Today, I am full of trepidation. As much as I am aching to work out, I am still injured and have great doubts about what I should be doing. For sure my sciatic nerve is pinched and this gives me the kind of sharp, reprimanding pain that presents itself without warning as my body changes position. The irony is that I have discovered that I can do all kinds of challenging stretches to a degree, but then basic efforts like sitting in the car even for short distances is so painful that I want to put my left leg anywhere but on the floor.
So why I am going to a strength training session? Maybe optimism. Maybe because I am stubborn. And also, I suspect that the rest of my body doesn’t want to get left behind just because another part of it is lagging. Surely the answer can’t be to do nothing. I weigh the options. If I go, I might emerge a more damaged version of my current self. On the other hand, and this is certainly the optimist in me, I might be able reverse the pain and the injury by stretching and strengthening my muscles regardless.
When I arrive to Junior’s Gym, I present my worries to Chris and Bertina who listen carefully. Both my trainers are athletes and have certainly been injured before. Their experiences are worth a lot to me because I don’t have a lot of knowledge myself to fall back with managing and navigating exercise and injury.
They immediately decide to change the planned workout to the upper body to go around my injury in the leg, but still bring increased blood flow throughout my system. This sounds like a reasonable compromise (sometimes I seriously wonder why I waste the time I do worrying about what might happen before I workout; my fears have never manifested into reality, not once). I am relieved that working out the upper body means that I won’t somehow fall out of the routine and flow that took time to rebuild after the winter holidays.
We begin with arm curls which my trainers are adamant about doing correctly and mindfully. Bertina first demonstrates the complete range of motion from the thigh up to chest maintaining a perfectly upright posture in a slight squat with her wrists straight. The critical areas of resistance are near the valley and peak of the motion where it is tempting to avoid completing the movement. Bertina eyes my reps carefully, as she always does to insure that I follow through and don’t miss the benefits of the exercise.
Chris points out that although arm curls are a popular exercise, most of the time they are done incorrectly as if they are a cardio workout. Arms swinging up and down, gaining time and momentum to manage heavy weights. This is a false sense of accomplishment. If it feels great and the movement is really flowing, basically you’re doing it wrong.
Resistance is golden. As I watch Bertina carefully move through a set of 10 curls, I can see tiny muscles in her back and in her triceps trembling with slow efforts. They are suffering through physical resistance which means later those same muscles will react to the challenge by growing.
After each set that we do, Chris adds in another 5 pounds. He stresses to me that the weight doesn’t matter. He could lay out double the weight and we would be able to do it. But it is important to build good form into our muscle memory, so that we do it correctly going forward. In the beginning, trying to learning proper methods and form is valuable, but it is also something that can be adjusted with time. Sometimes there is so much to think about when starting something new it is enough just to try. Perfection develops with practice.
We head to the back of Junior’s Gym to work on pull-ups. We’ve done these before, first using the metal step bar to jump up above the pull-up bar to get started with our slow descent to the ground, then later ignoring the step and jumping up into pull-up position on our own. We practice a set of this and seeing that it is now coming rather easily, Chris announces that we are ready for a bigger challenge and it is time to take off the training wheels.
What does that mean? Well, up until now our wrists have been in a traditional reverse position placed about a foot apart. But today he directs Bertina and I to move our wrist further outward about 4 inches more until they are placed just about shoulder width. While he points out that the change in distance is pretty slight, I am certain that I am feeling a world of difference in my arms. The load (me!) feels much heavier and there is more strain around my underarms, chest and back. There is a whole new range of muscles that are being called in to assist in this position and mentally I am not confident that they are ready to hold me up.
In the excitement and nervousness of trying something new, Bertina and I leap right into the exercise, but Chris cautions us to slow down and prep. He emphasizes the importance in every sport of taking a few moments to set your mind to the task and loosen your body into a launch position. Baseball players take a few practice swings before they bat, tennis players bounce the ball a few times before the serve, basketball players motion through the free throw while they wait at the line.
So we slow down to get centered and he’s right. Taking a few moments to clear my head and ready my body really does support the effort that I have to make, especially now that I am doing a familiar exercise but in a new way. I loosen my shoulders and think about the slow descent achieving at least one decent rep that I hope to replicate in the future.
As we cool down, I think back to an hour ago when I was driving to the gym wondering if I was doing the right thing by suiting up to participate. Just 60 minutes later, I am wondering how I thought there could be any other option.