Muscle Beach Marla?

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger
Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Incline abdominal crunches apparently look a lot like birthing a baby when I do them.

A humiliating but incredible time weight training at Muscle Beach yesterday, and I’m posting photos today as promised. But first I want to tell you where I am.

I’m blogging to you right now from the business class section of a Boeing 777-200LR (I know, right? I’m trying not to pee all over this fancy seat with excitement!) This is one of those hulking international planes, and the business seats are little individual cubby holes, with seats that lay flat, massage your back, lift your legs, pretty much whatever you need it to do.

So naturally I’m playing with every button available and working on getting myself assured of no future business class upgrade.

I’m having trouble typing, since my arms can barely lift from my sides. I’m extremely grateful for the automatic leg-lifter in this seat, because those, too, are ripped up from yesterday’s workout.

And it’s awesome!

I tried out 2 trainers at Muscle Beach in Venice, California. I worked arms and chest in the morning and legs in the afternoon.

It’s not peak season there, so the wave of slick, bareskinned body builders you can typically see in the summertime, especially in August, were sparse. But I made due, and as you’ll see from the photos, I managed to get you some pics of a competition body or two.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Ginny, one of my readers, emailed me this pic she took at Muscle Beach in the summer. There’s my trainer Bishoy right in front!

It wasn’t that long ago, merely a little more than six months, actually, that I thought weight training was just for bodybuilders, and that bodybuilders were a collective group of meatheads.

Thankfully, my own weight training experience side by side in what I call the “narcissist room” at the gym (the mirrored one with all the free weights) as well as my growing online community of fellow fitness and weight training enthusiasts, has shown me otherwise.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger bodybuilding weight training

Bishoy in classic bodybuilder pose. This was the second photo he texted me to use in the blog. Why don’t I get texts like this more often… Kurt?

Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of meatheads to go around, but like any other stereotype, you have to get inside a group to understand the individuals within it. And there are plenty of smart, interesting and outward-focused individuals who take weight training seriously, whether competitively or not.

Okay, I know you came to see me dork it up at the beach and not for a lecture on looking past stereotype, or a whole “God save the bodybuilder” speech, so I’ll get on with it.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

A view from the grandstands of iconic Muscle Beach in Venice, CA

In the morning I had trainer and owner of Bishoy’s Gym, Bishoy Hanna. I didn’t know what to expect of this guy. All I knew from the Muscle Beach office was that he was from Egypt and there was a competition photo of him hanging on the wall. When I spoke with him on the phone and explained I would need to take photos of both he and I during training, he simply asked, “Shall I wear a speedo, so you can see the musculature of the human body?” Of course I answered “Yes, please” then spent the rest of the night in small panic attacks worried about whether or not his junk would be in my face (it was but I pretended not to notice) or whether I could handle having people stare at and possibly photograph me while working out in that high profile pen.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Nobody is allowed in the pen without a membership or a day pass. I love that rule.

I arrived an hour early to try to settle my nerves. Even though I had purchased a day pass which allowed me inside the weight training pen, I chose to sit in the bleachers and watch for first, taking photos and looking every bit like a stalker.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

The podium and posing stand for events at Muscle Beach, CA (the workout pen is in the background.)

The first guy I talked with was Ron Leavitt, who, as luck would have it, is writing a book titled Lifetime Physical Fitness: Myths and Realities. He and his wife Kim talked with me for a nice while about the work he’s putting into the book and the stereotypes surrounding weight training. His three-part approach to fitness (I won’t spoil it for you) is sensible and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Ron Leavitt working out at Muscle Beach.

The second guy I approached was not too sure about me at first. I’m pretty sure he thought I was some kind of creeper the way I sat in the bleachers staring and taking photos and writing in my journal. When I entered the pen, he didn’t want photos and was reluctant to talk with me. He opted instead to wait for my trainer to arrive. I think he was testing whether my motives were really about training and writing about it, or if maybe I were going to ridicule or, well, stalk.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Writer Ron Leavitt and I talking books, travels, fitness and…mining.

When Bishoy arrived, he was in skintight boyshorts and tank, rippling pretty much everywhere, and no stranger to the camera. He made it very easy to get photos, and a friendly local named “Boardwalk Bill” was happy to oblige every time Bishoy asked. One of my favorite photos is Boardwalk Bill photobombing my workout with Bishoy. Priceless.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

The Boardwalk Bill Photo Bomb! Yes! Perhaps my favorite pic of the day.

Chest presses are, as I’ve told you, my favorite routine, so I pretended not to notice that Bishoy’s height put his junk pretty much at face level for all the sets in which I was lying down. I had to put my sunglasses on, especially for the decline chest press. I managed not to giggle or faint or pee myself with nerves, because you know what? I was working out…hard.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Junk in the face. Junk in the face. Try to keep pace with junk in the face.

I love that no matter whether you’re guy or gal, or what your training level is, they are there to push you to your limit. Bishoy had me doing many types of chest press, with bicep curls and reverse bicep curls in between. Knowing my goal is to bench press 100 pounds, he focused on working a lot of muscles in the area, heating them up with smaller weights in between, and getting back on again to push higher and higher weights.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Don’t judge me for these light weights. We were alternating light ones to go bigger on the chest press.
This is probably why, for once, I’m not grunting and squinting and looking like I’m pushing a boulder from my anus.

The pain was delicious. I’m sure the high I get from weight training has to do with hormone levels and brain chemistry, but all I know is that it makes me happy, makes me focus on fitness more, have better posture and feel stronger in every area of my life.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Which way to the beach? You know, I actually did get asked a couple times “Which way to Muscle Beach?” since I was wearing the shirt. But I did not think quickly enough to respond with flexed biceps to point the way.

Putting myself out there, from the first nervous moments of working out in the gym, to lifting weights in an open air pen in front of tourists snapping photos on the Venice Strand yesterday, I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself in other areas, just from breaking through that comfort zone and from feeling so much more healthy and fit.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Is it me, or does Bishoy just always know where the camera is and how to pose? I have no ability to do nice face while working out.

I realize some of you who don’t know me, maybe my first-time readers, might see these photos and see how out of shape I am, but trust me, I’ve come a long way in the last six months: 35 pounds and several pant sizes. This is a way of life for me now.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Chest presses on the Smith machine. Now this I don’t mind the Smith machine for. (Stupid knee.)

Another thing I talked about with Ron Leavitt (the writer and fitness guy I mentioned above) is that I’m not the same person I was six months ago. And the transformation is not just external. After doing it enough times, something really does change in the brain. It’s not just a matter of forming habits, but of tapping into those chemicals and hormones that help regulate mood. I’m happier when I weight train. It’s a different happiness than I get from cardio training, and it triggers something very fundamental in my drive for health and well-being.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Bishoy showing me the correct way to do this move.

Gee whiz, I hope you’re saying “What the hell, Marla? We just wanted some dorky pictures of you at Muscle Beach, not a whole Women’s Day article on why weight training changed your life.” Trust, me, I’m what-the-helling myself right now, but I can’t help it. Dangit, this experience was affirming in so many ways! (Besides, I’m breaking it up with my dorky photos!)

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

I apparently have something new to start working on. I couldn’t do these for sh*t.

Okay, so back to the workout day.

That guy who wasn’t too sure about me early on started talking and joking with me, too, and by the end of the day he was my favorite Muscle Beach person. His name is Thor Risen, and he’s a neighbor from back east: a Jersey guy who loves the Steelers.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

My buddy Thor.

I took a lunch break after training with Bishoy to refuel (salmon, veggies and Spanish!) then returned for leg training with AJ. Anthwane Jackson is from Alabama, and he has a soft voice. I felt energized from lunch and ready to work out.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

I’m pretty sure I need to just stop flexing until I have little bumps showing. {sigh}

As I was training with AJ, Thor noted my excessive smiling. (If you’ve met me, you’ve probably noticed or maybe even gotten irritated with my compulsive smiling.) He commented that my smile would soon be gone if I was leg training with AJ, and he was right. I tried to put it on as I would walk past him, but I was just too tired for the sides of my mouth to want to lift up.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

AJ got me up to 190 pounds on the leg press. Yippee ki yay…

It had been that way in the morning, as well. When Bishoy put me through the rounds, there wasn’t a part of me from the waist up that wasn’t whimpering a little.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

AJ posing in one of my favorite shots: Bodybuilder, Muscle Beach pen, palm trees, blue on blue sky.

And that’s the only way I like to do weights.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Focus, Marla, focus. Pay no attention to the speedo with a boombox outside the pen.

AJ pushed me on the Smith machine doing weighted squats. I warned him about my bad knee and he worked with me on it and so far today it seems to be only my usual limp, nothing worse. I was excited at how far my legs have come, considering I’ve constantly had to work around a bad knee. I was able to do 190 pounds on the leg press and nearly 100 on the Smith machine squats. Granted, my knee was in a lot of pain on all the leg work, but I as long as I pretend it’s all just arthritis and not an injury, I’m good to work through it. 😉

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

I hate the Smith machine. I hate the Smith machine. I hate the Smith machine. It was a good, hard workout and by the end he added almost 100 pounds of weight, but between my knee crying like a wussy and the back of my neck hurting from the bar…I hate the Smith machine.

After AJ and I finished up, I took some more photos and decided to go for a nice bike ride from the pier in Marina del Rey to the Santa Monica Pier. I rode for an hour and a half at a leisurely pace and just used that as my cooldown for legs.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

My knee was so jealous taking this photo. My orthopaedic guy says I’ll never squat like that again. I say “We’ll see…”

Kurt called me as I was sitting on the beach watching the sun go down, and as I excitedly spilled all the day’s events, I told him that I had just received a couple follow-up texts from Bishoy of him in bodybuilder pose and that perhaps Kurt could send me a few pics as well (hubba hubba).

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger bodybuilding weight training

Photo one texted from Bishoy for use in the blog. I’ll never be fit like this, but if we didn’t have uberfit people, who would inspire us to be less than soggy sacks of meat?

“And I kinda have a little crush on a big black dude named Thor.” There was a slight pause before Kurt replied, “Well, I guess I’m glad you’re coming home tomorrow then.” Hahaha. God I love that man. I’m glad I’m coming home, too.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

My hands-down favorite builder I met at Muscle Beach is Thor Risen. Could be the Steelers kinship. Could be the east coast down-to-earth personality. In any case, too cool.

He stayed on the phone with me as I watched a sailboat cross the Washington Pier and said my goodbye to the west coast again. South Africa is only 4 months away now, so I probably won’t see L.A. again for a few years.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

So many people in L.A. are from somewhere else. Alan Stevens, another wonderful worker at Muscle Beach, is from Birmingham, England.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Terry was really helpful at the Muscle Beach Office. Terry is from the Twin Cities area.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Who got the guns? I don’t got the guns… 😦

I wish I had discovered weight training when we lived in Marina del Rey. It would have been fun to work out with these guys more often. But as it is, I’ll take the day I had. It was hard work, but so much fun with a great group of guys.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

AJ the acrobat took some encouraging. He wasn’t a natural show-off, but he was very nice to indulge me.

I’m glad I’m flying for today’s rest day, because reaching the keyboard is about as much effort as I can muster, and these legs are staying up for the rest of the flight.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Trainer AJ is actually more modest than these photos imply. I’m very persuasive. 🙂

If you’ve stuck with me through this long-ass post, you’re a serious trooper and I promise you that you are my favorite, favorite readers. Thank you.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger

Hamming it for the camera. This photo was taken by Venice Bill (not to be mistaken for Boardwalk Bill).

Tomorrow I promise to give you a photoblog with very few words.

Love, Marla

P.S. For your complete enjoyment of all the human body(builder) can accomplish, I leave you with this video (and probably an inferiority complex 😉 )

25 Comments on “Muscle Beach Marla?

    • Are you kidding me? You intimidated? You’re so my hero. They would be impressed and awed by you (and probably hit on you the whole time). I keep telling my husband you have the body type I would love to have. Of course, then that means we sit there looking at your photos for awhile, which gets a little, uh, awkward… 😉

  1. Nice coverage and detail about your trip. I’ve been by it, but was pretty intimidated and never DREAMED of trying to work out there. I’m duly impressed lady, excellent work (I only dare to hope to leg press as much as you some day)!

    • Thanks. I only wish I had been weight training when we lived in Marina del Rey. I used to walk past this pen 4-5 times a week and never imagine I would enjoy something like that.
      That leg press was more than I’ve ever done. My trainer at home was not too happy about that, because it took me several days to recover. But still it was amazing to get that high (a new record for me).

  2. So proud of you, Aunt Marla! You just do everything, no matter how uncomfortable the thought is, and you always find out that it’s awesome! You crack me up! I LOVE Boardwalk Bill….hilarious that he clearly thought, “I bet she wants me in a picture during this…” and went ahead and did the self-portrait. Hahahahahaha. And then happily flexing with you and your trainer. Uh! You meet such characters!

    • Thanks, Bazinga! I’m trying to break through every comfort zone I have. Pretty soon I’ll start an argument with somebody, just to see if I can allow myself a different opinion. Then I’ll REALLY know I’ve made progress.
      Yeah, Boardwalk Bill was an amazing character. I think people just recognize when you don’t mean them any harm and open up to you in ways they might otherwise not.

  3. What a fun day! Love all the pics and seeing Venice board walk and muscle beach (and the trainers:)……..)!!! Reminds me of my visit and bike ride with you near the board walk!! Love it!!

  4. Such a fun post; enjoyed it mucho, pix and text. I was so surprised to see my pic and that you had the guy in he pic. I’m wondering if you had the same follow-up experience I had years & years ago. After a particularly arduous class in which I had a push-up test, I went back to the dorm to shower for lunch. When I lifted my arm to put on my deodorant, my arm fell against the mirror; I couldn’t hold it up. Went to lunch and almost dropped my tray, spilling tomato soup down the front of a lilac colored skirt. Your “legs and arms are struggling” brought that memory from 1961 to the forefront.

    • Thanks, Ginny, and thanks again for the pic. I couldn’t believe it when I saw my trainer right there in your photo.
      Haha – yes you’re absolutely right to catch that “struggling” was pretty much “dying.” I couldn’t move my arms or legs until Monday. My trainer at home had to do an “easy” set on everything just to get it all loosened up again. Ouch.

  5. Marla, this post is wildly entertaining. Absolutely loved the humor and the pictures. This should be a Chatham field seminar–ha!

    • Thanks, Kayla! Oh my gosh, I would love to lead an L.A. field seminar. I would take everyone to my weird off-the-path spots and have prompts related to each one.
      Ooh. Now I’m inspired…

  6. This whole post was just awesome. I am seriously impressed with how far you’ve come and how into it you’ve gotten. =) Trivia: I used to go roller skating (old school, not that inline shit) down past Muscle Beach! =) It was cool to see the place, and extra cool to see you in the pen doing your thing. Now, come home so we can get coffee or something.

  7. Thanks. This is seriously THE most torn up I have been after any workout…ever. My arms are in glorious painful soreness every time I lift them, and when I try to stand up it’s hilarious, because both my legs and arms are struggling so it takes so much effort. Hahaha. I’m so glad they didn’t take it easy on me. I love it!

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