I love that Planet Fitness commercial where the juice head says, “I pick thing up and put them down.” I realize now I have become that guy, minus the juice of course.
A couple of weeks ago, I walked into the gym at 5:00 am, I put my stuff away, and I loaded up a bar and did one rep. I was done. I don’t mean I was done with the set. I mean I was done.
Finished. Fed-up. Through. I was sick and tired of lifting weights.
I walked back to the locker room, retrieved my stuff, and I went home. Rose Marie was thrilled.
What happened? I’m not sure.
I’ve been lifting weights for 37 years. In those 37 years, I have only skipped the gym for maybe three days each year when traveling, and even when traveling I would work out when I could. That’s almost 12,000 workouts.
You’d think after all those years of picking things up and putting them down, I’d look like a bodybuilder. Well, I’ve never done steroids. I was offered them on occasion, but the cost alone both monetarily and physically never seemed worth it to me. Translation: I am cheap and I don't like chemicals. I was actually unfriended by someone because I refuse to juice up.
About all I accomplished in almost four decades was a complete 180. When I started, I had narrow shoulders, a flat chest and a big ass. Thirty-seven years later, I have narrow shoulders, big boobs and wide hips. I have become Nana! To this day, I still don’t feel comfortable taking my shirt off in public. And now, I need a two-piece!
This disenchantment wasn’t as sudden as it sounds. I remember a personal trainer on TV telling everyone to look at all the people on the cardio equipment then go back six months later. You will see the same people, and they will look the same. I don’t care for cardio because at six-four I don’t fit on the equipment, and I have had more repetitive stress injuries from those horrible machines than I can count. Does anyone else get numb feet on an elliptical? My knees hit the handlebars on exercise bikes. Treadmills scare the crap out of me. I watch too much AFV.
I never liked light-weight high rep workouts. I always thought they were for sissies. Around 30 years ago, I considered training to be a power lifter when I was approached by one to train for the Maccabiah Games in Israel. But alas, my fear of chemical enhancements quashed that dream. All these other guys were shooting horse piss or some other veterinary steroid into their systems and bulking up like crazy. The backne was very attractive. One’s backne would pop all the time, and his shirt would be bloody. Yeah, that is alluring.
A decade ago, a guy I knew told me he never knew anyone who tried as hard as I did to get the results of steroids without using them. He ended up in the hospital a week later due to a combination of steroids, human growth hormone and rhinoceros testicle extract.
I wish I felt the same about supplements and protein shakes. I tried all of them. None of them worked. One did have a strange side-effect – Tribulus Terrestris. While it didn’t give me bigger muscles or a six-pack, it made me treat my body like an amusement park. Every opportunity I could get, I did what every teenage boy does three times a day. I couldn’t get enough of myself. My skin never looked clearer. I never was, nor have I since been, in such a good mood.
Then I watched the documentary, Bigger, Stronger, Faster. In it, they show how all those fitness models on the magazine covers benefit from two things: steroids and Photoshop. Is there no hope?
I really took a long look at all the guys in the gym, which made some think I was Merv the Perv. I realized of all the ones with the perfect bodies benefited from one of two things or both: perfect genes and needles in their butts. Before you think I am lumping everyone into one category – or two, I truly believe, and evidence suggests, that more men, especially men over 45, are using steroids and testosterone therapy. How else do you explain a guy whose face looks like Colonel Sanders and whose body looks like Channing Tatum’s? I can see if you have hours and hours to devote to the gym and a personal trainer follows you around all day to be sure you don’t eat your fair share of Chuckles (I love Chuckles), but you aren’t fooling anyone.
Another point the documentary made was that none of the supplements you buy from Vitamin Shoppe or GNC are regulated. Most contain rice flour and very little or just trace amounts of what they say they are. I quit taking any supplements, and I didn’t notice any difference.
However, I continued to down at least two protein shakes a day. All I was getting was thick around the middle – too bad it was the wrong thickness and the wrong middle.
From what I have learned recently, those protein shakes contain a lot of things besides protein. They, too, aren’t regulated. Also, your body can only absorb and process a certain amount of protein in a day. The rest either makes your kidneys work overtime or gets absorbed and turned into fat.
So, around six months ago, I threw away all the containers of protein powder, and I started making breakfast again.
This was also part of a new kick I was on. Since I love vintage cars and write a column for Hemmings Classic Car, I see a lot of photographs from the 1940s and 1950s. The one thing I notice is that everyone was thin. Maybe that is why my Hudson Jet Liner is supposed to seat six, but only three of my friends can ride with me in comfort.
What were they doing that was different? Not eating processed food. After all, what did our grandparents call organic food? Food.
In addition, my doctor and I were working on a theory. I have an autoimmune disease in the Lupus-Rheumatoid family that causes a range of weird and uncomfortable symptoms. In the last twenty years, there has been a spike in the number of people diagnosed with autoimmune diseases. One belief is the improvements in diagnostics, but the other is that we are putting things in our bodies we shouldn’t be, and as a result, our immune systems are attacking these “enemies.” That is why I started only eating foods I prepare and whose ingredients I can identify. This seemed like a more logical way of keeping my symptoms at bay rather than take a bunch of medications with horrible side effects.
I lost seven pounds almost immediately.
Well, it seems I got off track for a second or two. But, I do have a point in here somewhere.
On the morning I picked something up then put it down and left, I got to thinking. I don’t think often, but when I do, it can be profound.
Over the years, in addition to picking up heavy things in the hopes of not dropping them on my head or feet, I also tried other forms of exercise. I also formed very strong opinions about them.
There, of course, was Krav Maga. While this had a fitness benefit, it also had an injurious one. After 18 months of being bruised, battered and almost killed, I decided I’d had enough. I suffered a ruptured vocal chord from an instructor showing everyone how to choke a tall person, a pulled hamstring from an instructor showing everyone how to take down a tall person, and a broken tooth from an instructor showing everyone how to punch a tall person. What does the world have against tall people?
I tried Cross Fit. Oh dear lord in heaven help the people who take Cross Fit. You’d think Reverend Jim Jones invented this crap. First off. Have you really looked at the instructors? They all have a glazed look in their eyes and flabby bellies. Seriously, all that running around like meth-heads, and you’re fat? I read the goal of Cross Fit instructors is to injure their students, so they can keep the classes to a manageable size. Now, let’s talk about the Cross Fitters, themselves. They are worse than Jehova’s Witnesses. All they post on Facebook is how many burpees they did and their WODs. Work Out of the Day for the less informed. If they miss a Cross Fit class, God help anyone near them. I dated a guy who broke up with me because when he left my house one morning, he didn’t have enough time to make his Cross Fit class.
By the way, the Cross Fit students don’t look any better than the chubby instructors.
Then, there’s Zumba, another cult. I have a friend who used to make fun of me for going to the gym all the time. He would say my gym called when I didn’t show up by 5:05 am. Now, he is 95 pounds lighter thanks to Weight Watchers, and every other Facebook post is about his going to Zumba. I tried Zumba, but I refuse to dress like Richard Simmons. Is that a requirement?
At my gym, they offered a Boot Camp class. This I actually liked because all the exercises used your body weight. There were no weird, unnatural movements, and I didn’t have to dress like an aging queen. I could reserve those outfits for when I go to a banquet. The problem was after two classes, the instructor was fired. Guess why? Selling steroids and having sex with clients in the gym. I was disappointed. While I wouldn’t have bought the steroids, I wouldn’t have turned down a romp on the tanning bed. I apparently wasn’t his type.
Add to all this the home gym equipment I bought over the years, the Power Stand, Cross Bow (Trailer Park Bow Flex), Ab-Roller, and the Bull Worker. Remember the Bull Worker? They still make it: http://bullworker.com/. It’s only $115 plus shipping and handling.
You may wonder why I did all this? I have a terrible body image. It all goes back to sixth grade when we were being weighed in the nurse’s office in school, and Lori Bowman said, as I stood on the scale with my back to everyone, “You’re built like a girl.”
As I said, narrow shoulders, flat chest, and a big butt.
I started with Charles Atlas at age 13. I still have the book of exercises, and some of them worked. Of course, I had to work out in my room when no one was home because I come from a weird family.
Then at age 14, I sent away for the Universal Bodybuilding series, advertised in comic books. After six weeks, it hadn’t arrived. I was upset. That cost $12 of my hard-earned lawn mowing money. Well, it turned out my brother found it in the mail and decided to hide it from me. Then he started a conversation one day about how everyone in his class was getting mail from Universal Bodybuilding. He had been holding on to it for a week. He thought I was being silly sending away for it. He would make fun of me for working out all the time, telling me it was unhealthy to work out so much. Now, he works out all the time.
Do you want to know why I didn’t share this with my family, especially my mother? She thought anyone who looked at a magazine or books about bodybuilding was queer. Maybe she was right.
At 15, I bought myself a weight set and bench for $40 from K-Mart. Remember those sand-filled, plastic weights and benches. I found an old book in the library illustrating bodybuilding exercises, and my life began.
I remember my father saying, “I was going to buy you one of those.” With what? You spend your money on booze and golf. It’s easy to be generous when it costs you nothing.
Speaking of weirdos. I answered the phone one day, and Uncle Stanley said, “Your dad says your lifting weights and are strong as an ox.” I cringed. To this day, even writing this, that makes my skin crawl.
In the Universal Bodybuilding series, there was a chapter on personality, and I’ll never forget one piece of advice: “Never be a muscle head. Don’t talk about bodybuilding. No one cares how many sets or reps you did. Don’t be the guy who always takes his shirt off. Don’t flex for people. You will turn them off.”
I never forgot that advice. It may be the reason I have no beefcake shots on Facebook like many my age who should really rethink those profile pictures. After all, it isn’t Scruff or Daddy Hunt. I never liked to talk about the specifics of my work-outs. When someone would ask me, “Do you lift weights?” I would answer in the affirmative then quickly change the subject. I read the book, and I didn’t want to be a muscle head.
Too bad they don’t teach that in Cross Fit Class! Or Zumba!
I have two acquaintances who do nothing but talk about what body part they are working at the gym any given day and how they are "hitting it hard." Both have loads of shirtless and semi-nude pictures on Facebook. One is 25 and has managed to build a body that makes him look like a 52-year-old married father of three. The other is 52, and he is convinced he looks 25. I think both of their homes are filled with fun house mirrors. They both spend more time talking, posing and posting than actually working out.
Flash forward from 1978 with a $40 weight bench and weights from K-Mart to today with a membership to RetroFitness. After years of gyms, home equipment, diets, supplements, enough protein shakes to choke a moose, and every book and magazine available, I realized I only had a body I sort of liked a few times in my life.
I also realized that in the four years I’d been going to this particular gym, I would see the same people every morning, and none of them looked better or worse.
Looking back, I liked how I looked when I was dancing with the Florida Dance Conservatory. I was much leaner, around 30 pounds lighter, and I had a larger than normal dancer’s body. Yes, I was still lifting weights. To be realistic, I was also in my early 30s. I also liked how I looked in my early 20s. I weighed 200 pounds then. I also had tight skin and black hair and could get an erection from a breeze. Ahh, the good ole days.
So, why was I spending all these years trying to get bigger and stronger when I was happiest when I was lean and pretty?
Yes, I got stronger, but I also got bigger – and not in the right places. I don’t care what the experts say. You CANNOT put on muscle and lose fat at the same time. I have tried every diet and every routine. ALL OF THEM! I have subjected myself to every fad and gimmick. It's all a crock of shit!
After I came home the day I put things down for the last time, I researched one last time for an exercise routine that would enable me to stay in relatively good shape without putting any more strain on my joints. After all these years, my body hurts. I groan when I get up. I groan when I sit down. It reminded me of an old neighbor of mine who was in terrible shape. Upon seeing my face after I ate the pavement while jogging in the dark, he said, “That is why I never exercise. I don’t want to get hurt.”
A few years ago, I wrote a short story about a rich guy who hires a personal trainer. He would drink martinis while the trainer worked out. He felt he was paying for the time, so he would use it as he pleased. One day, the trainer keeled over and died of a heart attack. The rich guy took a sip of his martini and said, “That is why I don’t exercise.”
There was a woman on the news who celebrated her 102nd birthday by throwing out the first pitch at a Milwaukee Bruins game. Her secret for growing old? “Keep breathing.”
My search led me to Mark Lauren, a former Army Special Ops instructor. He has an entire book of body weight exercises. The SEALS and Special Ops guys and gals don’t lift weights. They use their bodies as their gyms. Yes, they go on twelve mile hikes with 50 pounds of gear on their backs, but I am not 21 anymore, so don’t be looking for me on a hiking trail hauling a radiator from a 1938 Nash.
Best of all, Mr. Laurn has an app!
Every morning, I just choose an "Intermediate, 30-Minute, Body Weight" program, and a new routine is created in seconds complete with a warm up and cool down. I am afraid of the Advanced for now. Give me a month or two. The routines are non-stop, creating a cardio benefit as well.
You’d think after all these years of non-stop working out, fads and routines, I would be able to breeze through this. Oh hell no! This shit is hard! I sweat like a whore in church. I breathe like copulating walrus. And, I groan like a 1979 Lincoln Continental trying to go uphill. Apparently, almost four decades of weight lifting has prepared me for nothing.
Here’s the funny part, and I know you’ve been waiting for the funny part.
Working out at home on a mat with no weights reminds me of my mother following those exercise ladies who were on TV in the mornings back in the days of antennas, three channels, and shag carpeting. Every once in a while, I look at my iPhone expecting to see a lady with big hair, wearing a powder blue leotard and demonstrating the exercises, while her make-up remains flawless.
I am only one degree away from having a Virginia Slim burning away in an ashtray next to a cup of Sanka with one saccharin while I complete my morning exercises.
I’ll let you know if my shoulders get narrower, my boobs get bigger, or my hips get wider. I know my hair will get bigger and blonder. After all, I am just like Nana.
Read more at www.miltonstern.com.