Monday, December 1, 2014

I Jump on a Box

When winter settles in for the long haul, well, yuck. Days are shorter, darkness comes early and stays well into the morning; the ground turns to mud or slushy snow--and I gain weight. I then spend spring, summer, and fall trying to lose those pounds I gained, only to face those pesky pounds yet again come the next winter. It's a vicious cycle that has had me bouncing around like a pinball for several years now, and I decided it was time to get off this pony ride.

To shake things up and turn my winters around, I joined our local gym, Bodyworks. Egads, the dreaded gym! Hauling a gym bag everywhere. Wet towels and gym clothes in the car which get forgotten on laundry day (dammit!!!). But, I figured a couple days a week using the elliptical and a few machine weights might help stave off winter pound-creep.

Deep down, though, I knew I needed something more intense. Weight machines and I go way back; while we're on friendly terms, neither one of us have pushed the envelope with each other. They don't badger me when I don't work them until my muscles fatigue, or when I rationalize blowing them off because the stars aren't aligned--or I have Other Very Important Things to do--or maybe because it's a Tuesday. It's just too easy to half-ass the weight machines.

While I was relatively content with my recent weight loss and in general my physical health, I had a bit of loose skin here, and some huffs and puffs biking up a hill with everyone breezing by me there. And I know, from common sense and research, that lifting Really Heavy Things is good. Strengthen muscles, become a better bike rider, build bone density (a good thing at this point in my life), maybe move some flab off my thighs, and simply be way more fit and healthy--there's no down side.

So if I'm going to do this gym thing, might as well do it right, right? Along comes Gabe, one of the gym's personal trainers. Three days a week, he gets to work with me, this 52-year old weight-lifting noob who is just learning the difference between a squat and a benchpress.

Our first session was an "assessment" geared towards finding the proper weights to start me off. Heavy enough to bring me to muscle fatigue but light enough that I can at least do a few repetitions (reps) per set. We went through a number of free-weight exercises, doing a rep or two testing various weights, and for the most part finding out that just the bar with no weights on it at all was about right for me. Rock on, power girl!

This assessment turned me into a wet noodle. My legs, chest, and arms were fatigued, and at the exact moment I thought I was done and could crawl into the locker room, Gabe said "let's go jump on a box."


He brings me over to this plywood box. The height, depth, and width were all different dimensions, so you had a selection of heights with which to injure yourself. He stood with his toes about an inch from one of the sides and jumped up, both feet at once, using his quads to pull up his knees and feet, landing on top of the box. "Your turn," he said.

I froze. Nope nope nope. The shortest side of this box was higher than my knees. 

Panic set in, my mind raced, and in a nanosecond, I envisioned what would undoubtedly occur. Jump up maybe an inch or two; slam my toes into the side of the box; fall over frontward or backward or sideways and break something; end up in a hospital in traction; months of inability to move; 75 pounds gained. I may have been looking at a box, but I was seeing an enormous me down the road, angrily snarling at strangers "I'd be fine if it weren't for that damn box," and I was terrified.

He sensed my terror. Was it the deer in the headlights look? Or the sheen of sweat that immediately popped out on my face from a mix of panic, nausea, anxiety, and dread? Or the "No #!@&ing way!" coming out of my mouth? Whatever it was, he capitulated and got out a shorter box, this one being about a foot high--one of those black irrigation pipe covers with a green lid.

If the black box freaked me out, take a look
at Evil Box again, and imagine my first reaction
I stood in front of this box while he coached me. Jump up, lift your legs, you can do it. I don't really know what I heard, he wasn't getting through the fog of fear surrounding me. Countdown: "One...two...." nope. "One...two...thr..." nope.

That box gets put aside. He pulls out one of those steps used in aerobic classes. It's about three inches high. "Try this."

Ya think???
Determined but sloppy, I sort of hopped, one foot just a tad bit behind the other foot, onto that step. He added more height, I was looking at maybe five inches to jump. I can't remember, I think I jumped, but I was such a sorry piece of work it was laughable.

"We'll have to work on the box." Great, now I knew we'd be going through this horror show again. I was kind of hoping he'd see the writing on the wall and drop it.

A couple weeks go by; each session is a mix of upper/lower body, or push days, or pull days, or leg day is exactly the same. On leg days, my mind wandered to Evil Box. I didn't say anything though, foolishly hoping that maybe he'd forget about Evil Box. Oh, Grasshopper, you will learn.

Of course he didn't forget. A week ago, after a bunch of legwork, I hear "Oh-kaaaay, time for the box!" (me, slowly walking like a prisoner to her execution, whispering while crossing myself "In the name of all that is holy, noooooooo, not the box.....)

He brings out the 12" black box, saying cheerily, "You can do this!"

Giving him the look of death, I fiddle around. It's not in a good place, I want it near a wall to break any forward fall. We moved it. I stand there, looking down at my feet. Maybe if I move it a few inches this way, it'll be better. No, over here is better yet. Gabe waits, patiently. I was reminded of the first time I dove off a high diving board. Regular one, no problem. High dive? Creep to the front, toes gripping the edge, bounce a little bit, look down, nope. Turn around, go back a few steps, and repeat.

That was me, here, with my box. Crouch down in preparation to jump. Mental countdown. Balls of feet and legs quiver in anticipation of their need to perform the perfect combination of jumping and pulling myself up through thin air. One...two....nope. Straighten up, defeated. Step back. Repeat. Gabe: "You're letting this get into your head. Jump." Uh, yeah. My head sees everything that can GO WRONG and that THIS BOX IS GOING TO KILL ME.

Oh my god, what a weenie am I.

Sometimes, you get so sick of yourself, you'd rather just jump and let the world crash down on you (at least I could say "I TOLD you so!!!") than bear another second of exasperating paralysis by fear.

I jumped.

I landed on the box.

I screamed (I think???), danced around a bit, and gleefully hugged poor Gabe (this woman must be nuts). Gabe told me "three more times, then rest, then eight more times." After that 8-rep set he said "two more." All with me landing on the box. Like this (boy, I wished we had a video of that first time, but this will have to do):

So, after a few weeks of training, we are actually adding weights to the bars. Pretty small weights, but weights nonetheless. My form is getting a little better every time. I deadlifted over 100 pounds for the first time a couple weeks ago (now I'm up to 115 lbs!), and I'm sure there will be other milestones achieved by next spring. Things like that make weightlifting pretty addictive for me.

I'm still freaked out about Evil Box, which Gabe says I'll be jumping on soon. But I don't think anything will pack the same wallop for me as jumping on that first box, because that was way more than just moving my body--it was about pushing the weight of fear out of my mind, and that is the biggest success by far.

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