Sunday, June 16, 2013

Get Back

Today, I pulled out the gym bag that I use for my boxing equipment (gloves and hand wraps).  The bag has slumped in a corner of the closet since late March, due to the recent hernia experience.  Well, the surgeon gave me a green light this past week to start working out again.

And I have been all along, albeit only walking.  I’ve been walking my ass off, like a seedless Johnny Appleseed.  Frankly, I’m tired of it.  I’m infamous for my “walk home from work” trek on Fridays that pulls up just short of seven miles, but I’ve been walking 2-4 miles about four days a week for the past month, weather permitting.  I’ve hated having to depend on the weather for getting in a workout, given the amount of rain we’ve had in the past few weeks.  It’s time to hit the gym again.

I don’t think doctors in general are in tune with how people work out.  Thus, I’m surely not going to start boxing right off the bat.  (I should mention that it’s non-contact … as stated earlier, no need to get hit unless you’re good enough to be a professional.)  I have no intention of trotting in there, wearing a satin robe with my name on the back, hands raised triumphantly overhead while “Eye of the Tiger” blasts from the sound system.

No.  Stairmasters and the like for the next 2-3 weeks, with stretching and mild ab exercises on the off days.  I’ll try boxing some time in July.  I know enough about this thing not to dive right in with a workout that intense.  This thing has healed up nicely, but I gather it’s going to be a long time before that little ridge dissipates, and I suspect even then I’ll feel a little line of tissue as a reminder.

I have been visiting the boxing instructor at the gym every Monday to say hello and keep him posted on my progress.  He’s happy to see how much weight I’ve lost, ironically none of it due to the brutal workouts I’ve done with him over the years.  I swore to myself I’d be down 30 lbs. from the weight I was at while taking his class, and that’s an obtainable goal with 2-3 weeks to go.  I haven’t hit that wall yet where weight becomes impossible to take off, and my attitude is, keep rolling, I’m sure I’ll slow down sooner or later, so long as I’m not starving myself or doing one of those nutty “no carb” diets that just isn’t a realistic lifestyle choice.  There is no secret to weight loss: just eat less calories, within reason, and think of food as fuel more than as an indulgence.  Some days, I’ve found, I’ll drop a pound or two, some days I’ll be shocked to see no difference or even a slight gain.  Once I reach a zone where I’m happy, I’ll weigh myself once a week and leave it at that.

But all this has been without harder-edged cardio workouts, so I’m curious to see how these affect the weight-loss regimen.  Not that I necessarily started out on some drastic weight-loss campaign.  But when the family doctor told me one of the key things I’d notice with the medication he prescribed for an under-active thyroid (diagnosed with the hernia) would be the ability to lose weight if I was diligent, I figured, why not, especially given that losing double-digit pounds will only help me reduce stress on my abdominals.

Life has been nuts lately, seemingly with the health issue taking a back seat to other situations.  In the past when life has gotten nuts, it’s always been a salve to workout, both physically and mentally, takes a load off and allows me think more clearly.  Working out has always helped to keep me sane, and walking, while not a bad workout, just doesn’t cut it in terms of getting a good sweat and a feeling of physical accomplishment.  It’s more of a contemplative exercise that I’d equate with meditating on your feet.  I surely won’t fault anyone if walking is their only workout – I’ve learned the best workout is one you can live with comfortably, never mind what anyone else thinks, just do it.

But one thing I pondered during that month when I couldn’t work out at all was what all this physical effort meant.  Why do I do it?  What good is it?  Would my time be better spent doing other things?

And I never really did answer the question.  I know that I love going to the gym routinely, just as much a social release as a physical one, to say hello and hang out with people I know.  I always liked gym class … and I think if you didn’t like gym class in school, chances are working out is a lost cause in adulthood.  Life went on without working out.  I didn’t break down in a fit of depression and lose hope.  I saw that I could live that way if I so chose.  Frankly, it would probably be easier and give me a better sense of space in my life, taking away the time one spends going to the gym, changing clothes, working out, then showering afterwards.

But I go back to the family doctor, when we first talked about this thing and what it meant.  He said, “You know, you should start going to the gym,” I think assuming that because I was heavier, I wasn’t or had stopped at some time.  “Doc,” I said, “I work out 4-5 days week.  Hard.  Might be why this thing happened.  I’m dying to get back in the gym, believe me.”

“Good, good, then,” he said, “because the mistake most people make after something like this is to never work out again.”  He stressed that I probably shouldn’t take up rugby or power lifting, but routinely going to the gym is something he recommends to anyone, unless their surgery presents some type of debilitating long-term effects.  There was no need to lecture me on this as I’d been living it for decades.

One of my walks takes me by one of those new-fangled “Cross Fit” gyms that opened up in an old warehouse next to a chicken-processing plant.  They really ham it up, with those huge truck tires sitting on the sidewalk and the front garage gate always rolled open so passers-by can gaze in to see all the rings and ropes and free weights and mats with the hiphop music blasting.  I always wanted to try Cross Fit … but probably won’t now as I know it’s a very extreme workout, with a matching mentality, that I don’t want or need.  Bless these people for pushing themselves like that, I understand the mentality and have surely had it at various points in my life.

But at some point, too, you need to back down.  Step down from that burning urge to obtain Olympic-level fitness.  Whether or not it’s possible for you physically or genetically.  It’s just too much.  We need to be in shape.  Most of us don’t need to be in the kind of shape that physical trainers who make money at it do.  And that’s pretty much the goal of Cross Fit, to get the gym member into that sort of hyper-fit state.  It presents a level of commitment, I suspect an hour a day at minimum, that most adults can’t or don’t want to give.  My personal limit has been an hour three days a week, with maybe another shorter workout, and hopefully a long walk on a Friday that is a nice workout unto itself.

And that’s a lot of time, believe me.  It’s a time commitment as much as any other type.  Time well spent, as far as I’m concerned.  But I understand most people’s lifestyles and how hard it is to fit in that sort of time.  For me, it’s always been a no-brainer, it’s always made perfect sense to me to make that space for work outs.

When I see people in that cross-fit gym, straining and grunting, gunning it, pushing themselves to the limit … I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.  I surely am – that level of fitness – but I can live without being that fit.  And I guess you can say I learned the hard way by having this little bump push through my abdominal wall and remind me just how human and frail I can be.  That thing scared the shit out of me at first, as well it should have.  But it also taught me about limitations, and desire.  Mostly the desire to overcome the physical liability as much as I could, and to not have it happen again.  Hell, if I try boxing and find it too taxing, then I’ll step down and figure out some other type of workout.  I hope this won’t be the case, but seeing as how I’ve lost a substantial amount of weight over the past two months by hardly breaking a sweat, I’ve learned that other things contribute to my general health or lack thereof.

Sorry if all this is a bore to people who don’t work out and can’t be bothered.  But I sometimes find it good to justify exactly why I’ve spent so much time going to gyms in my adult life, and what it really means.  Especially after something like this.  Monday, I’ll be in there, doing something to push myself forward again, and you better believe this is good news for me.  It could just be force of habit, but in a sense it also feels like coming home again after being away for awhile.  I hope I can always do this.

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