Weight Lifting Like a Pro

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My coach told me to start lifting weights. Okay, y’all can stop laughing now. Sometimes we are asked to do things beyond our experience and abilities.

First I had to find a gym. There are many gyms. I’m cheap, so I went into one that was in a convenient location and asked if they offered free trial memberships. The man at the desk, a muscular and fit-looking black man, looked me up and down, smiled, and said, “Well, let me see what I can do for you. How would a week be?” I enthusiastically smiled and said, “Great!” He got out a card, and started writing on it. “What is today’s date?” he asked me. “I don’t know,” I said, looking at a nearby bench where two women, probably female instructors at the gym (both cute and fit) sat. “Do you know what the date is?” I asked them. “The tenth,” one offered. “The tenth,” I repeated. “The tenth,” confirmed the other. The desk guy cut in. “I didn’t ask them. I asked you. Now what is the date?” The girls giggled. “The tenth,” I said defiantly. “Are you sure?” he asked. The girls giggled. “Yes,” I said. “And what would the date be one week from today?” he asked. “The seventeenth,” I shot back. “Are you sure?” he asked. The girls giggled. “Yes,” I said uncertainly. “Is this a test?” The girls started laughing out loud. “Well, then, I’m putting down the seventeenth as the end date for your trial period,” the desk guy said, smiling at me as if he had put one over on me. I wasn’t sure what.

Having failed the first test, I picked up my bag and started backing toward the gym. “Can I use it now?” I asked. “Well, we close at 11 p.m., so I don’t know if you have time,” he said. “It’s 9:00 p.m. now,” I said, confused. “I’m not planning on being here that long.” How long could a gym session take, anyway? “Oh, so you don’t want to really work out,” the desk guy said. “You just want to check out the place. That’s fine.”

I got changed in the women’s locker room and stuffed all my things into a tiny little locker. I felt strangely vulnerable. I trotted out into the gym. There were only a few people, all guys, on the floor. I walked around, peering at the strange machines as if I were at a sculpture exhibit. They all looked very intimidating, possibly dangerous. I wasn’t sure what muscles each one was designed to work. I circled around the gym a few times, looking at all the equipment, trying to look as if I were an old pro who was just seeing if the machines were up to my standards. Another muscular and fit black man, a trainer, was working with a client, and eyed me (somewhat suspiciously, I thought) as I went by. I felt guilty. I was ready to explain that the desk guy had told me I could use the gym, even though I hadn’t paid anything. But no one came over to arrest me for trespassing.

I had been given a sheet with the exercises, weights, and repetitions prescribed for me. I peered at the sheet for a long time, trying to figure out what the first line meant. “Use free weights in a squat cage. Avoid the Smith rack.” I wandered around the gym some more, trying to find something that looked like I could squat in it. I found a contraption that looked like it might be it. I peered at the sheet, then at the thing, a few times. Finally, I put some weights on it, peering at each one and turning it over and over in my hands, looking for some marking that would tell me what it was and how much it weighed. Then I put my shoulders where I thought they should go and squatted. There was a good deal of information on the sheet about how to do the exercise, so although I wasn’t sure what the hell I was doing, I never felt like I was hurting myself. I did the specified number of repetitions, and stepped back, pleased with myself. That wasn’t so hard, I thought. I’m already a pro. I walked around the contraption one last time, seeing a label I hadn’t noticed before. It said, “Smith Rack.” Oh well.

The leg press machine was clearly labeled. There were huge weights piled on either side. Some inhuman monster must have used it before me. I thought, my god, who could lift all that? My first task was to remove all of them. The sheet directed me to put only 100 pounds on the machine. I started laboriously removing the huge weights, one by one. It was difficult and awkward. I put them on the ground next to the machine. I was almost finished with one side.

“Excuse me,” said a voice at my shoulder. I jumped. Now I was going to be kicked out for not paying. I turned to find the young black trainer at my side. “Do you need help with that?” he asked gently. Oh ho! So he had just approached me to make me feel as if I needed help, to condescendingly start telling me what to do and how to do it. Because I’m a chick. “Thanks,” I muttered shortly. “I can manage.” “Let me help you,” he insisted. “Well, then, you can take the weights off that side while I finish this side,” I said magnanimously, making it clear that I was giving him something to do because he wanted to help me so badly, not because I needed him. “What are you trying to do?” he asked carefully. “Well, I’m supposed to press 100 pounds,” I said, briskly, trying to sound like the pro I didn’t feel like. “That’s my limit—right now—so I have to take all the extra weights off.”

He thought about that for a moment. “But what you’re doing doesn’t have any thing to do with how much weight is on the machine,” he said finally. “There’s no weight on the machine at all right now. You’re taking weights off the storage rack.”

We looked at the machine, then at each other for a moment, both perplexed. I recovered first. “Oh, right, right,” I said cheerfully. “I don’t know what I was thinking. Hard day at work. Don’t worry! I’ll put them back. I don’t want to keep you from your client.” “Okay,” he said, somewhat doubtfully, but also kindly. “You know, you lie down here and put your legs up there. And this is where you can load weights if you want more.” “Great, thanks a lot,” I said. “I’m right over there if you have any more questions,” he added helpfully. “That’s okay,” I said cheerfully. “I’ve had enough for today. Have to be careful not to do too much!” “Oh,” he said, backing off, “Recovering from an injury, huh?” “Yeah, yeah,” I agreed.

My next mission is to identify, locate, and use the calf-raise machine. I think I’ll give that a try when my “injury” heals.


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