casual, caged fun

For the past six weeks, I’ve been seeing a few guys. Nothing serious; just a little casual fun three times a week or so. I travel to a building basement to see them and pay a house fee when I get there. Layers of clothes come off, and I spend the next hour or so in a cage, exhaling audibly. Sometimes I’ll even groan. When I’m done – face flushed and slightly sweaty – I might get a vocal compliment from one of the regulars:
“Did a pro teach you how to do that?”
“That looked solid.”
“Your squat form is super clean.”
My gym – dirt cheap, bare bones, filled with heavy free weights, and lightly populated [mostly by middle-aged Japanese men] – is addictive.

Particularly to those who know me [including myself], there is something disturbing about the mental image/current reality of my loading up an Olympic weight barbell and spending more than five minutes within two feet of a power cage/rack. Because I have never been the gym type. Hitting the gym on a regular basis has always been a concept similar to marriage. It seems nice yet very foreign; something that appears to require more thought, maturity, and dedication than I believe myself capable of. In the same vein, I’ve persuaded myself that visiting a starkly furnished room several times a week with the intent to exercise or otherwise better oneself is probably way less exciting than the rollercoaster of poor health, where you never know if you’re actually actively killing yourself [though eventually, like all rollercoaster relationships, you end up feeling like death at least once]. When people tell me that they like to go to the gym multiple times a week, and not only for the month of January, I would visualize clenched teeth behind those bright, energetic eyes and clear, healthy skin; secret self-hatred weighing down those yoga-chiseled shoulders and upper arms.

But spend a few months hunched [mostly] over a computer and [sometimes] over a bike and atrophied muscles will tell you exactly how much you should be hating yourself. The last time this happened, I took up a few yoga classes. It helped, but chatarangas and a total lack of upper body muscle are like semi-attractive, abusive boyfriends. You get along great at first; you love his serenity and appearance of utter calm. You convince yourself you can be less of a nut case if you stay with this guy. But one day he jerks your arm and you end up with a sore rotator cuff. You take some time off, but he’s cute enough to merit a second chance. Your hormones also have turned you into an optimist; one that is willing to overlook his obviously deficient personality [fingers crossed it gets better! Spoiler: It doesn’t!]. But the asshole does it again, and this time it takes a little longer to stop hurting. And this time, it affects your time on the bike. And this time, you realize that living in fear of temper tantrums should be reserved for parents of toddlers and those gifted with a fast jab, not women with weak arms.
It still didn’t keep me from once again considering yoga classes when my rhomboids decided to implode. My wallet, however, did.
But Google – like the [mythical?] hot guy who arrives with an extra tube just as you double-flat – saved the day with a public, municipal gym requiring a monthly fee that was close to 1/4th the usual Tokyo gym rate. A little more digging around the Internet gave me a lifting program to follow: Stronglifts 5x5. Three workouts a week, consisting of three compound, full body exercises per workout, with 5-10lbs added to each exercise every time. My limp, T-Rex arms had found their unicorn.

Not that I’ve turned my doughy body into the chiseled physique of Hilary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby” [I. Fucking. Wish.]. In fact, despite the bordering-on-disgusting pictures my sister has sent me with my face Photoshopped onto the body of an oversized, fully roid-ed up bodybuilder, there hasn’t been much of a visual difference. The most I can say is that sometimes, the baby bump of a bicep will peer around my arm when I’m blow-drying my hair or slathering on some chapstick, and that the magnitude five earthquakes on my upper arms have been reduced to about magnitude three. Full disclosure: I even gained weight [I prefer the term, “mass”].
And though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “strength,” I also gained something resembling the beginning of some decent lifts. Since mid-January, I’ve doubled the weight on nearly all of my lifts…with the exception of my favorite: the deadlift. Because apparently 45kg is not 100lbs. It is 99.2lbs. But that still means I can deadlift both my mother and sister [Whaaaat?]. My upper body’s still lagging behind like the triathlete that keeps showing up to the hilly rides, but I’m warming up with weights that I previously struggled to bench press, arms quaking like well-made Jello. I even developed some bad ass callouses. All of which has blown-up my ego, thus more than making up for the lack of pulsing biceps.

And while lifting heavy – sometimes usually red-faced and sputtering with effort – can look like the complete opposite of meditative, ever-calm yoga, it’s taught me a thing or two in the past six weeks. Like how crucial rest days are, how awesome noob gains can be, and how much fun it is to simply compete against yourself. And what a terrible, terrible idea it is to shovel wet, heavy snow for an hour on the same day you set a personal record for squats and deadlifts. You will want to die. I almost did.
I’ve taken the past week off to deload, but I’m back in the gym on Monday morning. And you know what? I think it might even be deadlift day.