I have muscles today. Deltoids, triceps, biceps, gluteals, pectorals, etc. They're actual muscles, not flabby facsimiles occupying the space where muscles are supposed to be. The change is good. I like it. I feel " more solid I guess.
This renovation project began about nine months ago following a visit to a doctor, some talk about my high blood pressure, a lack of vitamins B12 and D and a suggestion to lose weight and get some exercise.
Since then, I have lost about 40 pounds, significantly altered my diet (adieu Big Mac and fries, bon jour Greek salad) and begun an exercise regimen that has progressed as I have.
Full disclosure. The "exercise" began as labored one-mile walks, some work on a stationary bike, struggles with light free weights and what passed for crunches (sit-ups for you old-timers). It was and remains crucial for me that I have a coach who is both understanding and demanding. She recognized my weaknesses and physical issues when I began (overweight and a fused right ankle, the result of a severe break) and today knows my strengths and tendencies (saying "I can't" when I mean "I don't know how").
I could not do a pushup nine months ago. I lay flat on the floor on my face, embarrassed, when I failed to do just one at my coach's request. Today, I can knock off 15 pretty much anytime and recently did seven sets of 15 during a two-hour workout session. Lots of struggling bench presses went into that.
But that's not the half of it. There turns out to be a world of exercises, each aimed at different parts of the body. Now, I knew this before; I just didn't pay much attention to it, which explains why my coach insisted on a full medical checkup before beginning this program. Within that world there are front crunches, side crunches and reverse crunches. There are squats (which require a seated adaptation for me because of my fused ankle), leg lifts, leg lowerings, hollow rocks, front planks, reverse planks and, oh my god, side planks.
The real challenges for me today are lunges and what for me is a sadistic exercise known as the Superman. The lunges -- basically exaggerated front and back curtseys -- are challenging because of my right ankle issue and nerve damage in my lower left leg. I kept falling over every time I tried one. My coach had me adapt. Do it slower; land on the ball of my foot for more solid footing; bring my body to the leg. I managed to do one forward. Then I managed to do one without wobbling. (Better balance has come along with greater strength and more controlled movement.)
Today, I can manage a few decent lunges and some so-so ones in a set of 10 forward lunges. This is good progress. Backward lunges remain more problematic, but again, doable even in my awkward style. And yes, today there are muscles in my behind that ache after a set of lunges. Coach says this is a good thing.
The Superman remains the challenge du jour. It requires lying on my stomach, arms forward a la Superman in flight, then lifting the front and rear portions of my body, leaving only the middle on the floor. I barely got front and back up for 20 seconds, but I learned something in the process: to get the muscles to do their job I needed to engage them, to flex them. Aha.
These workout sessions, which include a lot of stretching as well, go on. Currently, it's twice a week with additional workouts possible. I do this because I do not want to be an overweight, falling-down old man. I am far from finished, but also far from where I was a short nine months ago. I need a new wardrobe to fit my new body, but that's what is called a luxury problem. Because my health has improved with my weight loss and exercise, my doctor is weaning me off the blood pressure medications she prescribed. I like the way I look and feel.
This was not easy at first, although changing my eating habits to include more vegetables and fruits, much less sugar, salt, fat and meat was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I have discovered the delight of frozen Greek yogurt with fresh fruit. I do not starve myself.
The exercise was a slower draw, but once some results started to appear (using heavier weights, seeing actual muscles sprouting, my shoulders becoming wider than my hips), I was hooked. Not in a negative sense. I will never be Mr. Universe. (As coach delicately pointed out, I could never be even if I wanted to.) But I like feeling and being stronger, so I will continue.
Coincidentally (or maybe not) with this image makeover (I trimmed my hair and beard and got new eyeglass frames as well), I recently took an online narcissist test on PsychCentral. I scored 12, which I am told is an average score, with 20 being required for narcissism. But I did come up with a 2 on exhibitionism and a 3 on superiority, which may be something for me to look at in relation to this makeover and the apparent need to write about it.
Then again, I had a zero on vanity. This suggests to me that, not only is my body stronger and in better balance, but my mind, like my muscles, is still not over-inflated. And so I will continue.
Bob Gaydos is a veteran of 40-plus years in daily newspapers. He began as police reporter with The (Binghamton, N.Y.) Sun-Bulletin, eventually covering government and politics as well as serving as city editor, features editor, sports editor and (more...)