Oh, the joy! (This is not your mother’s plank)

Barbell Planks, Junior's Gym, Nicaragua, Strength Training, Fitness

Junior’s Gym
Granada, Nicaragua
February 20, 2018, 08:00.

I love to be surprised with new physical challenges. Novelty brings a rush of excitement to my life and all the better if it’s something I can jump into with my whole body. I am at Junior’s with Chris and Bertina and they are introducing to me a wicked, new planking exercise that has my heart racing even before I try it. Chris shows me a photo of an athlete planking on a standing barbell in a lowered push-up position.

Oh my gosh, this is hot. Yes, I want to do it!

Chris has a plan on how we are going to get there. You don’t just start holding mid-rise push-ups on a barbell overnight. Baby steps are required to build up our form and also our confidence, too. Chris cautions me not to be discouraged if I fall over. The barbell looks like a giant coin and not much wider when you are hovering over it trying to stay aloft. He consoles that me that both he and Bertina initially stumbled in the first efforts to get the balance right.

He’s right, as always. I fumble through my opening efforts. Chris holds the barbell in place while I try to get my arms and legs in position. Meanwhile, I am crushed by the effort of holding the plank, but why? A plank is a plank. He’s not asking me to move yet.

I watch Bertina while she takes her turn and look for clues. Her stance is more logical: feet spread wider apart, shoulders lined up directly over the barbell. I get it. Don’t let the accessory fool me, it’s a plank. It may not be my mother’s plank, but it’s just a plank.

On the third attempt, I set up the barbell and find my positioning alone. And then I’m up right where I want to be and I feel that my mind and my body can relax when I recognize the familiar form. It feels awesome to hold the stance; I take a memory picture and know that I can do it whenever I want to now.

And then my mind begins to embellish. What if I start to improvise, what will that feel like? I bring a knee into my chest and then alternate. I try a few push-ups, albeit minor ones and move closer to the weight. And then I collapse. I’m exhausted, but I love it! I can’t wait to take this as far as it can go. Chris tells me that eventually he’ll get our hand placements at the 3:00 and 9:00 points on a clock and we will turn the weight right and left like a steering wheel. (yes, yes, yes!)

Barbell Planks, Junior's Gym, Nicaragua, Strength Training, Fitness 2

We continue planking as Bertina clocks us at a minute and a half doing commando crawls again, and Chris (who has trained the military) says that all we are missing is the barbed wire and the muck, but that this is a real soldier’s exercise. (I knew it! It wasn’t just my imagination!).

Next Bertina asks me if I can jump and I believe that I can, but in any case, I figure if I can’t then I’ll just stop. At the fiftieth jump my back begins to tighten which causes me to feel a strange mixture of hope and disappointment. I am grateful that I am well enough to do 50 reps, but my goal for my birthday was to film 250 continuous jumps in 150 seconds. I still have 45 days left to train but going from 50 up to 250 skips in six weeks might be unrealistic at this point.

That other part of the gym…

Next we move back to the fun part of the gym that I avoid on my own where all the men hangout to work the weights. I savor learning how to use all this equipment without having the upscale electronic machinery to help me lift my own body weight (for this I do still need Chris and Bertina, but it’s that unplugged ghetto workout that I crave).

Chris is keeping us steadily progressing on our pull-ups, ‘turning the challenge notch up’ each week so that we can begin to lift and lower ourselves continuously and unassisted. Trust me, I am not nearly there, yet. Yes, I can jump up and hold my chin over the bar; that’s the easy part, it’s practically a rest. Yes, I can slowly lower myself down to the ground. I have built up the strength for the descent, but the missing component on my pull-up is lifting myself back up to the bar without jumping.

No matter. Chris tells me to jump up to the bar and then cross my legs. When I descend down he will assist me from the bottom to get back up. Three is all he needs. As promised, when I lower myself to the ground Chris helps support my weight to get my chin back over the bar. He applies just the right amount of support so that I can achieve the ascent, but that I am also struggling to do it.

We finish up in the back with arm-curls using progressively heavier hand weights that move from 15 lbs, to 20 lbs. and finishing at a challenging 30 lbs for the final sets. I trust that what Chris says is true: my form is paramount to the weight I hold. If I get the posture right, my muscles will be able to lift the weight.

man's world, granada, nicaragua, strength training, personal fitness, weights, got to try

Chris reminds me to keep my wrist straight, sink into pushed out glutes to take the pressure off my lower back, and align my shoulders back. My final set with 30 lbs is a killer. I have personal doubts that I can do it, but I get coached the whole way through and Chris even throws in a finger to help me lift the final reps.

arm curls, Junior's Gym, Nicaragua, Strength Training, Fitness (1)

I am definitely getting stronger, but as Chris rightly points out, the upper body is a man’s world (as much as my lower body has a personal strength advantage to me being a woman). As he says, men spend their whole lives working out their upper bodies while women mostly avoid it.

To get what I want out of my arms, back and chest it is going to take time, but it’s coming along better than I had expected. Chris wisely is building small successes and advances into our upper body program and as he says, “I cut up the pie into little pieces, so that it’s easier to eat.”

That’s what I need. I’m ready for that.

Bite-size pieces each week.

(Keep’em comin’).