September 17, 2008

Running on a Treadmill and Going Nowhere

Preeti Sharma

I see them everywhere. Flat abs, buffed arms, broad shoulders. These are the new generation gym bodies - chest puffed out (no, not just the guys), stomach sucked in, 36”-24”-36” is a new meaning altogether.

I start to panic. I am definitely slim, but I can’t really say I am perfectly toned. And I downright refuse to be the only un-toned body around. I re-think my health mantra which, when simply put, is eat absolutely everything, drink almost everything and walk like a manic. Only it now seems terribly inadequate. So I join a top gym. I pay for 6 months.

Day 1: I walk in, terrified. Everyone looks at the new girl. But I keep my eyes firmly on the floor. I spy the trainer and head straight towards him.

”What do I need to do?” I ask.

”Let’s start with measuring your fat content”, he says.

I personally think, it is much better to hear someone say “let’s start a root canal”, compared to “let’s measure your fat content.”

He gets a strange vernier caliper-like gadget and then asks me to hold out various parts of my body, which he then proceeds to pinch and measure. Finally, after great mathematical calculations, he looks at me.

“21”, he says.
“What’s that”, I ask, wondering if he is really asking my age.
That’s your fat content, he says.
I am thoroughly disgusted. 1/5 of my body is FAT? I would have pinned the figure closer to 10%.

”It’s actually not too bad”, he says, quickly adding, “for a girl.”

I am started on the basic treadmill.

”Don’t touch the red button, don’t touch the yellow switch, don’t touch the keys on your left side”, he says.

I keep my hands firmly on the handle and don’t touch anything. I am walking at a happy pace and am thinking this gym thing is not so bad. No wonder everyone is doing it.

He comes back 2 minutes later.

You have not increased speed, he barks. This from the man who just told me not to touch anything.

He increases my speed intermittently and after 5-odd minutes I begin to feel weak limbed and light headed. I touch the only button he’s given me permission to – STOP. The treadmill comes to a blissful stop and I tumble off, so glad to be on non-moving ground.

Just as my eyes are beginning to focus again, he puts me on the cross trainer. Now this is the mother of all torture in my humble and limited experience. It requires extreme coordination, great stamina and lots of courage. I lack all of the above, but step on it nonetheless. He starts it up again, after giving me a list of technical instructions I do not understand. 45 seconds is all it took for me to jump off in a state of extreme agony – my throat is so dry I cannot swallow, my legs are burning, my stomach is paining and my lungs just collapsed. I lie on the floor (everyone is looking at the new girl sprawled on the floor) and I wonder for the 100th time – Why?

He gives me a squirt of water. I can catch only half of it in my mouth, my eyes are not focusing too well, you see. I am wondering how to slink away unnoticed when he says that I should do 15 minutes on the exercise bike and then stop for the day. I pedal at 0 resistance and at 1.5 km per hour – it is all I could do without fainting.

Day 2: My body aches, but my self-appointed personal trainer calls to tell me that I have to come in today.

I show up. I survive 8 minutes on the treadmill, steer clear of the cross trainer, and do 20 minutes on the cycle. He is not amused to see the resistance level and tells me to be more sincere. I tell him I just need to be able to breathe right now.

Day 3 – 10: Things get better. I am no longer on the verge of death, but I still look it as I step off the cross trainer, wet hair plastered across my forehead, sweat dripping off my chin, T-shirt clinging to me in the worst way possible.

Day 15: I am wrong. Without warning, he introduces me to resistance training. I am shown a series of exercises on some very scary looking machines.

”I’ll start you on the lightest weight”, he says.

”Ok”, I say. It’s what I say when I have no option.

1 rep, 2 reps and the arms just won’t lift it for a 3rd rep. The mind is willing, but the body flatly refuses, non negotiable. He sees me struggling and for the first time I see humanity in him.

”I’ll take off all weights and you do these exercises with only the base ok”, he says.

Have you any idea how strange it is to see someone do weights with no weights on? 3 people stopped to ask me if I knew the machine had no weights. One sweet boy offered to put 10 kgs on. “NO”, I screamed and he backed away.

Day 16: My muscles ache so bad, I lie in bed and take a painkiller. Someone tells me that I need to move, otherwise the muscles will tighten and hurt more. So I take a slow walk to the fridge and get a tub of ice cream. Except for the pain, it is a great gym-free day.

Day 17 – 40: My trainer and I no longer look at each other with dread. He is actually quite sweet when he isn’t trying to get me to do 3 sets of 30 reps each. He spends a lot of time these days telling me all about his dental problems. I even sneak a peek at his molars, all the while holding a 10 kg dumbbell in one hand. He is a brave man, I’m thinking.

Have I lost weight with all this exercise? No.

Have I lost fat? Probably not, though I have not asked him to measure my fat again. I am probably down to 20%.

Day 55: I am playing tennis after 2 years. After being in a closed, air-conditioned gym for 2 months, this feels like heaven. I can feel the breeze on my face. I can smell only my sweat and no one else’s. And then it happens. A bad backhand and I feel a sharp pull and a burning pain in my back. The Doctor says I’ve pulled a very large muscle, could be a sprain, no lifting heavy weights, no excessive pressure on the legs, no aggressive twisting at the waist. In other words, no gym for a significant duration. I could have kissed him!

When I tell my trainer this, he tries to hide his joy. He tells me that I should take a couple of months off and then re-start all the way from the beginning again. I say no, I am not that masochistic by nature.

I don’t know who is happier at this news, him or me.

As for that perfectly toned body? I’ll get it someday, just not today.

About the Author Preeti Sharma is a dentist, studied & practised in the US. She writes as a hobby, but her sense of fun is no hobby, it is serious. She writes on www at Tale End Of The Stick.

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