Friday, December 3, 2010

Abdominal Muscle Building and Other Lessons in Humility

When it comes to physical fitness, I guess I'm sort of like a baby - a rusty, aged baby. I've never been "good" at fitness, but I've also been lucky to avoid any serious, long-term-impact maladies. My personal trainer, a young man named T, seemed surprised that I signed up for his services without some dire impetus, like an injury or an illness. "No allergies, never broke any bones, nothing I need to know about?" he asked.


"So you're perfect?"

Ha! Sure, except for the fact that I have no aptitude for these workouts. I never played sports as a child (this culture of music lessons and team sports and other after-school activities just wasn't a thing when I was a kid; most of the children I knew just watched TV and played with toys). I went through the minimal motions in gym class and my harried teachers did their best to encourage a greater effort in me, but I was stubborn. I was sure that if I couldn't get a certain exercise right the first time that I would never succeed, so I never tried. The academic part of school was so easy for me, I didn't understand that trying is an essential part of learning.

As a thirty three year old woman struggling to get through basic activities like balancing on one leg while side-stretching the other, I've gained a new perspective on those old school days. Now I see that I viewed school more as an arena for recognition than an institute for learning. I just wanted other people to think I was smart and to reward me for it. That attitude carried me through high school (though my know-it-all indifference earned me some pretty awful grades during the last two years) and community college, until I hit a humbling wall called The University of Michigan. All "hail to the victors" obnoxiousness aside, few can succeed at UM without concentrated effort.

I don't regret dropping out of UM, but I do regret the attitude that set me up to fail. Fortunately, I'm not big on regrets. All I can do now is be a better person, and try. It isn't easy on my ego. I mostly enjoy my sessions with T, but this past Monday nearly took me to my limit. I know I looked like a complete ass, trying to do this exercise with my sweaty t-shirt riding up my back while my flabby belly dangled over my pants -

The worst was trying to do stomach crunches on a weight lifting bench. I couldn't even master the at-rest form, much less the crunch itself. I'm always a little embarrassed when T counts my sad and mangled attempts as legitimate reps, but what else can we do? Only through much diligent "wrong" will I ever get these things right.

I find some satisfaction in the torn-muscle pain that I feel later. I must be doing something useful for my body if my belly hurts when I cough. Sometimes it's just so hard to imagine that I will ever be able to do a proper crunch or push-up, but I know that I can and eventually will. Honestly, I've never worked so hard to be good at something for which I have no talent... yet. I must remember to always give myself the benefit of a "yet".

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