Swinging back into the gym saddle again

It’s 5:00 on a Saturday. The regular crowd shuffles in. There’s an old man trainin’ next to me, making love to his bod’ at the gym. Free love? No, free weights. What anyone worth his/her salt uses to supplement the limitations of weight machines.

I should know. I was a gym rat for years. My corner workout hangout was like Cheers, where everybody knew my name, along with how much I could squat and bench press. At the time it was very reinforcing. I wouldn’t mind looking like that again. Who wouldn’t? Always tanned to show my hard-earned muscles to their best advantage.

Everyone owes it to him/herself to get into super shape at some point early in life. So it can haunt you for the rest.

Not to mock the intelligence of weightlifters, but back when I used to hang out with my first husband’s body building crowd, my vocabulary was limited to gym vernacular: Pecs, delts, lats, traps, abs, quads, hams and glutes. “Calves” was longest anatomical word I knew because there wasn’t Gymspeak for that body part at my gym.

As a couple, my husband and I had a subscription to Muscle and Fitness magazine and watched TV workouts with then reigning bodybuilding champions Corey Everson and Lee Haney. Corey was more generous and encouraging with her guest workout partners, whereas Lee Haney spent his half-hour physically humiliating his guests. Pecking order means everything among the pec flexers.

In my pre-parenting era, I had the luxury of sweating 5-6 days per week at the gym. I did daily cardio workouts and alternated weight-torturing various muscle groups. Then I’d hit the tanner. Pretty deep existence, eh? I kept in good shape until I was seven-months pregnant with my son (now 10) and his pressure on my bladder made step-aerobics feel like a cross-country trip with 200-mile stretches between rest areas.

Then came two years of working two full-time jobs, augmented by a second pregnancy and three additional part-time jobs and only three to four hours of sleep per night, followed by divorce, single-parenting and seven years of a 50-mile-away job to support my bill-paying habit. Trapped in a logistical nightmare, I lacked the time, childcare and energy for lifting anything other than the psychological monkeys already on my back. Workout? I already felt worked over!

My leaving full-time work for part-time closer to home coincided with Gold’s Gym offering a $10 per month special. Workout Kristy was back in the saddle again! Intoxicated with possibility, in mid-January I climbed back on the gym horse with the tenacity of a drunk riding a mechanical bull at Gilly’s, determined not to allow life circumstances to buck me off again.

Unlike people who fear they won’t stick with a workout plan, I knew the biggest thing I needed to exercise this time around was restraint: To avoid falling back into that old delt trap of subversive gym culture worship. From experience, I recognized discipline short of addiction is a fine, but necessary line to draw in the sand.

For the first two months back, I didn’t lift one weight. I could have tripped over one lying in my path between the front door of the gym and the locker room and would not have picked it up, although I did position myself strategically on cardio machines to watch the addictive workout folks at work. I focused on how silly some of the more peacocky ones looked strutting around.

Within three weeks, my 30-minutes of cardio per visit was up to 60-minutes of heart pounding, with me manually adding further tension. Oops. But a positive oops. I’d prefer to run, but my plantars fascitis thinks otherwise. Thanks to record-high gasoline prices, limiting myself to three days per week is easy. My new routine is as healthy and sustainable as a protein shake.

Hitting the weights again felt like a homecoming. A decade away did not lessen my body’s love for positive physical torture. Compared to the psychological burdens I hoisted mostly single-handedly while away from physical workouts, it’s relatively light lifting. I smile as I strain through a weight workout, happy to be riding high in the gym saddle again.

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