Okay, to be clear, it wasn’t a sex swing.
And I never really thought it was, but seeing it hanging there by the window of the gym on a day last week when Kurt and I were working out together did spark my imagination in a few exciting ways, one of which was a gym entirely devoted to S&M. Talk about workout motivation. Can you imagine a gym full of only attractive people who are entirely fit and have the mentality of swingers? But then I thought that couldn’t really fly, because who wants to get your S&M on in a gym full of people you don’t choose? Attractiveness doesn’t offset douchey personality, and there’s nothing less sexy than a hot guy with the personality and imagination of a towel.
That, I guess, is why S&M is still relegated to hidden rooms of the house and public basement players hidden neatly behind masks (I’m told! I’m guessing! Sheesh, I’m not a Perv, c’mon!)
Despite all the entertaining reveries that “swing” was working in my mind, it was not so exciting to use. My arms are getting fairly strong, but I can’t do a full body pull-up, which is what that equipment is for. Granted, the point is that you can use your legs to assist while forcing your arms to do a lot of work, but once you’ve set a piece of equipment up for other uses in a pocket of your mind, it’s all underwhelming after that.
Today I weight trained alone at the gym. I still get a little self conscious in the testosterone frathouse called the free weights room, but I managed to get over it and focus on form and on pushing my muscles to really fatigue.
Although I didn’t have a training session today, my new trainer was working, so I asked him to spot me so I could do bench press (my absolute favorite). After I warmed up and did a few sets of 65 pounds, he taught me drop sets. We moved to 80 pounds and after I did as many as I could on my own (5, I think?) then he assisted until I finished the set. He quickly dropped it to 70 and I did those reps, then he dropped to the original bar weight (45 pounds) and I went until my muscles couldn’t push it up anymore. I don’t know if they call it muscle failure or muscle fatigue or what – I’m still getting the lingo down. Anyway, he said those are called drop sets, and pushing the muscle until it completely fails you (ONLY do this with someone spotting you) is a sure way to really build the muscles stronger.
He knows that my goal is to bench press 100 pounds before we leave for South Africa, and he’s showing me the best ways to get there (safely). I thanked him and proceeded to work out for 1.5 hours alone, running through the two sheets of training sets I’ve been doing there so far. It was actually fun, and I had the best encounter with one of those muscle guys so far when I was going toward the leg press and realized a guy was using it (he was hidden, resting, on the far side of the machine). I was turning to walk away and he offered for me to switch in with him during his rests if I wanted. I could tell on his face he was sincere. He was just a straight-up nice person, who didn’t see me as any different than a guy for offering that. It was totally a “Kurt” thing to do and made me realize I’ve been a little too judgmental in assuming the “type” of guys in the weight training area.
I turned him down, still too self-conscious and insecure to feel like I could just be “one of the guys” in there, but happy to have altered my expectations a little bit. Surprisingly it was a female today who was the most patronizing. I had just about burned out my arms completely when I headed to the boxes to do squats. My trainer spent a lot of time figuring out how to get a squat routine for me that doesn’t hurt my bad knee. I have to use a higher box, but I do three rapid-fire sets of 20 reps, trying to fire up a long-atrophied quad muscle (due most likely to favoring one leg because of the bad knee).
Just as I was about to do my first squat, I heard a woman’s voice say “Excuse me, um, I think you want to be using these lower boxes instead so you squat better.” I turned and saw a skinny woman behind me, sitting on a box and curling a 5 pound weight. She was really focusing on her bicep, which I couldn’t actually see making any kind of bump at all.
She may as well have been using what my blogger friend, Lethal Astronaut, calls something like “bubble gum pink-plastic baby weights.” She seemed so smug with her little smirk at my modified box squats as she looked back and forth from my tall box to my ass. I know I was reading her from a place of insecurity, and it took everything in my body not to holler out that my vagina could curl those ridiculous puny weights of hers, and why didn’t she just go play Barbie on the treadmill for awhile?
But I didn’t. Even as I thought it, I hated myself for the snap judgment, which said more about me than her. I smiled and said “Thank you. This is correct.” I might have emphasized “correct” a little too abruptly, because she did seem hurt that I didn’t seem to appreciate her help. I then had to do my 60 squats with her eyes on me the rest of the time. It’s hard not to feel judged in a gym when you’re overweight, and I think a lot of my need for a trainer is as much psychological as anything. Because even once I learn form, I never quite feel the ownership of my own training regimen under the heavy weight of particularly skinny individuals, especially when they feel so confident in telling a complete stranger what to do.
I was thinking about training alone, and how unnerving it is, and also how lonely it is. Part of me aches for a little bit of connection out there, even while much of me hates when it comes in the form of what I consider crossed boundaries. But mostly I just get so envious of those people who come in pairs or teams, spotting each other and encouraging each other and switching out on machines.
Then I got to thinking about a couple of recent surprises in the mail that made me realize I’ll never really be alone even if I don’t have a workout partner. First was a postcard from Leo at the blog Doggy’s Style. If you’ve been reading my blogs, you know that I LOVE postcards. I love sending them and I love receiving them. They’re meaningful more than I could ever explain to you in a blog. The one from Leo is from Morocco. He tried sending me one before, but it got lost somewhere between there and here, so he took the time and sent another. It just blew me away how kind people can be who have only ever met the internet version of my “self.”
The second was a package from a longtime friend. She and I have very similar personalities, except that I see her has having much more confidence and assertiveness. But we both put kindness and generosity as high priority in what we expect of ourselves and what we love in other people. Anyway, I have always been fond of her daughter, who is an only child and being raised in such a mature and socially responsible way that she’s just one of the most fascinating and delightful little girls to be around. I send occasional postcards and gifts and enjoy getting to see her once or twice a year. (Sometimes I feel bad for childless men who envy parents, because they don’t have the socially acceptable ability to pine for other peoples’ children the way a childless woman does.)
I opened the package to find a wrapped gift and card. My friend and her daughter had been shopping when they came across marzipan soap at LUSH. They thought of me and bought me the little package of soap and cream and when I read the card and thought of them in the store, seeing this and thinking of me, I sat down and cried.
In part, of course, because I’m narcissistic and imagined doing the same with my own non-existent child, teaching them about love and kindness and thinking of what joy you might bring to another person with a surprise gift. But also, I cried, in part, simply because I was in their thoughts at some random time, during a random shopping trip.
As hard as these bouts of loneliness hit me sometimes, these friends overseas who know only Internet Marla, and these friends from my past and present who know Live Marla (hah – I’m like cultured bacteria in a petri dish) love me despite all the parts of myself I constantly struggle to improve, delete or pretend don’t exist.
Just having another day of gratitude, helped a bit, I’m sure, by all the fitness-induced endorphins swimming about in my soggy brain.