Privilege Blog

Back To The Clanging Of Weights, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:37am

I’ve started going to a gym again for the first time in 15 years. It’s crowded, prone to broken equipment, cheap, with really nice staff. I love it. And this is not a post to exhort you to do the same.

Backstory. I think I started using weight machines when I was in college. Sporadically. Then I joined a gym when I lived in New York, it was perhaps called the New York Athletic club but that might be my imagination running wild. Someone stole my step-grandfather’s old Rolex out of my locker there.

When I moved back to California it was a solid decade plus before I tried weights again. Sun Microsystems, my first full-time job after time off with young children, had a little gym on campus. They offered free bagels and doughnuts on Wednesday, so, win-win. After Sun I joined a gym in San Francisco near my; after Y2K I had a personal trainer for a while.

And then life kind of blew up. I got divorced, I swirled, I remarried, I learned that people you love can die, my tendons one-by-one kept forcing me to Lie Down, the world forced us all to Lie Down with COVID, you know the story.

I’ve never been able to run, so prone to muscle that my calf muscles give me shin splints. Swimming bores me. I am far too easily bored, true. But group exercise is perpetually interesting because of the other people. Man, I just love people. Yoga classes, low impact aerobics, and, yes, sitting on a machine whose fake leather has split open while I clank weights up and down with my quadriceps, watching people. Not to mention the exhilaration of muscle exhaustion.

All of which is solely to say, what feels right for you probably is. One of the fittest people in my family hates lifting weights and yoga, and only does Pilates because it’s good for her. But she’ll walk every day, and loves a good dance class. The other fit one walks 19,000 steps a day at, a pace close to running, with the same force of will that characterizes everything else he does.

Me, I think I’m good at two things in this life, rapid verbal processing, for better or worse, and lifting heavy things in the company of others. Metaphorically as well as physically, perhaps. This barebones gym, full of men punching each other’s tattooed shoulders, and young women who leave the machines on such a high weight I struggle to pull the pin out and change it, makes me feel like myself again. A certain take-life-in-my-teeth affect, if that makes sense.

It’s probably testosterone, right? Might be the last thing in this world that you want for yourself. But if you’re trying to keep moving, I do recommend diving into your long-lived nature as a way to find joy in exercise.

One final thought. The one thing that can be tricky about doing this at my age is that I never know if pain is good or bad. The part of my legs above my knees is sore: injury or a good soreness? Aging doesn’t come with a manual. On the other hand, neither do most adventures.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

P.S. if you want to try resistance/weight training and recoil at the thought of a gym, a fantastic start can be made with just little dumbbells and some resistance bands. These links may result in commissions but also they take you to the Target website which is not too chaotic for  a Saturday morning. If you need non-latex bands you can go directly to Therabands, or, Walmart has them.

10 Responses

  1. I’m with you, although strength-training at a big gym is relatively new to me. I’ve done aerobics classes, stretch-and-strength classes, Pilates reformer classes, yoga classes, and a fair bit of distance running, as you know, But when we moved eight years ago, I started working with my sister’s trainer and she helped me get comfortable with gym equipment and more focused attention to strength — At my age, this seems both manageable and surprisingly effective at helping prevent injuries, maintain fitness and mobility, with the added aesthetic benefits of muscular definition, not to mention a noticeable shift in metabolism, hunger, calorie consumption — and Mood!
    Currently this holds true for me at only one trainer-guided hour weekly. The rest of my fitness comes from daily walking and Yoga with Adriene several times a week. I still find it surprising that one hour with the weights can make such a difference! (Ideally, I can supplement with a 30-minute session in our condo gym once or twice a week, but I never quite seem to do that. The busier commercial gym offers more entertainment and my trainer motivates me and keeps the workout fun!)

    1. You are my fitness icon, so I particularly enjoy hearing what you get from the gym workouts. I mean, what an endorsement!

      “surprisingly effective at helping prevent injuries, maintain fitness and mobility, with the added aesthetic benefits of muscular definition, not to mention a noticeable shift in metabolism, hunger, calorie consumption — and Mood!”

      I agree that the boost of endorphins after a session with weight machines is, in my experience, unparalleled. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the faint outline of a quadricep in my thighs;)

  2. A terrible downside of long COVID has been an inability to exercise without getting post-exertional malaise, or other strange but documented symptoms. My doctor is starting me on a course of PT to try to bring me back to me. My best exercise is 5X/week treadmill or outdoor walking. My mood lifts significantly. Best shape I was ever in was 2X/week one-on-one Pilates in Pac Heights. Great teacher who’s still a friend. Pinning hopes on PT. Have a tendency to overdo that now must be reined in. When I got Omicron in January 2022, I was in great shape, and felt good. It’s bleak to see the distance I have to travel back. I’m gathering emotional energy, and determined to succeed. Though, I’m trying to manage expectations given the long COVID realities and unknowns.

    1. Katherine, I am just so, so sorry you are struggling with Long COVID. I do hear reports of people who make a full recovery, even after they thought it was impossible. I hope your emotional energy gathers in full force and takes you home. It must be so hard.

  3. Strangely enough, I’ve also started back doing weights at our local gym! I do enjoy it, and have been doing it 2x a week with a private trainer. I have the same thoughts about my aches and pains the next day. Are they the good aches from muscle building or have I hurt something? I haven’t tried in any classes yet, but maybe soon? I do love swimming laps, for me it’s a moving meditation. Good for you too.

    1. Alternatively, not strange at all;)

      I know many people love to swim laps. If the days were hotter and the pool in my backyard I might feel otherwise. For now I use neighborhood walks as a similar meditation.

  4. If asked (I wasn’t), I’d say that the best exercise path is through good instructors/trainers, and this becomes increasingly true as one ages. One goal is to become knowledgeable enough about yourself and whatever exercise regime you have chosen to be able to determine yourself the good aches and bad aches, and what is enough and what is too much. I have expanded my exercise hours as work and family time decreased. I have always done a lot of cycling, which is selective and repetitive in the muscles it exercises (and the road bike position is rightly hated by physical therapists). So, to counter I take Pilates 3x/ week (2x with another reforming cyclist, 1x mat class), a core-oriented exercise class 2x/ week (includes several women who were college athletes and whose fitness astonishes me almost as much as their condescension-free friendliness) and I lift weights with a trainer 2x/ week. I have been doing this for years and have never had an injury, which gets back to good instructors and listening to my body. I will end in redundancy — I once asked (paid) a very well-regarded physical therapist to spend an hour evaluating my physical condition and training (independently, he was not an instructor of mine) and asked him “Do you have an opinion as to whether yoga or Pilates is better?” “Definitely!” “Yes?” “Whichever one has the better instructor.”

    1. This makes a lot of sense. I had a great physical therapist when I was recovering from my tennis elbow, and after that an online Pilates/posture instructor who works with many people who suffer from repetitive stress injuries. It was only after I’d put myself back together a bit that I was ready to go back to weights. And I learned to use weights so long ago that they are a muscle memory! Your fitness program sounds both really effective and fun:)

  5. It does sound like you are having fun at the gym and benefiting greatly. Win-win! Exercise of any kind builds health and general wellness. Good for you for getting back to the gym.

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