Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A Nostalgia Moment

In an attempt to reconnect with my inner gym-going self, I've decided to dig up a piece I wrote last year when my trainer went on vacation and I went to an unfamiliar gym for ten days.

10 Days Without a Trainer

On Tuesday, July 13, my trainer R. left for a vacation. I could train at his facility with the guy who is taking over his clients for the duration, but I want to see how I'd do on my own. In less than a month I move to Jerusalem to pursue an M.A. at Hebrew University. I won't have a trainer, and I don't even know if I'll find a gym with a squat rack. So I purchase a ten-pass package from a different gym in downtown Toronto and hope for the best.

Day 1: Wednesday, July 14, 2004
As I ride the bus to the new training facility, I read through my training log. I should be able to do this program with my eyes closed. I am going in mid-morning, avoiding the morning and the lunch crowd.
I am working on a five day split: Ham dominant, Pull, GPP, Quad dominant and Push. Today is Pull. I head over to the free weights area to start with bent-over bb rows. There are some friendly guys in the free weight area but no one is using the squat rack. I load the bar for the warm up set and discover that there are no locks. I learn later that the design of the bar and weights is such that they don't slide readily, but for now, having no locks makes me nervous. I can't quite get into my groove. My reps are down, so I do extra sets instead. I try to calm down. Between sets I realize that there is no clock on the wall, and I am not wearing a watch. I improvise by using my cd walkman to time my rest periods.
I move on to supinated pull-downs. After my first set a skinny woman asks if she can use the machine. I say sure, and she hogs the machine for two sets of 20 reps, sitting on it between sets, and doesn't even replace it to my weight when she's done. Twit. I tell myself that this is just more motivation to lose weight and get to a point where I can do pull-ups; no one ever uses the chinning bar. I channel the annoyance into my next set. A man asks if he can work in a set. I say absolutely. He does his set quickly and efficiently and then puts it back to the weight I was using and says thank you. I like polite people.
I get through my workout without much trouble. I am not as focused as I am when R is there, but I'll just have to get over that. Some of my reps are down, and my single arm rows aren't as far back as I want them to be. But the point is, I am here, I made it in, and I got through my workout on my own. I finish up with cardio. If I can't exhaust myself doing weights, I can at least be diligent about the cardio. There's no Concept II Rower here, but there are ellipticals, recumbent bikes, and treadmills. I do my intervals on the recumbent bike. Above the machines is a flat screen TV showing movies. I watch the last twenty minutes of The Maltese Falcon while getting through my intervals.

Day 2: Thursday, July 15, 2004
Today would normally be GPP, but most of my GPP day exercises require a partner, and those that don't... well, I don't think anyone would appreciate it if I took a pair of heavy dumbbells for farmer's walk and dropped them on this gorgeous hardwood floor. So I decide to move on to Quad day instead. The friendly guys from yesterday are in the free weight area as I set up for squats. I do my warm up set. Not having locks is freaking me out. Every time the weights move a millimeter my concentration is shot. I load up for my work set and promptly manage six reps with a weight I had previously done for four sets of ten. Oh oh. I am beginning to think negative thoughts. Fortunately, one of the friendly guys picks this moment to come over, look at the bar and say "That's some serious weight". Buoyed by the compliment, I do another set. Form is not good - I'm not going as deep as I usually do. There's recurring pain at the top of my left quad, but it dissipates by the third set. By the time I get to my last set the friendly guys are gone. In fact, it seems everyone has either left or is on the cardio machines. I look around for someone to spot me for the last set and find one of the two gym owners. He points out that there is a mirror right to the side of the squat rack; if I look out of the corner of my eye I can actually see how deep I am going. Good point; wish I had noticed this earlier.
After the squats I go to get some water. No water. A plumber is doing some work in the men's change room, so there will be no water for an hour. That's the only minus I can see in working out while the gym is pretty empty.
I move on to ball squats: squats with a swiss ball between me and the wall. I do the first set way too fast. For the next set, I count out loud on the descent, visualizing R counting.
The leg press here is totally different than the one at R's gym. First, you're lying on your back with legs up in the air, perpendicular to the body. Second, there's no weight stack, you just add plates. My reps are too low again.
My last exercise is a plank. Halfway through, some woman (I don't know if she works for the gym or is just a nosy member) decides to adjust my form, telling me that my back is too arched. Excuse me? I don't care if you make comments, but keep your hands to yourself. Sweat is dripping down my face, and I don't turn my head so as not to break form. I can't see what she looks like and therefore can't find her afterwards to give her a piece of my mind. The good news is that I managed to hold the plank 1 second longer than last week. I take out my frustration on the cardio machine while watching Jaws on the flat-screen TV. By the time I am done with cardio the water is restored.

Day 3: Friday, July 16, 2004
I arrive at the gym a little later than usual, but it is still quiet. Today is Push day. I start off with DB presses on the Swiss ball. I can't get the reps I usually do, so I fall back on doing more sets with fewer reps. This week has just become my unofficial "strength" week. I've noticed that I'm the only person using a workout log. Still no stopwatch, but I am getting really efficient at using my cd player to time my rests. I move on to the incline BB press. I can't adjust the incline on the bench, and again there's the no locks issue. My first set is extremely disappointing. I could do 10 reps with this weight last week and now I manage four. Barely. Fortunately, the music comes to the rescue. Mama Told Me Not To Come, off the G.I. Jane soundtrack, comes on the loudspeaker. I do more short sets. On my last set I get stuck under the bar, damn. I sit up and roll it down to my hips, re-grip, stand up with it, turn around, and row it up to the rests. (It looked funnier than it reads, no doubt).
Next, db military press. I've exceeded my numbers for last week. Good. Next, close grip BP. After the experience with the incline bb press I am reluctant to push things. My triceps have a way of failing with little to no warning, and I am rather pleased with my face not caved in, thank you. I do shorter sets again. The way the tricep station is set up makes it impossible to do the seated incline tricep pressdown - there's no room to put a bench, or even a Swiss ball, for that matter. As I am thinking about tricep alternative, a guy takes over the tricep station to do single arm pressdowns. It's positively hilarious; he is looking at himself admiringly in the mirror throughout his sets, and in between sets he's using the bench press station for ab work. I decide to go do cardio instead. There is only one recumbent bike free, so I try the elliptical. 2 minutes and 37 seconds later I give up. "The smarter way to work out" my foot. I know it's supposed to be easier on my knees, but it feels like I'm hyper-extending them on every step. Back to the recumbent bike I go. The movie today is The Edge; Anthony Hopkins is fine but I can't stand Alec Baldwin, so I listen to Alannah Myles on my cd player instead. The time flies by. I consider extending my cardio after the next workout as I feel strong throughout (sweating like a pig, however). While on the bike I have my first celebrity sighting; a well known Canadian film director.
After changing back to my street clothes, I stop at the front desk to ask for the massage therapy price list. J the gym owner (who used to be my trainer before he moved on to open this facility) asks how my workout went. One of the best things about this fitness centre is that one or both of the owners are always around, and they pay close and serious attention to how things are going. He then says "Did I see you doing cardio?"
"Three days in a row," I say. J has a puzzled expression. Anyone I have ever trained with will tell you that I detest, abhor, and generally hate cardio with a passion. If R were here he'd probably have the same expression. "Listen," I continue, "If anyone had told me six months ago that I would be in the gym five times a week and doing cardio to boot, I would have told them that they're insane. I still might." J smiles and gives me the price list. I've decided that if I get into the gym all ten workouts, I'll treat myself to a massage on the last day.
Monday is Hamstring day. I hope the nosy chick from yesterday isn't there on Monday. My bent leg good mornings would probably give her a heart attack.

Day 4: Monday, July 19, 2004
Took the weekend off, but I did tons of walking, and the massive housecleaning and packing I'm doing ought to count as cardio. (No, I'm not really counting it as cardio.)
Got to the gym today and set up for Hamstring Dominant day. I proceeded to do the absolute worst set of deadlifts I Have ever done. Were R here, he'd point out that the negativity is not helping. At one point he said he'd get me to give him a quarter each time I said something negative about myself; talk about a get-rich-quick scheme. I redeemed myself somewhat on the bent-leg good-mornings, doing one warm-up and four work-sets. I was concerned that nosy person might walk by and point out that this is not how you do squats, but the only other people in the free weights area were also there to work out. I felt strong heading into the single leg squats on bench. I still keep too much weight on my forward leg, but it's definitely improving. The gym does not have a lying hamstring curl machine but a seated one instead. As a side effect of not doing the deadlift numbers that I usually do, I ended up doing the single leg curls with twice as much weight. Cardio again. I hope all this cardio is doing some good. I'm not weighing myself while R is away. I threw out my scale several months back.
My clothes are fitting way better. I had kept some clothes around from my lighter days, thinking that by the time I leave for Israel I would fit into them. I never considered that by the time I leave I would be too small for them...

Day 5: Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Pull day. I finally feel like I'm hitting my stride at the new gym. I know some faces, I know where everything is, and I began the day with bent-over rows that were a great improvement over last week. The moral of the story? Give yourself a week to settle in, and don't be alarmed if you have lousy numbers for awhile. Still no stop watch; I used my cd walkman again and was much more strict with timing my rest intervals. Lots of people working hard this morning, including a very pregnant lady whom I've seen here before, and a guy with an artificial arm which looks like the Ferrari of artificial arms - all black and orange and techie looking. The rest of the workout went well, the supinated pull downs, the single arm rows, the bicep curls... and I decided to bump the intensity level of my cardio. I did the intervals at a higher level and the rest period at a higher level. I was sweating buckets; thank goodness for the big towels this gym supplies. While reading my log afterwards, I realized I had done 17 worksets all together, one more than I wanted.

Day 6: Wednesday, July 21, 2004
I decided that I had to improvise and do a GPP day. Most of my GPP work requires a trainer/partner, so I used some exercises from a previous program. DB shrugs, horse, one arm db press, and incline curls while holding a 10lb weight plate. It went better than expected. I did a shorter workout, then got on the recumbent bike and did cardio. I only did eight work sets, but this day wins the prize for most sweat - my t-shirt was soaked. I do miss doing farmer's walk; it is the perfect way to end a GPP workout.
I continued my internet search for a Jerusalem gym and found one that does have a power cage (at least it looks like they do from the pictures on their web site). The bad news? Because they cater to the ultra-Orthodox community, the gym has separate hours for men and women. The women's hours are 8:00am to 12 noon, Sunday through Thursday. In other words, precisely when I'm at school. Sigh.

Day 7: Friday, July 23, 2004
Quads again. I seem to be hitting my stride now. I am very glad that I had this trial period because now I know that I need about a week in an unfamiliar gym to get into my groove. My squats are improving in both strength and depth. The pain at the top of my left quad seems to appear only when I pause. If I go up and down like a piston there's no pain. I had the free weight area to myself until the last set. A guy comes in to the free weight are and heads to the squat rack. Just before he starts stripping my plates off the bar, it dawns on him that perhaps the short fat lady (me) pacing back and forth in front of the squat rack is actually using the bar. So he stops and asks if I'm using the weight. I tell him that I have one more set. After I finish the set, I take the weights off one end of the bar and he takes them off the other end. As I leave the free weight area, I glance over my shoulder, curious as to what he will be squatting. He's standing in the rack curling the bar.

Day 8: Saturday, July 24, 2004
Push day. I have to find alternatives to the incline bb press and the close grip bench press. The gym does not have a power cage, which means I can't take these to failure without a partner. Today I saw one of the more interesting characters, Grunting Man. This guy comes into the free weight area and starts doing curls. First he does seated db curls, which he supersets with machine preacher curls. He follows this by doing e-z bar curls super-setted with cable curls. From time to time he changes his stand vis-à-vis the mirror to get a better idea of what he looks like. All these curls are accompanied by loud primordial grunts. If I didn't see him, I would have thought that some lady was inadvertently giving birth. To top it off, when he is not grunting he is chewing gum with his mouth wide open, looking rather like a Holstein chewing its cud. Fascinating.

I ended up not writing about Day 9 and 10, but I did do them, and booked a massage for day 10. The RMT (Registered Massage Therapist) was wonderful, and she gave me some stretches that took care of my quad pain and made my next squat workout much easier.


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