. . . .

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cardio a la Carte

Women don't eat.

That is the premise of O. Henry's story, Cupid a la Carte, and I for one believe it.

For those of you unfamiliar with that story I will provide the highlights. Jeff Peters, a con man who traveled the western US in the late 1800's, stumbles upon Mame Dugan serving food in the family restaurant (a big tent, actually) in an Oklahoma boom town. He falls for her, and begins to court her. But she claims she will never marry. The problem is, she's seen too many men and as far as she can tell, they do nothing but eat:

"Do you know what a man is in my eye? He's a tomb. He's a sarcophagus for the interment of Beefsteak-porkchops-liver'nbacon-hamandeggs. He's that and nothing more. For two years I've watched men eat, eat, eat, until they represent nothing on earth to me but ruminant bipeds. They're absolutely nothing but something that goes in front of a knife and fork and plate at the table. They're fixed that way in my mind and memory. I've tried to overcome it, but I can't. . . ."

"But, Mame," says I, "it'll wear off. You've had too much of it. You'll marry some time, of course. Men don't eat always."

"As far as my observation goes, they do. . . ."

"Don't girls ever--" I commenced, but Mame heads me off, sharp.

"No, they don't. They nibble a little bit sometimes; that's all."

Well, anyway, Jeff and another man vie for Mame's favor, but fail because, as Jeff so eloquently puts it, "For twenty-seven years I had been blindly rushing upon my fate, yielding to the insidious lures of that deadly monster, food. It was too late. I was a ruminant biped for keeps." The other man, Ed Collier, eventually makes some headway by starting a 49-day fast. He makes it six days. As he explains to Jeff, on his way to get some dinner, "Twas that girl. I'd give my life for her, but I'd endanger my immortal soul for a beef stew. Hunger is a horrible thing, Jeff. Love and business and family and religion and art and patriotism are nothing but shadows of words when a man's starving!"

Eventually, Jeff leaves town and offers Mame a ride to a neighboring village. They get lost, get caught in a flood, and spend 3 days stranded with no food. Thoughts of food overtake them both, and eventually, without really being aware of it, Jeff speaks his dreams aloud:

I guess I must have had my conscience pretty well inflicted with culinary meditations, for, without intending to do so, I says, out loud, to the imaginary waiter, 'Cut it thick and have it rare, with the French fried, and six, soft-scrambled, on toast.'

Mame turned her head quick as a wing. Her eyes were sparkling and she smiled sudden.

'Medium for me,' she rattles out, 'with the Juliennes, and three, straight up. Draw one, and brown the wheats, double order to come. Oh, Jeff, wouldn't it be glorious! And then I'd like to have a half fry, and a little chicken curried with rice, and a cup custard with ice cream, and--'

So you see, in the end, Mame realized that men must actually get hungry like that all the time, and Jeff won her favor. It's a great story. You should read it. Everyone should read O Henry, as a matter of fact, but that's another blog entry.

I tell you this because as part of my new health regiment, I am on a diet. Lots of protein (builds strong muscles), limited carbs and fat. (Translation: chicken breast and green vegetables. And protein shakes). So I'm hungry some, and like to eat regularly, and I am quite frankly amazed at how lackadaisical my wife and daughters can be about food. As I am dreaming of chimichangas drenched in chile verde, they put another round in the toaster and are good for 6 more hours. I just don't get it.

A ruminant biped am I, for good and all. More's the pity. I don't think I can do any better in ending this than to quote ol' Jeff:

It shows that the little table with the broken-legged caster and the imitation Worcester sauce and the napkin covering up the coffee stains is the paramount issue, after all, instead of the question of immortality or peace between nations.

Amen, brother biped. Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Couch Potato, I

So I worked out again today; this was #4.

The good news is that I got through all 20 reps of the military press the first time, without help.

The bad news is that many other parts of the workout seemed worse than before. Oh, it's true that J2 switches up the routine in an effort to confuse me and keep me from finding out his evil plans. But my general feeling is that today was worse; I was wimpier. I was hoping that I was making a little progress, that things would be easier.

And then, of course, it dawned on me that getting easier isn't part of J2's plans. The plan is to stack a little more on each time so that just when my muscles could handle what he dished out before, he sneaks a little more on and it isn't any easier. Ever.

It reminds me of a method I once heard of to grow potatoes in limited space. See, you get an old tire, put it on the ground, and fill it about half full of soil. Then you plant 3 - 4 potatoes in there and cover it with a little more soil.

The innocent potato then grows greenery above the soil and more potatoes below. Eventually, the greenery sneaks over the top of the tire. At this point, the potato is feeling pretty good about itself. Got some procreation going on, photosynthesis going well, everything looking up.

Then, you stack another tire on top and fill it with soil.

This is very discouraging to the potato.

"Crap," the potato says.

But the potato dutifully begins to grow, more greenery up and more potatoes below. Eventually its greenery is peeking out over the top of the second tire, and potatoes are filling in the soil below.

"Well," the poor potato says, "It was tough but it was worth it. Multiplying, replenishing, doing everything a young ambitious potato plant should be doing."

Another tire. More soil.

"Dammit," the potato says.

Well, you get the idea.

The Innocent and Abused Potato Plant

It seems like a great way to get potatoes, yes. But the poor potato plant is suffering a nervous breakdown by the time it's all over.

This is what J2 has in store for me. Another scoop of dirt every few days. There is no rest for the couch potato.


Just My Luck

Well, they say the family that lifts together, uhh, . . . .sifts together. No.
The family that pumps together uhh, ... jumps lumps together. No.

The family that goes into a gym and lifts weights together until they want to puke, uhh, ... well, they're more likely to keep it up. Or so the theory goes.

So the Divine Ms B is joining me on my odyssey. I think that's nice, actually. It really will make it easier if we're both trying to spend some time there. It will be more pleasant to go together.

So the Divine Ms B has met with J, who has worked up an exercise program, and suggested she lose about, oh, say, 17.3% as much weight as I have to, and gotten her started working with her own personal trainer. We'll refer to the personal trainer in this case as M.

Only here's the trouble, apparently:

J2, my personal trainer

M, my wife's personal trainer

When I called the Divine Ms B after her first session to see how she felt, she said, "Oh, I was great. I really enjoyed it." Huh?!? ENJOYED it?!? I was a long way from "enjoyed it" at the end of my first session. I was still a long way from "really hated it"-- it would have had to improve some to get there. I was more like, "survived it," as I lashed out irrationally and tried to slap the person who asked. (I would have failed, of course, because I couldn't move my arms.)

I can see it all: as I sit there, struggling through my last set of 20 military presses, and J2 says, "Ha! You feelin' that? That feel good?", barely suppressing his evil cackle, M is over there with my wife, saying, in hushed tones, "Does that feel fluffy enough? It should sort of tickle. Careful, now."

It ain't fair.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Day 2 with J2

OK, I was feeling pretty proud of myself yesterday, because I wasn't so sore, and because (at least this is my theory) the endorphins that must have flooded my body made me forget what last Tuesday was really like.

In fact, I was sorer this morning than I was yesterday, sore enough to feel not quite so cocky about things. Sore enough to know that today's hour with J2 wasn't going to be much fun.

And it wasn't a lot of fun. Three things stand out in my mind:

1. I was much sorer today after the workout than last time. We're not talking "I got some battle wounds to tell about" sore. We're talking "I hope that young woman in the wheelchair will hold the door open for me" sore.

2. J2 asked me today if I realized that when I was lifting weights I was really destroying muscle tissue so that it would be rebuilt. I did in fact know that, but compared to what I know now, what I knew before was purely academic, ivory tower stuff. For the first time, I lifted when I was already really sore, and I felt each individual muscle cell screaming and cursing and exploding.

So now I understand the process at deeper and much more painful level.

3. I get the distinct feeling that if our goal is to build a lot of new muscle, we're just getting started with building the stuff that will support the main construction. To continue the metaphor, we're just moving in the trailer and the porta-potties, scoping out somewhere to set up the crane. That means I've only lived through the set-up phase. It's gonna get worse. I'm glad I got a few days to rest up.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

2-hydroxypropanoic acid

"Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information." - Michael Scott, "The Office," Season 3, Episode 18.

The issue of this post, of course, is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which I should certainly have today, in spades. Popular belief holds that lactic acid building up in the muscles causes this, but as I learned just this morning from Wikipedia, "
this is a misconception as it has been shown elevated levels of lactic acid rarely persist after an hour of rest."

Boy, do I feel like a sheep. I took contrast showers not once but twice yesterday, acting on the theory that they help get the lactic acid out of the muscles. Now I find out that lactic acid isn't even an issue. Apparently that was gone from my muscles before I even got done panting yesterday.

But here's the thing: I think they worked.

I have known DOMS before. I have been nearly incapacitated by DOMS, brought on by my own ego. You see, I was not always a four-eyed, out-of-shape fat person. No indeed. Back in the day, I was a four-eyed, out-of-shape skinny person. If today my portrait is reminiscent of a snowman,

back then it was more like a stick figure.

Anyway, in my second year of college I got a new roommate who I'd gone to high school with, and one day he decided we should go lift weights. I wanted to be a good ol' boy, too, so I went along. And I kept up with him, because honestly he didn't look to be in that much better shape than I was. I wasn't about to come off looking like the wimp I was.

The next day I could barely move. DOMS had come home to roost in a big way. I have lifted since, but never with such reckless abandon. So believe me when I tell you I know DOMS, and what I've got today isn't it.

So maybe the contrast showers helped anyway, lactic acid or no. No less an authority than Wikipedia tells us that,
"Some recommend contrast showers as a treatment, alternating between cold and hot water; as it may increase circulation." Whatever it was, I'm glad I did it. Because at least physically, I don't feel too bad today. Amazing.

Tomorrow at 12, I will feel differently. But so far, so good.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Session 1

If I had chosen to report on my first training session soon after it ended, say about five hours ago (aside from the fact that I would not have been able to move my arms to type, or focus my eyes) I would have told you that it was even worse than I had feared.

As I sat contemplating the experience and waiting for the Divine Ms B to come claim the body, I wished I had thought to weigh myself before I started. I reasoned that if I could somehow compensate for the weight of the sweat I so prodigally left on every surface of the gym, I could actually scientifically establish the masses of my Self Esteem and my Will to Live, since both were completely absent from my body by the end of the session.

J assigned J2 to be my personal trainer. My early thinking was that J2 is a likable young man, who laughed at all my self-deprecating jokes and kept up a jolly banter with me while I struggled through the routines. It is amazing how he can talk and count to 20 at the same time; probably a necessary skill in his job. At the beginning of the hour I really admired this numerical multi-tasking. Toward the end, I have to admit, it wasn't as much fun.

Another thing I have to say about J2 is that his sense of humor sort of disappeared as we progressed through the hour. As just one example, when we were about 3 minutes away from the full 60, and I was wishing for death, he said to me, "Now, lie down here on your back and we'll just finish off with some crunches." See, that was hilarious. It was a perfect opportunity for him to look at me and say, "Psyche!" or "Punked!" or "Gotcha!" or something. He might even have gotten a smile out of me. But no. Such was the absolute degradation of J2's sense of humor that he actually expected 20 crunches out of me. Twice. (Disclosure statement: It could be he only got 35 out of me. I can't say for sure whether I did 20 or just 15 on the second set; my mind was busy plotting revenge, and I had long since quit listening to his infernal counting.)

Of course, I understand now that I've had time to rehydrate and think a little. It turns out that J2 is a university student at a certain local university where I happen to be a professor. Now we are not at all in the same fields, mine being mathematics education and his being comparative literature. We seldom would even walk through each others' buildings. But J2 made the mistake of admitting that he's going through a perfect storm of papers and projects being due right now, and even indicated that he might be a little frustrated with some of his professors. So along comes this nondescript fat guy, a PROFESSOR with pitchfork and barbed tail and everything, the Good Dr. Effigy, just begging, it seems, to be punished on behalf of his entire profession. I'm sure J2's feeling a lot better about school tonight.

On the other hand, my students will likely suffer for his actions tomorrow in class. I will walk in, wincing at my sore muscles, and there will be 20 little J2's looking up at me. Wow. And me with a midterm left to grade, and a final exam to write. This can't end well.

Me, as seen by J2. Or J2, as seen by me.

Anyway, I took a hot-cold-hot-cold-hot-cold-hot shower, which is supposed to pump some of the lactic acid out of my muscles, ate a turkey sandwich, and went to work, and now I'm feeling better. Tomorrow will tell how well the shower worked. J2 told me I'd pretty much hate him tomorrow. We'll see.

I have another session scheduled Thursday. I'm still planning on going.

We, Who Are About to Lift, Salute You

OK, it's not like my whole life is flashing before my eyes. But this is definitely weird. I started this blog to record progress, actually. But a few whimpers, like this one, will probably find their way onto its fabled pages, too.

T minus 45 minutes. See ya on the other side.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

And Thus It Begins

OK, it's been a long time since I read the Odyssey in high school. And I admit that I get Odysseus mixed up with Jason and the Argonauts, who were looking for the Golden Fleece or the Holy Grail or something. There's probably a little bit of Oedipus mixed in there, too. Senior English kind of all mashes together in my mind.

But I know an odyssey when I see one, and boy howdy am I starting one now.

I went to see J yesterday on the advice of my surgeon. My surgeon has seen an MRI of my back, and can see the writing on the wall, so he sent me to talk to J.

J is a personal trainer.

Yes, I know, ME and a personal trainer. It boggles the mind, staggers the imagination, makes our heads hurt, the phrase "personal trainer" when the "person" in question is me. But nonetheless the fact is: J is setting up a personalized program of exercise and food choice that will transform my life and hopefully my body.

(I will pause here to explain to those who don't know me why this concept is so difficult to grasp, and it can best be done by stealing shamelessly from one of my heroes, Daniel Pinkwater. He once described how to draw of a picture of him and my version of it would go something like this: "Draw a big round circle. Then draw a little circle sitting on top of the big circle. Put some glasses on the little circle. Put a little mustache under the glasses." Hopefully you get the picture. If not, and you happen to know the Homestar Runner crew, think Strong Sad.)

Anyway, I had my evaluation yesterday. For part of it, J put me in front of a mirror with my shirt off and explained what we were going to work on, and how things would change. He was pretty cool about it. I could tell he was trying hard to think of some nice, encouraging things to say. "Now, you have to sort of see through the fat, here, but see this muscle group?" or "Well, your bicep has good connection (good connection?!?) but it's a little underdeveloped." or "Well, you've got great calves. If you lost a little of the fat, you could see that." And of course, looking at my midsection, "Well, this is pretty self-explanatory." These comments were occasionally interrupted by comments like, "Wow, I'm really surprised you haven't had more trouble in your lower back." "What's amazing is that you haven't pulled a hamstring, as tight as they are." "Are you sure you're still alive?"

And then he moved my flab around a little to show me how it would look when there were muscles there instead. I must admit I was impressed. He really seemed to know what he was doing, and he claimed he had never had a failure yet. A couple of hard cases (and here, I probably just imagined the sideways glance at my biceps) but never an impossible case. So I left encouraged. Fired up, even.

So -- today, November 26 2009, I'm at 34.1% body fat, that's about 90 lbs worth. J says if I drop 50 lbs, get down to about 212, I'll feel like a "million bucks." I believe him. I'm looking forward to my first session with the weights next Tuesday

I just can't believe I'm doing it.