Lessons from the Gym, Part IV

I’m coming to the end of my first full month of going to the gym every morning, and I’m pleased to say that I haven’t yet exploded, died of boredom, or gotten slapped by female club members for looking at their backsides. And I even enjoy going to the gym in the morning now. The experience is actually reminding me a little bit of the online role-playing game World of Warcraft in that there are an astonishing number of things to do to improve your character. At the gym, the character you’re improving is you.

NUANCES OF THE BODY

When I first started going to the gym (you can read about this in part 1, part 2, and part 3), my initial impression was that there were only a few things you could do there:

  1. Cardio
  2. Weight Training
  3. Classes
  4. Basketball or Boxing

That is not a particularly impressive feature list, and I was hoping that the sheer novelty of exercise would be enough for me to get hooked somehow. In hindsight, I can see that this was my mind, not my body, making the assessment. My mind is thinking, “Hey, what interesting things can be done for my intellectual amusement? Oh, just those 4 things.”

As it turns out, the rest of my body has found plenty of stimulation in just the cardio room. Every one of the machines there provides a different physical experience. The Stepper machine, which I used to hate, is actually a lot of fun because it reminds me of when I was a kid standing on the pedals of my my single-speed bike, flying up a hill as fast as I could. The various vintages of Elliptical machines all have slightly different motions. The feeling of expending energy, sweating, and pacing myself at a sustainable level is surprisingly enjoyable. My mind shuts off, and I feel more grounded with the world. It’s really weird!

Also, I’m becoming aware of the number of muscles in my body. Each muscle has its own feel and use, and I’m enjoying the process of figuring out how my body works through the use of these various machines. It’s like a giant puzzle!

WEIGHT TRAINING

I also started the resistance training, starting off with four machines that worked groups of major muscles:

  • the chest press – pushing straight out from the chest
  • the shoulder press – pushing straight up from the shoulders
  • the lat pulldown – pulling straight down to the chest
  • the leg press – pushing out from the legs

These apparently are exercises I should do every day after warming up, though I find them a bit boring except for the lat pulldown, which just feels good. After working with the basic four, the trainer introduced me to more specific machines the isolate specific muscles:

  • pectoral fly – closing your arms kind of like a book
  • bicep and tricep – I forget the exact name, but it works the back and front muscles of your arms. Two machines.
  • leg extensions – Same thing, except for the front and back of your legs
  • Hip abductors – for the inside and outside of your legs.

I mentioned to the trainer that I wasn’t really enjoying any of these machines, so today he showed me some machines that worked slightly differently. It was in a different part of the club, and the machines seemed targeted toward people who were more advanced in their body strength training. For one thing, the machines tended to be clustered in groups that worked the same muscles in slightly different ways. Also, these machines had independent arm motions and required a bit more concentration to do things right. The trainer showed me equivalents for the various machines I had been using before, so now I have some variations to experience.

I also was introduced to a couple other benches that worked my back and front “core” areas. One of them allowed me to do some kind of crunch while suspending myself in the air with my arms. This one was kind of fun, but my upper body strength is a little weak, so I kept sagging lower and lower. The other bench locked my lower legs while facing forward and down, and straightening my back caused my entire upper body to rise. I think this works the lower back. This one I liked because it reminded me of dolphins bursting out of the water.

OVERALL PROGRESS

I’ve lost about 10 pounds since starting, and my cardiovascular endurance is improved considerably. I’m still pretty flabby, but overall I am feeling a little stronger and looking a tad thinner. I think what I am enjoying the most is just getting sweaty in the morning and getting the heart rate up. I get sleepy afterwards.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m sleeping more. I may have been overdoing it slightly, so I’m pushing myself less. I’ve also been going to sleep too late every night, so when I go to the gym I’m slightly under-rested, which probably is why I tend to nap afterwards.

I’m still figuring out the pacing of things, and trying to get used to the weight training part. At the very least, I do know I like the 30 minutes of cardio in the morning, listening to music. I’ve tried listening to some podcasts, but they don’t really help keep me moving the way regular music does. There is one exception: Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. It has the energy and the good humor that keeps me engaged.