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Gym Belle  - noun  one who enjoys pull-ups, push-ups, lifting things up/putting 'em down, PRs of all kinds, racing, jumping, spinning, daring and blogging re same (more here)


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It's Not You, It's Me

I work out, on average, five times a week. I accomplish this by aiming to work out every day. I don't "count" yoga as a workout. (I'm not suggesting that yoga isn't or can't be a workout, but the kind I do is more stretchy and relaxing, so I don't include it.) My cardio is mainly running and spinning. Some weeks I run more, some weeks I spin more. I throw in other classes to keep things interesting. I also do more conditioning-type workouts several times a week. Those are usually my Physique 57 classes. I've had this particular routine for about a year, but have been working out seriously for longer. I'm telling you this to give you some context to understand what I mean when I say that I think I'm in reasonably good shape. I'm no athlete, but I'm fit.

I recently won a free training session at Rich Baretta's gym by being one of the first 50 people to invite a friend to receive Vital Juice's daily emails. I hadn't heard much about this private training gym, but I was excited. It had been a while since I'd worked out with a trainer.

The space is beautiful. In the front of the room, there are 10 foot by 10 foot spaces, each with its own mat, own equipment, own lighting and own sound control so your trainer can really personalize your workout. The back has more a more traditional setup.  The receptionist explained that there are no membership fees and no packages. Sessions cost $125 and they have approximately 8 trainers, each with a different style and approach. I fell in love with the atmosphere when I walked in. If they had matched me up with a different trainer, perhaps I'd be more inclined to return.

The woman I worked out with is probably the most educated trainer I've ever met. She's an ex-gymnast, a former fitness competition champion and has taught a wide variety of fitness classes over her lengthy career. Make no mistake, she has the body to show for it, too.

My trainer started out asking me about my gym regimen. I described it, anticipating she would applaud my commitment to fitness; instead, her disapproval was palpable. Running is bad, she said. It's hard on the joints, but the real crime is that it bulks up your thighs. She pointed out that my thighs were already too bulky. "Power walk instead. Turn down the speed and work with a really high incline." I didn't have a chance to explain that I run outside, not on a treadmill, and that I was training for a half-marathon; when I opened my mouth, she cut me off. "I know it's not as fun," she said, as if the word itself were distasteful to her. Spinning struck her as being similarly misguided. The only cardio workouts she expressed approved of were the elliptical and power walking. She also cautioned me never to do a lunge again, lest I bulk up my bulky thighs more.  I decided that her fondness for the word "bulk" had more to do with the fact that English is not her native language than anything else, and brushed it aside.  (I'm a size zero; how bulky can I be?)

She questioned me intensely about my specific goals, and was skeptical of my inability to articulate any.  I kept explaining that, while I'd be happy to pick some goals to aim for (unaided pull-ups, for example), I work out as much as I do because I enjoy working out.  Somehow, this didn't translate, either.

I thought things were starting to go a little better when we starting working out. I hoped that, if nothing else, I'd win her over with my plucky sticktoitiveness.  We started with abs and the exercises were tough.  Abs are one of my weaker areas, but I can grit through a lot, so I did.  As I worked, she pinched my stomach, my triceps.  She was trying to get a sense of things.  I chalked her disregard for personal space up to cultural differences.

Pinching aside, most of the workout was actually fun. She was very creative, and I even thought I might have impressed her a little with my Bosu ball skills.

As we finished, though, she told me that since I didn't have goals, she'd give me her impression of what she thought I could work on. This sounded like a decent idea, but suddenly we were looking at my reflection in the mirror and discussing my bulky thighs again. As it turns out, my biceps are also too big and I should never intentionally work them.  My triceps aren't toned enough.  With her gestures, she compared my body to hers. She pointed out that my waist would look smaller if my shoulders were bigger.  In fact, the only time she really advocated eating protein was after working my shoulders so that I could accomplish this.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have told her to back off.  When I'm put on the spot like that, though, my natural reaction is to be positive and agreeable.  I don't like letting anyone knowing that they got to me.  I don't like admitting it to myself either.  If anything, I may have egged her on a bit.

As she spoke, I kept flashing back to that Sex and the City episode where the plastic surgeon walks Samantha through all the procedures they could do - the scene where circus music starts to play as she looks at herself covered in red magic marker, horrified to see herself as the doctor had seen her.

My trainer had plenty to say about my diet, too.  I made the mistake of disclosing the 100 calorie jello pudding snack I'd had that afternoon.  I get that this isn't health food, but it's chocolate and it's yummy and it's only 100 calories.  She couldn't fathom why I would put this in my body.  Incidentally, she doesn't believe in eating any carbs with dinner, and your last meal should be eaten by 6:00pm, 7:00 at the very latest.

As I walked home that night, I struggled to shrug off the weight of her judgments.  She had called so much into question and I was presented with an immediate dilemma.  I was starving and hadn't eaten dinner yet and couldn't imagine what I should eat.  It was way past 6:00, but I had to have dinner. She'd said no carbs at night, but she'd also said no protein after lifting weights or I'll get bulkier.  What to do?

I couldn't stop thinking about everything she had said.  At Physique 57 the next day, I chose 5 lb weights for my heavy set, instead of my usual 8 lbs.  I couldn't avoid doing bicep curls altogether, but I figured I could lighten the load so as not to further bulk up my arms. (5 lbs weights are great for some people, but they did nothing for me. )  I felt guilty when I ran.  I suddenly hated everything in my wardrobe.  I was neurotic about my diet.  This mild paranoia lasted for a few days.

I don't doubt that if I followed this woman's prescription for life, and texted her my every meal as some of her clients do, I would look more like her model and actress clients.  I also don't doubt that she would really teach me how to hate my body.  I'm embarrassed by how much damage I let her do do in a single session. 

I'm a thirty year old attorney.  I'm supposed to deprive myself and devote that much time and energy into my appearance?  Really?  Why on earth would I want to do that?

If a fairy godmother or a genie appeared and offered me slimmer thighs or perfect arms, would I take them?  Sure.  But I won't swap out activities I enjoy for calorie-burning drudgery in order to accomplish that.  The way running makes me feel is important.  Chocolate and beer and other assorted evils are important, too.  And while I have no desire to get totally ripped, I am proud of the muscles I've built.  I actually kind of like my biceps.

I understand that a great way to sell personal training sessions is to convince people that they're unfit, unattractive, or some combination of the two and that the only way they can remedy the situation is by working with a trainer. Perhaps that's this woman's MO. Or maybe she is just used to working with clients whose goal is a perfect model body.  I couldn't say.  At one point she told me that fitness is her passion. I just don't see that.

For the right person, she's probably a phenomenal trainer; she's not right for me.  Perhaps I'm too sensitive, but how I feel - and how I feel about how I look - is infinitely more important to me than how I look.  I can't afford to let anyone mess with that.  Goals just can't trump priorities.

- Gym Belle -


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Reader Comments (1)

I love your description of that training session - hilarious. It's impressive that she managed to make you not like working out for a couple of days - at least that wore off!

December 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSuze

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