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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
And that’s the only way I like to do weights.
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. 😉
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow I promise to give you a photoblog with very few words.
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 😉 )