I am moving up the stairs as quickly as I can, motivated by the vision of DYT’s taut buttocks ahead of me. If my lady ass can become even half of that, it will be worth it. DYT is much faster than me on the stairs, which makes sense because she is 18 years my junior. At least, that’s my current excuse, and I think it’s a good one. My legs feel like sandbags and my heart is pounding. Sweat pours down my face, while mosquitos easily pierce my lululemons to taste my sweetness. I repeatedly and ineffectively swat at them. My awkwardness only increases when we return to DYT’s studio, for there I grunt and pant while doing three sets of Turkish get-ups. When it is finally over, she hauls out the special “FFG sweat mop” and starts to clean up while I lie motionless, not feeling very apologetic.
I recently re-hired DYT as my personal trainer—she prepped me for my figure show a few years ago—and I am loving it. DYT is even more delightful now, particularly because she makes me engage in activities that I do not enjoy. Let me rephrase that; I do enjoy them but am not very good at them. Among many other things, I suck at the following: running steep stairs, rope work, tire jumping, anything to do with balance. DYT mostly trains for my weaknesses, rarely for my strengths. For instance, I have a crazy strong upper body, finding the push-up portion of a tabata drill to be a break, during which my heart rate decreases. I shit you not. Romanian split squats on the bosu, on the other hand, kick my bite-riddled ham hocks! So it is good that the day after I do heavy chest with PDDs and teach a Le Tigre-themed spin class—two things at which I excel—I am put right back in my place when DYT pulls out the agility ladder. I strongly believe that it is always a mistake to repeatedly do that which is convenient or comfortable, both at the gym and in everyday life. Dear FFG devotees, are you ready for a pompous lecture on this theme? Don’t worry, it’s coming. Just sit back and relax.
I remember the first time that I ever worked out at a gym. I was 23 years old, in my second year of a demanding PhD program at the University of Rochester. I had previously resisted organized exercise, recalling how my mother had done something called “the frog” with other middle aged ladies in an effort to remain thin for her misogynist husband. “Fuck that shit,” I angrily declared, mistakenly associating all scheduled fitness classes with anti-feminist weakness. Everything changed when I was living in Rochester, New York, during the early 1990s. Completely on my own and mired in poverty, I was surrounded by people who were generally much older and better educated than me. Facing the most difficult and stressful challenge of my existence, I decided to respond positively by finding an outlet. I somewhat randomly joined a group exercise class that was subsidized by the university, and run by a feisty young woman named Denise. Like many other Americans, she had enlisted in the army to finance her education. Denise was in charge of the boot camp training for fellow ROTC recruits, which is why she delivered up a class full of jumping jacks and squats, instead of the Jane Fonda bouncy dance crap that I had been expecting. My body had literally never experienced such intense movement before; I could barely handle five minutes of this activity without stopping to catch my breath. Oh how Denise laughed at the look of sheer horror on my face. My disgust was not, however, inspired by her drill-sergeant commands; it stemmed from my sudden realization that I was hideously out of shape. I was in fact quite thin at the time, weighing something like 115 pounds, a condition related to my lack of food money rather than any concentrated effort. That year I had to sell my cassette collection—remember that ancient technology?—and almost all of my clothes just to pay the rent. I was hungry and sick throughout the school year, something I now attribute to my lack of fitness and not just my pissy-pants refusal to apply for a student loan. I had decided that death was preferable to debt. I foolishly almost got my wish, but was pleased by the sacrifices I had made when I started a tenure-track position at the age of 28 without owing any money to anyone. Still, my shockingly low starting salary soon reversed this situation, and I quickly racked up grocery bill charges on my credit card, forcing me to claw my way upward toward financial security all over again. Now my alert readers might be wondering: “How did we move from discussing fitness to addressing FFG’s past economic challenges? Is there a point, other than her as-usual abject narcissism and penchant for melodrama?” Why yes there is a point, my lovelies, and it is this: My more general experiences of consistent hard work, gradual gains, and periodic set backs were mirrored in my fitness journey. [Aside: I fucking hate the word journey but am pressed for time today, so we will all just have to get over it].
I am always surprised to hear people say that they avoid participating in group exercise classes or hiring a personal trainer because they are “too unfit.” I can only assume that they would rather expire from heart failure, endure continual fatigue, or suffer from chronic back pain than risk displaying weakness. I don’t understand this position, as I responded rather well to my own public humiliation all those years ago. I remember thinking: “I will show Denise; I will get stronger.” I masochistically liked that I was a useless piece of shit at the gym since it counteracted my over-confident attitude with regard to my intelligence and academic abilities. It is rewarding to work hard for something instead of smoking pot in the school yard every day during grade ten and still making the honour roll. During my second mostly horrible year of grad school, I attended Denise’s class three times a week; after three months I could get through the entire hour without taking a break. I was officially addicted to exercise, and have never stopped working out since then. I have also never stopped thinking about Denise, her lean little body, and shouty military voice. At the time, I had quite a lady crush on her, especially after I saw her waiting tables at UNO Pizza in the mall. I wonder where she is now? Maybe Afghanistan.
And now an interjection for my darling readers: I would appreciate it if you would tell me about your first time, preferably in lurid detail as a comment on this post.
I will finally give you what you deserve, channeling Denise’s commando presence to kick your asses, should such a kicking be currently needed for any reason. Ahem. Here goes: Pursuing discomfort is a worthwhile endeavour. Last week’s post discussed mandatory comfort, including how it is framed as a false act of rebellion that ultimately enables the status quo. While discomfort does not occur outside of power structures, it is nevertheless more worthy than the goal of achieving comfort. Discomfort allows more room for unexpected experiences, and for pushing beyond limits instead of adapting to or accepting them. This principle holds for anyone’s personal life, career path, or fitness journey. [Ugh!]. It is admirable to aim high and do the more difficult thing, which will likely involve removing yourself from an unrewarding relationship or changing your career instead of making only a minor adjustment, or—worse yet—simply waiting to see if things get better. Wake up and smell the reality, fuck nuts! When faced with a tough decision, you should never do what seems like the safest, easiest-to-get-out-of-later thing—never choose the low hanging fruit, which is permanently infested with worms. That’s the reason why no one else has picked it, dumb ass. Why gnash your teeth later with regret, downing another tranquilizer as you avoid facing the truth of your failed and disappointingly sad life, trying to find someone else to blame when it was your own damned fault? Just grow a set of lady, man, or trans balls right now and do the more challenging thing instead. Believe in yourself and your greater abilities. In the meantime, I will be practicing what I preach. Stay tuned for what I hope will be shocking and exciting updates about some ongoing changes in my own life.