Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Literate Gym-inites

Recently I have become a regular at a new club in Queens, which by the way does not really draw as many Queens as the borough's name may suggest. It's a new gym replete with all the usual NYSC characteristics - not truly enough space, questionable locker room antics, and a mix of qualified trainers outnumbered by those whose key credentials are there biceps, rather than their ability to pump up yours. 

I really love my fellow gym mates. I  have
 to admit, a little Latin flavor with some good muscle tone is pretty much heaven - and this club has plenty. Most of the time I find it inspiring and only on rare occasions does it become a distraction. I am only human after all. 

I like going to this club as an undercover trainer, turning off my iPod so I can listen in on parts of sessions. It makes me heartsick for a few of my regular clients and it makes me daydream about how they are doing now. I worry they are sitting too much, eating too much, and carving roast beef instead of time out of their schedule for a work out. 
A few days ago I was in between sets of shoulder presses when I noticed a couple (one of the hetero kinds) who were both huddled around a book. It was a familiar book, a bright day-glo orange Abs Diet book. I have a copy and generally speaking I would give it an A+ for readability and motivation as well as a solid B+ for its realist vs idealist aims (not everybo
dy is going to have a 6 pack my friends).  It's written by the Men's Health editor, David Zinczenko and if you're able to follow directions you'd do very well with the book. 

I thought it was a little strange that they had the book on the floor, but then again how exactly is a book like that supposed to be used? It didn't seem like these two had a well thought out plan. They had a pattern: the guy would read it, hand it to the girl, followed by confused looks, pointing around the gym and then deciding to turn to a different page. Soon they settled on a series of oblique exercises. The girl grabbed two weights, the guy held the book open in front of her, and she proceeded to swing from side to side. I need you to stop and imagine this for a moment. He was holding the book, open, in front of her - as though she needed to see exactly how to twist her body.

The whole thing was quite disturbing. They clearly felt horrible being in the gym. They looked lost and eventually annoyed. I had to wonder about the optimism surrounding the purchase of the book. Subtitled, "the six-week plan to flatten your stomach and keep you lean for life," the book promotes such an exuberance of optimism. And here they were, feeling frustrated and foreign. 

After a few poorly executed floor crunches in the middle of a main thoroughfare of the gym (during which time more than 10 people pretty much stepped over top of the guy as he flailed on the floor), the couple closed the book, disappeared into the locker rooms, and left. 

Hmm. Now I really wonder what happened next. I sort of feel like they will just never discuss what transpired on this evening. I picture the book sitting on a shelf made out of a step on their in-home, but never used, stairclimber. 
Sure I have seen plenty of guys bring in torn pages from magazines, but I've never seen one try to read while they lifted. It's the sort of thing you tuck into your waistband, refer to quickly and move on. I used to be religious about recording every single set, weight, and rep along with anecdotal notes about the workout. That's good practice. However, the do-it-yourself model really takes a lot of planning ahead. Building your body, your dream body, is never going to be as easy as just grabbing a book off a shelf and heading to the gym. 

This couple was a huge missed opportunity for an eager trainer. It's almost as if it was a set up to see if anybody in the gym would intervene. What seemed to be a sociological study really proved to me that other people really don't care what you do at the gym. So get over it, and get off your butt . . .  just leave your workout for dummies book at home and invest a few bucks in a trained professional. Your body will love you for it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Room Full of Sweaty Boys

It should be a good thing - a cadre of testosterone-filled guys all packed in to a small space. This is the featured attraction of those pubescent wet dreams. However, after a visit to the gym at Irving Place during peak hours I had to laugh. At one point there was literally NO open spot. Every bench was being used, every cable was being pulled, every bar was being raised, every square inch of mat was being stretched upon and every dumbbell was in somebody's hand.

It isn't bad enough that you have to literally hop over a bench to move from one area to another, you also have to sit face to face with another person while you do lat pull-downs. If you want to use a stability ball - you have to wait in line. I have never experienced this before. The gym I work is a large expanse with so much room in which to frolic and lift heavy weight - and sometimes simultaneously. The gyms I normally frequent are similarly un-packed and allow me considerable options so that I can stick to my rigid fitness plan toward an unattainable physical ideal.

What is going on here? It's my new schedule and it's my new geographic limitations (enhanced by the lack of NYSC in Brooklyn (none in Williamsburg - wtf?)) Waking up at 6 every morning, arriving home at 5, eating, and THEN heading to the gym as peak hours loom. I hate it. Now I see why so many "working" people are chunkified. The schedule is tough - and who wants to work out in a place where you have to use the hamstring curl because it's the only machine or weight available?

So how did I fix it? I found a new location, one that seems to be sufficiently unpopular during the post-workday rush. I also broke down and actually bought my own stability ball, much to my surprise. It has become my office chair and the thing I most often mount. Flipping (but not like the guy to the left) through the TV the other day I stumbled on Cathe from FitTV (my favorite channel - really) whose CoreMax workouts - if done correctly - will make you feel oh so very nice. I never realized what it felt like to have somebody else dictate how I spend my time working out. I wanted to stop doing the ball exchange two reps before Cathe wanted me to - and that extra push was so worth tuning in. I also like how she says I am doing such a great job without even seeing me glistening with sweat on my stability ball.

I am living for the weekends these days - making the most of the NYC summers before the school year is upon me to kick my ass even more than it already is. Coming up soon - a Dash-tested and approved workout plan to jumpstart your early mornings and to keep you peppy and productive all day long.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Change . . .

. . . and not the kind that jiggles around joyfully in your pocket as you jog down the street . . . is what I have been going through. As a trainer I am in the business of change - there is always something to "work on" and it pretty much never ever just involves staying the same. That being said, the changes that have been absorbing my time lately are not in the physical sense (although I must admit my pecs are feeling nice).

A few people have been wondering why I have not been posting. While I don't believe many people read the blog, it's nice to know that a few do. The truth of the matter is that my entire life has been turned inside out, flipped over, spun up, stir-fried, and tumble-dried.

Oh - it's all good news, it just happened so quickly.

In August 2005 I moved into a room in somebody else's apartment near Columbia. The proximity was unbeatable AND there was a doorman, elevator, a private bathroom, and even a dishwasher. The downside was that I went from a luxurious (and enormous) apartment in Buffalo to a room, the further downside was that my own personal space was limited to the confines of this one room.

I lived there, went to school full time on a never-ending pursuit of a doctorate, worked with a school reform organization, was the President of the student government, taught a marching band and a winterguard upstate, AND I worked at the gym.

Life was full, to say the least. Still I was constantly plagued with a sense of meaninglessness. The school reform job seemed like a sham (the problems with NYC schools and those concerned with them is a whole different topic), my courses at school mostly sucked, and I had more meaningless, misdirected meetings as President of the student government than anyone could fathom. I enjoy, actually love, designing shows and choreography for the bands and colorguards but the flights upstate every other weekend wore me out. Training was probably the one thing that provided me with the most fulfilling experiences.

I could have sustained this lifestyle for longer but something came up that allowed all of this to change. 

I was officially hired on my birthday (June 21), which was the greatest gift ever. By the way, my amazon wishlist on the margin of this page got no action.


Anyway, I started working 10 days later.

On top of all that excitement, the day before my first day of work was the day that I moved into a huge beautiful loft in Williamsburg (Brooklyn). This is good livin' - with views of Manhattan that are simply unreal. From the balcony off the living room I watched the entire fireworks show. The picture on the left is one I took from the balcony - notice the Empire State Building decked out in its patriotic color scheme. I can also see the UN, Chrysler, Trump, Rockefeller Center, AND from the roof, all of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. Inside, it's spacious (15' high ceilings) and it's got these hardwood floors that glow.

All of this brings me to the point. What am I going to do with all of my clients at the gym? I wish I didn't have to stop training, but I am not sure how it will be possible with this new job. SoHo is actually closer for me now than it used to be, but I have to work all day, every day out on "the Island." My clients know about this new job, and most are excited. A few are upset at the prospect of having to find another trainer - and I don't blame them - there are only 2 other trainers at the club I would even consider sending them to and they are booked solid.

For now I am still working there and trying to give them sustainable plans with periodic sessions. This is not ideal, but breaking up is hard to do.

So, there you have it - the real story of why Dash seems to have dashed into darkness. I am back and things are calming down into regularity so you can expect more and more.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I think I can

"I think I can," puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the much larger and heavier train. As it went on, the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."

It's that early childhood message that causes people to bite off more than they can chew. Of course we can do it -- so what if we're a wimpy, little, good for nothing train designed perfectly well for other tasks - we can do it, we can haul the heaviest thing you throw at us - all it it takes is the power of believing.


While I love for my clients to push themselves, I actually have a few clients who actually push too hard. It's a fine line between exertion and getting to the precipice of fainting into a pool of one's own sweat. One of the guys I train that does this reads the blog and I hesitated to write about it because I don't want to sacrifice the trainer confidentiality clause, but hey - it's all positive things I'm writing about.

Sort of.

Sometimes I think people try so hard because they think that if a trainer is asking them to do something - it must be possible. Even when the veins are popping out of their head, they're seeing double, and are falling in and out of consciousness - they keep going. If I say 10 reps - it must be possible, right?

The truth is that the first time(s) on any exercise is pretty much always a guessing game. Until I know my client's abilities I make guesses on what I think they ought to be able to do. Sometimes I overestimate. Actually I usually try to overestimate because I don't want the clients to think that I think they are a nelly weakling. Most of getting through an intense workout is mental (the rest is good hydration, plenty of sleep, and energy food). At any rate the first few times with a new client is when there are scary moments of near fainting, throwing up, or severe dizziness.

I had one guy who seemed like he could do anything. It was our first time so I just assumed he was a hardcore powerhouse. I kept him moving and lifting heavy weights. Next thing I know he's throwing up. That was the end of that workout. He never even hinted that he was having trouble, he just keeled over.

The "Little Engine" effect can have hugely positive results, or hugely negative ones if the engine overheats. I say haul a huge load but keep the chasis lubed and the engine tuned up. Fill up with lots of good fuel and suck in a lot of air. Now that's a lot of innuendo.

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Little Disorder For Everyone

I was never a huge fan of Bravo's fitness-based reality show Workout, but when it first began last year I was intrigued with the idea of seeing the inner workings of a gym exposed to the general public. The second season however really made me more annoyed than anything else by living up to its tagline: 3% body fat, 97% drama. It became less about fitness and training and more about the lame management skills and questionable ethics of a self-obsessed diva trainer and her sometimes "disobedient" trainer children.

However, I have to say that during a follow-up/reunion session on Bravo, the cast came together for an interesting reflection, albeit an equally irritating event to watch the awkwardness of a bitchy manager butting in to answer every question. The part that stuck with me the most was how they continued to bring up body dysmorphia, more commonly known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). In that moment, these trainers who I watched throughout the 2 seasons finally seemed human.

In a nutshell body dysmorophia is the unrational obsession with your own physical appearance. It's the "I'm so fat, I'm not good enough, if only I could fix this one thing . . . " dialog many of us carry on with our inner selves while looking in the mirror. Some people argue that BDD is not a "real" issue or a "real" condition. It is loosely grouped with Anorexia, but takes on a broader spectrum of behaviors, emotions, and manifestations. However, I actually think most people who work out have at least some form of this "more than an obsession" behavior.

Alright, maybe I think that because I don't want to feel alone.

There are days when I poke every inch of my body to see if I am still improving. I look in the mirror and try to see if I can still look good even without great lighting. I compare myself to guys at the gym and it usually frustrates or depresses me. I want this to be bigger, that to be more tan, and to grow taller by 2 inches. I look in the mirror and pull in my lower abs and think, "if only this," and that pattern repeats with every other square inch of my body's real estate. Like I said in a previous post, watching hot boys in Chelsea makes me want to spend an extra hour at the gym. And, sometimes, I do.

For the past 3 weeks I have worked harder than I usually do at the gym. This is coming from somebody who already never skips a day and keeps on a disciplined regime no matter what. I upped my protein shakes, upped my cardio, and upped the weights I'm pushing. My already skimpy diet has gotten streamlined and I am on a mission.

Maybe I'm not realistic - but chasing the goal does feel good. I am fairly certain I'm in the best shape of my life inside and out - but for some reason I have days when I feel like I am a slothful, chubby, squishy monster. I know that irritates people who know me and especially those that have seen me naked - but it it is what it is. Don't get me wrong, there are days when I am satisfied, sometimes even weeks. But one night of eating chips and salsa and I feel like I am ready to get into a pair of Husky jeans.

A little disorder never hurt anybody - ok well maybe some disorders hurt some people but who's keeping track? This one seems harmless, and although annoying for your friends - it keeps you in tip-top physical shape (so you're a little crazy). Sadly, like the trainers on Workout alluded, it seems to come with the training territory - all day long you are thinking about what you could (or should) be doing at the gym. The constant flow of active, muscle-bound, dark-haired, hot boys is a constant reminder to push and push and push - or in some cases I guess - a little pulling as well.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Nutrition Deficit Disorder

Your body is a temple, right? So if you have a temple do you cram it full of a bunch of funky stuff? Do you let it get run down, and trashy? I am fairly certain that King Tut did not fill his crib with Fritos and hollandaise sauce. Your body is something that deserves respect because in the end - it's just you and that bag of bones you've been carting around for years.

It always shocked me that people take better care of the interior of their car than the interior of their body. Then again, it shocks me even more that the neatest, most well put-together woman I know drives around in a new vehicle littered with countless Burger King cups, McDonald's bags, Wendy's burger wrappers, and empty cans of Coke. However, the point is - if we aren't looking at the problem it seems easier to ignore. Most of us don't have the medical equipment to poke around in our own bodies (notice I said medical equipment, not the toys you have hidden in your top drawer, perv). So to get a picture of what's going on, I like to try a fun little experiment with some of my clients is to have them keep a food diary. Essentially it is a log of what goes in the body on any given day.

I met this kid online and he has the general fitness goal of toning up his body. I can't assess much without having the person in front of me squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, and bending over (hey - I have to have some fun). However, I can talk about nutrition relative to his goals. I am a firm believe that beginners (or people returning to "being fit") must start with the food intake aspect of the process first. Master the food part for at least two weeks before you hit the gym. You'll need those good habits to avoid falling off the horse and into a vat of Ben & Jerry's after a good workout.

You can do a lot for your body simply by eating better. I've written about this in other posts, but I thought I'd share the food report I received and parts of the resultant chat conversation that followed. As a disclaimer, he asked for the feedback - I would never, ever, judge somebody's food intake unsolicited. He is a cute guy, a nice guy - and we can learn a lot from this.

Here is the exact email that I received:
Here's a rundown for today:
Breakfast - nothing. ( I never eat breakfast)

Lunch - Tuna sandwich on wheat. Diet Coke.

Snack - small bag of fritos.
Dinner - Chicken and Tortelini. Diet coke.
Snack - Ice cream sandwich.

Ok, first observations, anyone? Other than the fact that we need a lot more details, my reaction was this:
Oh man . . .
seriously, we have a problem.

I can't believe that he has read this blog and thought it was ok to skip breakfast, eat chips, have an ice cream sandwich, alfredo sauce, and mayo soaked tuna with the goal of toning up his body. I think people should eat whatever the hell they want - but if you have goals, you have boundaries, and that's just the sad fact, or what I like to call reality.

Problem 1: Never, ever, under any circumstances skip breakfast.

From our conversation:
Me: you need good food first thing when you wake up; such as egg whites, and whole wheat toast (one piece) or oatmeal (NOT INSTANT)
I hate eggs and oatmeal
ok ok a smoothie? a protein bar? whole grain cereal and skim milk?

Now I wasn't suggesting that he go for a hardcore smoothie with flax seed oil and whey protein boosters, I just want him to get his metabolism moving and his blood sugar on cruise control.

Problem 2: Chips.

Sigh. I actually have a weakness for chips and salsa. It is the only things I cannot resist. If Tyra Banks was having a show on tortilla chip addicts I'd be on it. Knowing my weakness, I only do it once in a while - and for special circumstances, like when I go to dinner with my closest gal pal for the first time in a long while.

Problem 3: White sauces.

My reaction upon finding out that this "chicken and tortellini" wasn't grilled chicken tossed in a light olive oil sauce over whole wheat tortellini:
OH NO white sauce is bad bad bad (for real) it's butter and creamy . . it's fat city it's houston, texas alfredo is the absolute fattest sauce other than pure cheeese mixed with lard

An overreaction? I don't think so. It's bad news.

Problem 4: Pre-packaged foods that you can't customize.

You almost always have to customize your food in order to make it weight-loss friendly. Let's look at the tuna sandwich, that he got pre-made from a cafe where he works.

Me: tell me about the sandwich
Him: wheat bread... nothing on it.
Me: it wasn't tuna salad? no mayo?
Him: yes... It had mayo.
Me: that's something that's fat fat fat one more thing . . the bread wheat or whole wheat or you're not sure?
Him: hmm... I'm not sure.. but probably just wheat
Me: you have to demand whole wheat

See he picked up this sandwich already made so he was a victim of the conspiracy to make all Americans need healthcare due to poor diets and lack of nutritional awareness. He actually captured the main reason why so many people eat the "wrong" things:
Here's what I think I know its not good... But its easy.. I'm SOO busy... and all those foods are easy and quick.

So we know that we don't hook up with a guy who is easy and quick, (or maybe you prefer that, who knows) but we don't have the same standards for the food that goes in our body. Hmm. Interesting.

There are so many great options out there for quick/easy food on the go in every major city. The rural areas are a lot harder to navigate. Here in New York we have Healthy Living NYC which has a lot of restaurants that allow you to make good choices.

Worst case scenario, make due with what you have. For example, if I had to eat the options he did yesterday this is how it would go.
From our conversation:
Him: you wouldn't have [eaten] anything on that list, huh?
Me: um, i'd pick the grilled chicken out of the pasta and wipe the sauce off with a napkin . . . then eat it.

See, it's easy!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Training the Tipsy

I have had a client for the past two months that really never wanted training. He was, as he stated in several text messages, more interested in watching me in what he calls my "sexy shorts" than he is in working out. Throughout this whole ordeal I kept it all about business and I kept pushing him and ignoring him when he said, "ow", "enough", "zat's et" (he has an accent). I was convinced I could show him that he needed me if he ever wanted to work out in really meaningful and productive ways.

The sessions were tortuous for me. It wasn't the fact that I knew he was just going through the motions, it was the fact that I would be certain to get a text from him after the session something like this one that I got after a recent session: "Why u r so fcking cute?? Ajjj.." Granted, the boy says NOTHING of the sort during the workout, he simply complains about pretty much every single thing we do. Essentially he seems annoyed that we spend the hour working out.

All this sets the context for what happened during his last session. The original appointment was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, but he canceled and rescheduled it for Sunday instead. Fine, I had no pressing plans. I get to the gym and wait for him, and wait, and wait. I check my phone - he's running 10 minutes late - but he it has already been 15 minutes. By 4:30 (a half an hour after we were supposed to start) he strolls in wearing his popped collar, pink, perky, polo shirt. He apologized and told me that it was because - he just left brunch.

Brunch in the afternoon almost always means some booze-ination went down. "Brunch, eh? You're sure you're ready to work out already?" I asked. He smiled and said he was. Noticing that he was in a semi-daze, I asked him if he had anything to drink at brunch. "Yeah, mimosa, mimosa, mimosas!" he said, each word getting a little bit louder and more animated. "MimosaS?" I asked.

His brunch came with three free mimosas but since he was friends with the bartender he had two more. That's five in case you lost count. So not only did he take in about 140 calories for each mimosa (700 calories!), he was nearing, if not well beyond categorical drunkedness.

I already had to wait a half an hour for this guy, and he's usually a pain to work with so I had prepared the studio with a nice round of torture. I had begun planning this nonstop circuit of exercises as I waited impatiently for him. Now that he was finally at the gym, I was eager to get his tipsy ass in gear.

For a brief second I thought, maybe I should just send him home - it's probably not safe for him to work out. I guess my professional side kicked in - but then I kicked it right back away - he had already made me wait around for nearly 40 minutes before we got started and that is time for which I do not get paid. If people like Lindsay Lohan can sometimes operate motor vehicles under the influence of coke and sustain only minor injuries, this boy would be fine for a good ass-kicking using dumbells.

The session was a set of circuits that I had arranged in a semi-private studio. The lights were dim and the music was loud, I was having him work out in the best version of a bar I could create. I wanted his last session to be memorable and his being very tipsy inspired me to create an environment that suited the drunk theme - the club atmosphere made it that much more fun.

I was a little nervous when I had him going up and down on the step, he was very wobbly, and had a real tough time keeping up with my tempo. I kept telling him to move faster and he kept getting slower. He got dizzy during crunches and opted instead to just lay down and breathe for a minute. By the time he was doing push-ups on the Bosu ball he was pretty much a mess, but I have to say - he did survive it better than I expected. He only complained one time the entire hour - during a set of lateral shoulder raises with bodybars during which he uttered, "uhhh, uhhh" with every rep.

For the most part he was pretty silent and extremely sweaty. He was still in a daze but I think we successfully got all of the mimosa out of him. I was glad he managed to be quite active without throwing up, which, by the way, was my greatest concern. Once when he paused, put his hand to his mouth and looked down, I thought to myself, crap - who would have to clean that up? Me? No, no way, no how. Him? That'd be wierd. The housekeeping staff? No, they don't clean up things they can't potentially swipe. I decided that if his regurgitated force of nature were to come upon us, I'd send him home and I would close the door and sneak away quietly.

Luckily for everyone he never threw up - we headed up to the front of the gym to sign for the session and shared our last awkward moment of small talk - about how we avoided the stability ball (he was already unstable enough on his own today). I said, "yeah I crossed the balls off," referring to his chart. He laughed and said, "my balls off"? I laughed, closed the book and told him I had to get going. I was walking to the train when I got this text, "But at the end i cant suck ur balls off. . . and I am so sad for that . . ."

I don't get paid enough to do this job.