Monday, March 7, 2011

Busy Body

About four months ago, I embarked on a body-changing adventure which will hopefully lead to positive, lifelong ramifications. Surprise! I'm not talking about pregnancy. Suck on that, pals.

Please pardon that flash of hostility. I blame the hormones. It's just that ever since I announced my pregnancy, I've had this sinking feeling that my new motherhood status is quickly becoming the only thing anyone cares to know about me. Granted, slow-cooking this kid inside my loins is the most important thing I'm doing right now. It makes sense that it's the number one subject that most everyone wants to discuss with me. But I do have a couple of other things going on. Obviously, I still write; it may not make me any money, but I try to treat it like a job (I've never had as much passion for an actual job). Anyone who knows me well enough to bother reading this blog probably gets that. In regard to the rest of my life... though I've touched on the subject in the past, I guess I haven't been entirely forthcoming about the other major use of my time.

I workout. Lots. Certainly not as much as C, the young woman at my gym who first convinced me to get a personal trainer, or T, the trainer who has taught me almost everything I know about fitness. But I've definitely worked out more often in the past four months than I did during the entirety of my 20s. More importantly, I've worked out intensely, using a combination of weight-training and increasingly difficult cardio routines. I push myself, I don't allow many excuses, I willingly look like a fool in front of my more skillful gym-going peers, and sometimes - though not often - I cry from sheer frustration. I'm far from my optimal physical shape (though I'm still unsure of what that is, I know I definitely want a much lower body fat percentage) and I'm still overweight. Nevertheless, I'm enormously proud of what I've accomplished in this time, and I'm excited that this is only the beginning.

I wish I had some simple measure to tell you how far I've come, like, "I've lost twenty pounds!" My weight hasn't changed that much, probably because my muscles are much bigger as a result of, um, usage. I can say that I've moved a comfortable notch down the belt (two notches if I want to hike my jeans up to my waist, which I don't). I now have plenty of breathing room when I button my favorite blazer; there's a third button by the lapel that I just discovered last week! Best of all, I've subtracted 2.5 points from my body fat percentage, and T assured me that such a difference is "huge". I don't know enough to make that assessment on my own, but I trust his judgement.

That trust has been the foundation for all of my progress. I was incredulous the first time T assigned me a mile run on the treadmill. I was okay with every other cardio device, even the upright bike and the stepper, but I feared the treadmill. I had Looney Toons-style visions of being flung through one of the plate glass windows, leaving just a jagged, Tara-shaped outline as a reminder of my prematurely dead self. So when I first got on that treadmill, I very gingerly worked my way up to a 4.2 mph jog. I didn't get thrown, but more impressively, I did the whole mile without stopping or slowing down. I ran into C in the locker room after that and told her the news. I'll never forget what she said. "Tara, you're working hard!" I was just about a month into my new regimen, but that recognition felt like a diploma.

When I spoke to T about it a few days later, he congratulated me, then asked what my mile time was. "That's good, but next time I want you to run fast. I don't care if you slow down to jog or walk, but I want you to go faster. See what your time is then." I did exactly what he said, and knocked no less than five minutes off my mile time. And I didn't slow down, either.

T has taught me so many exercises that I simply couldn't do the first time. He included most of those in my assignments anyway, and I just had to trust that I could succeed eventually. The mantra that I run through my mind in these situations is, "The only way there is by trying." I'm surprised by the number of times I've actually gotten "there". My favorite example is the full-body crunch. I think I laughed when T told me how to do it. I was to lay on a weight bench, with my bum near the edge and my legs stretched out in the air. Then I was to hold the edge of the bench and pull my chest and knees together. I've got a lotta leg and I couldn't keep those limbs taut for more than a couple seconds, much less lift them and my upper half into a crunch. T still made it part of a five day workout, which I was supposed to do for four weeks straight.

My first effort to do a set of full-body crunches was humbling. I huffed and puffed as I struggled to hold my balance; I doubt that I got my back even an inch off the bench. I had to look pretty funny to bystanders, but no one laughed, if they noticed at all. Sloppy as my form was, I counted each mangled attempt as a rep and repeated fourteen times. As I tackled each set (I did three total, with sets of dumbbell flies in between), I cared less about how I looked. I was doing my best, as my sweat-drench shirt could attest. I got better at it each week. Even knowing how hard I tried, it seems a miracle that by week four, I could do a solid set of fifteen full-body crunches with a modicum of grace. That makes me proud.

These long-term assignments have been instrumental in getting all that I can from my limited training schedule. I can afford only two training sessions a month. When I signed up for this, I had no expectation that T would provide me with all this detailed homework and I can't really express how much I appreciate it. At first, a twice-a-month consultation seemed like it could be a waste of time. But I've been able to work so much on my own, that I've actually built up three unused training sessions since the last time we met.

About a week and a half ago, the need to meet with my trainer became apparent. I'd known for several days that I was pregnant and of course I'd been wanting a fitness professional's opinion on how I should adjust my regimen. The timing was good, as I'd started to tell my friends and family the big news. I was a little over two weeks into the new assignment - two days of mixed cardio and weights, a 5k run on day three, rest on day four, repeat for six weeks - and then the morning sickness hit. Instead of getting easier, my routines were wiping me out. The running seemed to increase my sense of nausea. I found myself slacking. I skipped working out one day, then again a couple days later, then two days in a row. By the beginning of last week, the almost constant nausea and fatigue left me feeling bonkers. I made myself workout on Monday and though I found myself skipping again on Tuesday, I had to acknowledge that exercise was the only way to restore some of my energy. I was determined to get back on track. I just needed to learn how to tailor my workout to my first trimester symptoms. I guess I needed a kick in the ass, too.

That was the same day I found out C and T no longer work at my gym. I have no idea what the details of that change are (I get the feeling they went out in an awesome blaze of glory, and since I've starred in a couple of those departure stories myself, I can only hope they are well and continuing to enjoy themselves... I have a strong feeling that they are). I wasn't prepared for the initial sense of devastation. Dan could hardly believe my teary-eyed reaction to the text message news. "You did all this work, Tara. You're going to be fine!" Of course the gym would have to provide me with a new trainer - we do have a contract after all - but would that person be willing to give me multi-week homework assignments? Would they get the fact that I came into this clumsy and atrophied, very recently and with a non-specific desire to be stronger and healthier? Would they know anything about training a newly pregnant woman?

I've calmed down in the days since. The gym manager assures me that my new trainer is experienced and educated. We meet on Thursday morning. In the meantime, I will stick with the current assignment, but at a more moderate pace (I most definitely slow down and walk during those 5k runs). I've come to realize that what I actually miss most about C and T is the subtle yet frequent encouragement they offered - the approving smiles when they would see me check in day after day, the high fives and the goofy nicknames ("Hey, Champ" - I've never been a "Champ" before!). Just like working at a job, I workout better on my own. I enjoy the solitude of the run, the silent number-Mississippi timekeeping, the internal mantras that keep me from giving up when my body is screaming, "Enough!" But just like a job, I need to poke my head up every once in a while and see that someone other than me is aware of my progress. In lieu of a stunning and obvious measurement, I need that occasional reassurance that I have made a different person of myself. After all, I'm with me every minute of every day. It isn't always so easy to tell.

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