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Becoming Fit: An exercise-hater starts to train

Posted by Barbara Oleinick on December 28, 2018
Still Here – July 18, 2019

I showed up to work out today. I really, really, really didn’t want to, but I showed up. I accidentally told someone who was on a tour that I didn’t want to be here. Apparently I was so badly behaved someone intervened saying, “No, she really does like to be here. You should read her blog.”  I do hope the potential member joins despite me.

So Dan is still trying to increase my endurance. He made me fling those fat ropes up and down while squatting. Of course, Dan is a trainer so I couldn’t do it just once. I can do it for 30 seconds at a time now. Which is a big improvement. The first time I did those ropes they almost pulled me off my feet.

I have to go back to the spinning class to build my endurance so Dan will quit trying to do it for me. I took some time off because I tweaked my knee. Well, that’s the official excuse. The truth is Patti was on vacation so she wouldn’t know that I wasn’t there. She’s back now so I have to haul myself in. Don’t get me wrong. She is very encouraging and non-judgmental. But she does say hello to you. By name.

I have been trying to build up my upper body strength. I have been doing slam-downs and Statue of Liberty carries (one arm up with 15 pounds and one arm down with 35 pounds) and farmer carries with a trap bar (deadlift three times, walk, deadlift three times. Repeat.) So far I have noticed that my grip seems to fail before the muscles do. Also, if you don’t lock your arms straight, your back isn’t engaged and your arms take over.

None of this has been too bad. I didn’t expect it to be though, because none of the exercises are named after an animal or a country. (Does flinging those fat ropes have a name? Probably named after a country.)

My latest failure. Dan had me stand on a stool, grab a bar at ceiling height, and jump up and hang there. I cannot support my own body weight. I could not hang from that bar for the count of one. So I’m using the assisted pull-up machine to work up to it. I can hold myself up for the count of ten with just 50 pounds of assistance. I’ll keep doing it with less and less assistance until I can go back and stand on a stool and grab that stupid bar and hang there.

I have been working out for a year now. I still don’t like it. I like the people at the JCC and I like talking about it with others who also do strength training. Now I can really appreciate the accomplishments that others have made.

Sometimes I think I would quit if I wouldn’t lose all the gains I have made. But I know that I have a lot more gains to make. At least Dan thinks so.  So I’ll keep coming back because, frankly, life is easier when you are stronger.

Blog Post #8

Showing Off

Everybody I know, and some people at the bus stop who I don’t know, are aware that I can dead-lift 155 pounds. I manage to work it into every conversation I have. I’m smooth that way. But I do get my own seat on the bus a lot.

I will not be telling anyone about the weights I am using to strengthen my shoulders though. I used 7.5 pound weights when raising my straight arms forward and to the side. Then I knocked the weight down to 5 pounds for the side raise. I take comfort in the fact that I am isolating very small muscles, but I was shocked at how low the weight was.

I then tried a front squat with just the training barbell (30 pounds). I can do the squat, but I had a hard time trying to get my hands in the correct position with palms and elbows up. My shoulder mobility is a little limited.

By the way, never show off when you are with your trainer. I had to do an Ali shuffle down a ladder lying on the floor. When I got to the end, I thought I would impress Dan and I immediately reversed and continued doing the shuffle. When I got to my original starting point, Dan said “That’s one.”

So when I was doing assisted pull-ups, Dan told me to do five. I breezed through five and stopped. Dan said, “Why did you stop? Don’t let me limit what you do.” Yeah, right. I know for a fact that if I had done eight, Dan would have told me that I have two more in me.

On a side note, I have lost 15 pounds since I started training without doing anything special. Now I wish I had allowed Dan to determine my body fat percentage when I started because I know I have lost fat and gained muscle. But I was too embarrassed by my weight and my totally out-of-shape body. I really didn’t want to find out that I was 50% fat. Now I think my weight is keeping me from progressing the way I want.

I talked with Dan about what I can do so I can lose weight without losing muscle. He said my goal should be losing a quarter to half pound a week. Even I should be able to do that, assuming I don’t have any cookie accidents.

Blog Post #7 – May 15, 2019

Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and Endorphins

When I deadlift, I am on top of the world. When I jump on a box, I am exultant. When I do mountain climbers, I am sweaty. Endorphins are a myth. Triumph is real.

When I first started strength training, I really thought I would be doing repetitive movements with two pound weights. I never thought I would be able to do what I’m doing now in a million years. I couldn’t imagine it. After all, old crocks like me don’t deadlift. Old crocks like me don’t jump on boxes. Old crocks like me are supposed to count 5,000 steps.

Instead I have discovered the exhilaration of weight lifting. I love the intensity. I relish that feeling of accomplishment when I can do something today that I couldn’t do yesterday. I enjoy leaping onto an 18” box and wondering when I might be able to leap onto a 21” box. And the bragging rights!

I’m willing to go through a whole lot that I don’t really like so I can experience this triumph. The downside is that I have a hard time sticking to things that increase my endurance and flexibility. When I do lunges, I know it is good for my deadlift. When I do cardio, I know it is good for my heart, but does it help my bench press?

I complained to Dan about the lack of direct connection between endurance work and lifting weights. Near the end of our session while I was panting to complete the third set, he said, “Endurance training will help you get through this third set.”

Sometimes the truth is just incredibly annoying.

Blog Post #6 – April 1, 2019

Starting to put it together

I don’t feel that I have made any progress recently. I could only train intermittently due to other demands, and it shows.

When I got back to lifting, I still did a 45 pound bench press, but I only did a 30 pound squat. But Dan added a twist to the squats. I stood with my heels on a slight elevation. It stops some ankle movement and forces you to stay on your heels.

I also did some kettlebell swings with a resistance band. Wrap the band around the handle of the kettlebell and stand on the band. Everything goes much faster and it is more difficult to maintain control. I found it especially difficult to stand all the way up because the band was already pulling me back down. I can’t remember what this exercise was supposed to do for me, but if in doubt, I attribute it to core work.

Dan has added a new element to training. I have to write my own bodyweight workout. He will review it and make suggestions. I think it’s really sweet of him to assume I remember what the bodyweight exercises are. Or whether they are pulling or pushing. Or front of body or back of body. I pretty much have upper and lower body figured out though.

So here’s my plan.

Normal warm-up:

  • 15 Bird Dogs
  • 1 minute Wall Sit
  • 15 Sumo Squats
  • 1 minute Plank

Bodyweight workout (3 sets):

  • 12-15 Mountain Climbers (I really don’t like these, but I’m trying to look serious.)
  • 5 Assisted Pull Ups
  • 5 Incline Push Ups
  • 12-15 Bridges with 30 lb weight (assuming I can find that padding for the bar)

I sent all this to Dan and he suggested I do the bridges with 40-50 pounds. Also add lateral line jumps for 30 seconds to the warm up. Then he asked how many rounds of the warm-up I was planning on doing. I told him one. Dan said, “Make it two.”  So much for suggesting!

So I am back from doing my self-designed workout. It didn’t take as long as I thought it would. After I did two sets, I looked at the clock to see if I had reached my half hour for the workout, but no, I had plenty of time for a third set.

The downside? I can’t complain about it; after all, I did it to myself. I also have a tendency to not push myself. I only did 12 mountain climbers for the last two sets. I will remember to pick some other exercise to look serious, though.

Blog Post #5 – March 3, 2019

Beast mode

I have had such a strong couple of weeks. The combined weight of my deadlift, bench press, and squat is 235 pounds: deadlift is 140, bench press is 45 and squat is 50. I am surprised at how quickly you make progress in strength training. The weight I can lift just keeps increasing.

After I did my deadlift of 140, a total stranger told me I had good form. I puffed up right there. So now if anyone at the bus stop looks at me, I can add that I have good form when I tell them how much I deadlift.

However much I like the triumph of lifting, I have to admit that everything I have to do in between is pretty much no fun. I complained about doing some exercise and Dan said, “I’m not here for you to do what you like, I’m here to do what you need.”  And Attila is back.

So what I need is a series of deceptively simple exercises that are really, really difficult. Things like kneeling on a bosu ball with my heels together and up. That exercise activated every muscle between my waist and my knees. (Activate is trainer talk for on fire.) I did one-legged sit to stands. I did curtsy squats (who knew royalty was so healthy). I hauled a sled sideways while doing the hora. And I jumped.

I can jump 12 inches facing a box, but Dan wanted me to jump sideways. He started at 9 inches because I am always worried that I will trip and fall. Not just fall. I’m afraid I will smash into the ground and break my knees and my nose.

Then I had to start sideways, but twist in midair to face the wall when I landed. After ten times each side, Dan took pity on me and sent me for a drink of water. When I came back, I did the sideways twisty jump again.

After all of this, Dan showed me that he had inserted another three inch box under the 12 inch one so I was fooled into thinking I was just doing nine inches. So Sly Dan did an end run past my fears because he knew I could do these jumps.

I also managed to do an assisted pull up for the first time. I stepped on the machine and pulled myself all the way up. I was so shocked, I stepped off and said, “I did it! I did it!” I managed to do three sets of four pull ups. OK, 3 ½ pull ups.

However, I did fall. I was doing a circuit of the Ali Shuffle, hopping over hurdles (they were only three inches high!) and then up on a box, and running forward, backwards, sideways, and all out sprinting. Dan was taking an ego-deflating video. (In my head, the wind is rushing through my hair when I’m sprinting, but in the video, I look like Casey Hampton.)

Anyway, on the second circuit, I didn’t land well on the box and I fell. I rolled backwards onto the floor. I think Dan was there before I was. I thought I would be bruised, but even after two days, I had no bruising.

So my fear of falling came to fruition, but it was not anything like I had imagined. No broken knees, no broken nose, not even a bruise. I think all this training really helped me escape injury. When I started falling, I braced everything I had and, fortunately, there was something there to brace. After resting a couple minutes, I completed the circuit.

And not even the video could affect the pride I had when I finished strong.

Blog Post #4: Underachieving – February 6, 2019

I suffered a bit of a shock today. I have been running before my workout. Not a lot. But a few laps. Today I ran two laps, walked one, then ran two more. On that final lap, I talked to myself the whole way using all the Dan talk. (You have another lap in you. Halfway there. Finish strong.) I thought I did a half mile, thinking 10 laps was one mile. Then on my way to the steps I noticed a sign on the bulletin board. 15 laps = 1 mile. Sigh.

Then I looked at the clock to see how fast I ran. The clock told me I should put running in quotes. I am the person you should go hiking with in bear country because everyone can outrun me.

Dan is also trying to get me to do a pushup. He said my back is strong and now it is time to strengthen my chest and do a pushup. Currently, I can’t do a regular pushup; I can’t do a modified pushup. I can barely lower my face to the ground while on my hands and knees.

Dan told me to start in a plank, lower myself slowly to the ground, plant my knees, then explode upward. “Let’s start with 10-12.”

I started in a plank, lowered myself slowly until I was a few inches from the floor, flopped down, then exploded upward like a wet firecracker. “Let’s do 8.” I tried again. “You can do five.”

I know I have to look at how far I have come. My Rachel told me to mark my milestones just for moments like this. But I have been sore for six months and I am still chasing those elusive endorphins.

And now Dan has been sick so he couldn’t make it to two sessions. I thought about taking a class on Wednesday, but Group Active was at 8 am. I could have gone to the 9:15 class on Friday, but by that time I was committed to an exercise vacation. I did nothing. I did not go to the JCC. I did not work out at home. I did not go for a walk. I puttered around the house and met friends for lunch.  It was fabulous.

However, I will be meeting Dan tomorrow. I noticed that even though I can still pop out of bed in the morning, my joints are a little stiff at first. And it happened in just a week. So back to the exercise. My muscles may be a little sore, but at least I won’t stump across the floor.

Blog Post #3: New Year, Old Challenges – January 15, 2019

I acknowledge all the progress I have made. I see it in my everyday life. While sitting at a banquette, my 37 pound grandchild ran down the bench I was sitting on and launched herself at me. I picked her up on my arm, lifted her to clear the table, and set her down on the other side. And I was rock solid when I did it.

Yet knowing and experiencing all of these benefits, I really, really, really don’t want to work out anymore. I feel like I did after the first month. I know that I can get through it if I just keep showing up, but showing up is requiring more grit than the actual working out. Part of this is my natural sloth, part the dreary weather, and part is Attila the Trainer has increased the intensity of my workouts.

It’s my own fault. I want to increase my endurance. So Dan took me at my word and now I have a new goal of running for a mile so I could see the increase in stamina I want.

When Dan suggested this goal, I told him it was bad for me. Too hard on my joints. I even went so far as to solicit an opinion from an orthopedic doctor. He was no use; he thought it would be really beneficial.

I shouldn’t have told my daughter Sarah this goal while we were at lunch. I practically had to do the Heimlich maneuver on her. (“Have you ever run a mile in your life?” “No, but I can run for 30 seconds now.”)

In this quest for endurance, I have done deadbugs, and birddogs, and sumo squats (by the way, whose idea was all the mirrors?). I have done step-ups while holding weights and jumped rope (my 8-year old self was appalled). I did the Muhammad Ali shuffle where I looked less like a butterfly and more like a moth at a bug zapper.

I even started running a little bit on the track. Dan wanted to see it with his own eyes. He kept pace with me the entire way (he would take a step, then run in place until I caught up). After running, walking, running, walking, I tried to finish with two consecutive laps. Dan said, “Slowing down and keeping a steady pace is okay.” I wanted to say, “I slowed down?” but I didn’t have any spare energy.

But despite all this, or maybe because of all this, I feel like I have been spending the last couple of weeks trying to get out of working out while still saving face. Then Dan sent me a text, “Your commitment and hard work is unwavering.”

Now I feel bad. And I truly appreciate everything he has done.

But I’m not taking back the Attila crack.

Blog Post #2: On My Own – January 4, 2019

I actually worked out on my own last week. I know you’re thinking that I made a huge leap forward with that, but it happened by accident. I forgot that I wasn’t meeting Dan that morning. So there I was in the locker room all dressed and ready to go when I remembered. I double-checked my calendar just in case. But no.

I stood at my locker seriously thinking about going home. Or maybe just doing an executive workout (whirlpool, steam room, and sauna!). Then Molly walked in.

I’m not very good at outright lying, especially to someone who has listened to me complain for six months and has praised even my smallest accomplishments. However, I might have let her think that I was there on purpose and not by accident.

I then went and did a workout. Bird dogs (two animal names!), planks on the floor and on a bosu ball, crunches sitting on a ball, and bridges. I’m a really nice person, so I let myself out five minutes early.

My husband and I went to Chicago over Christmas. My daughter Rachel, who can deadlift 300 pounds, had asked if I wanted to go to her gym on Sunday. So I talked with Dan about a workout that I could do that would show my daughter how far I have come. Then, the next time we spoke I mentioned being ready to work out and Rachel told me we were going to a special class that Sunday: The Twelve Kettlebells of Christmas.

I immediately went to Dan and asked him to write me an excuse. (To whom it may concern: Please excuse Barbara from class today. She is feeling a little old.) Instead, Dan ran through the most likely exercises and told me that I knew how to do them all. There was no getting out of this.

The class turned out to be very doable. I did rows, swings and deadlifts with kettlebells. I did lunges, split squats and bridges. I also did something where you start in a lunge position, then lift your front leg 20 times. (Rachel was sure I would never be able to do that.) I finished up strong with a one-minute plank. Pretty good after an hour workout.

Of course, there were a few things I couldn’t do. I couldn’t jump over a bench (not like a hurdle, but like in the movies jumping over a fence with hands on it). I couldn’t leap in the air vertically with knees and feet up by your hips. I couldn’t hang from a bar, let alone do a pull-up. I climbed up a step, grabbed the bar, and slowly oozed down to the floor.

I also couldn’t do something called a burpee. It looks like you fling yourself flat on the floor, push up to a plank, bring your feet forward, and stand straight. Repeatedly and rapidly.

I told Dan that I survived the class and told him what I did and what I couldn’t do. He told me that he was very proud of how far I have come and he promised me that he would have me doing burpees in the new year. As if it was a special treat.

And I was just starting to like him.

Blog Post #1: Getting Started and Staying Started – December 28, 2018

It’s snowing today which makes it a real challenge for me to go to the JCC to work out.

Who am I kidding. Everything is a real challenge for me to go work out. It was a challenge for me to just go into the JCC. And I even had a membership which I didn’t use once in months. OK, years.

Everyone talks about the need to be held accountable. I knew I wouldn’t show up without someone waiting for me.(I certainly hadn’t so far!) But I also was so out of shape that I was afraid I would hurt myself or or wander around not knowing what I should do or find things so difficult that I would just quit. So five months ago, I made a serious commitment.

I hired a personal trainer.

I met Dan Holc for an initial evaluation. I couldn’t do one of anything he tried me out on. Not one knee-dip; not one squat; not one anything. I was afraid to jump on a mat that was three inches high. Stepping up and down a 12 inch high step was painful to watch.

Dan told me his training philosophy — Train as you live; live as you train. So I set my goals: Get up off the floor without assistance; pick up my grandchild; and climb Masada. (I would pick a trainer who had climbed Masada himself!)

We set up a schedule of three times a week for a half hour each. The first two weeks passed and I realized a few things. Working out was hard. I didn’t like it. I didn’t feel better afterwards. Apparently, I have no endorphins.

It’s a good thing I bought a ton of sessions because I was ready to quit. I really had to grit it out to get to the four-week mark. And this was with Dan babying me along. (Dan: Let’s do seven to ten of these. OK, six is good.)

Well, I didn’t quit. But I did complain a whole lot. (Me: Hi, I’m on my way to the JCC. My daughter Sarah: Oh, here we go.)

And after four weeks, I could do three of those knee dips and I had lost seven pounds without trying  I take my milestones where I can find them.

Where I am now

Over the next several months, I got stronger and faster. Dan stopped babying me. (Two more. Finish strong.) I discovered that Dan and I don’t count the same way. (Dan: Let’s do five sit-ups. Me: Easy! Dan: To the right, to center, and to the left. That’s one.) I don’t complain anymore, at least not verbally. (I know you don’t like to do this exercise. So give me the stink eye now and get started.)  I finally learned what a circuit is. (But, Dan, we already did this exercise. Why do I need to do it again.)

I currently can do 15 squats with 20 pounds. I can do 15 bridges with 50 pounds. I can deadlift 70 pounds 12 times. I can jump up 12 inches a few times. I can do planks on the floor. And occasionally, I’m the one to say “Two more.”

I can get up off the floor without grunting — still working on graceful. I can catch my grandchild when she leaps up without hurting myself. I haven’t yet climbed Masada, but I am sure I could.

I still hate the air bike and the climbing machine. I really don’t like anything that has an animal name in it: bear walks, duck walks, inchworms. I do not like lunges because my balance isn’t great yet.

What do I like? Lifting weights. I am really impressed that I can lift, and press, and carry such heavy weights. I know, I didn’t expect it either.

Five times a week

Thanksgiving made me realize how much I have to be grateful for. My family and friends, my cozy apartment, and — my body. I decided to commit to gratitude for my mobility and health and keeping it that way by working out five times a week. That is a big jump for someone who really hates working out.

So in addition to my sessions with Dan, I added Group Active and Zumba.

My first Group Active class wasn’t bad. I had some trouble with the routines, but I expect I will get it in a couple weeks. It also changes from cardio to strength to core to balance, so by the time I think I can’t take it anymore, we move onto a different exercise.

The big difference was the strength training part. I didn’t know if I was doing it right to get the most out of it. Dan always tells me which muscles I am firing up. (I’m learning anatomy by which muscles are sore the next day!)

Zumba was a different story. I have no rhythm, no coordination, no endurance, and still no endorphins. I left the class a little early because I cannot maintain that level of activity.

By Friday, I was exhausted. I am abandoning my idea of five times a week. I am afraid that Zumba is going for the time being. I will try to keep Group Active in the mix.


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