Of Asics Weightlifting Shoes and Camel Toe

“Oh my God, I accidentally saw that part where her leg, you know, meets her groin…?” A friend told me earlier this year.

“You mean, her labia?”

“Well, not the entire thing, but yeah, part of it.”

“Ew, gross,” I’d said.

As my State-side visit neared its end, I was increasingly becoming anxious about going back to the box. Not only because of the inadvertent two-week hiatus where I’d packed most of my workout clothes and then used them just once during my trip. Toward the end of last year, a girl had joined my CrossFit box, shit had hit the fan, and I got splattered with it.

It wasn’t just her tendency to wear thin running shorts and leggings that didn’t cover her butt or hide the shape of her nether region. It was more that within two months of joining our box, she had thrown herself at our happily-married coach. Despite friends pointing out how blatantly she was flirting with our coach, I first assumed she was overly friendly and maybe didn’t quite understand the concept of boundaries. Maybe she was excited to join a new box after an allegedly poor experience at her previous one. She seemed nice, she was good at CrossFit, and we became friendly.

crossfit yoyogi year end party.jpg

That initial assumption was napalmed at a year-end party that a box member had organized. After the party, we had all lingered outside the bar, waiting for someone to take the initiative and lead the way to the after party. It was cold and we were all trying to keep warm, hands stuffed into pockets. As I shot the shit with my coach and a few friends, the girl slid up to him, rested her head on his upper arm and slipped her hand into his coat pocket.

Things got pretty weird after that. I made it clear that I didn’t need friends who lacked a moral compass, the box owner eventually found out about the shady behavior, and the girl, for the most part, cut it out. She still apparently hates me.  

When faced with sticky situations, I generally choose to delete myself from the locale or social circle involved. Despite the fact that I love my box, I started avoiding classes and only coming by the box during open gym hours when I knew I’d be alone. The additional support the box provided this girl for her attempt to get into regional championships, her strength, and her proficiency at WODs made me feel small. I’d done nothing wrong but I felt like the outsider. I considered quitting every week.

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By coincidence, however, I’d ordered a pair of Asics lifting shoes prior to the year-end party. Handmade of thick suede, the heel is lower than competing models and they look like Soviet-era relics in comparison to the Nike Romaleos or the Reebok Legacy Lifters. There’s no cool Velcro strap, and unless you go the custom route, there are only two colors. But they’re also the best lifting shoes you can buy.*

Unfortunately, they’re also expensive. The money had been spent, though, and the shoes were on their way. There was no going back.

The first time I got under the bar with these shoes on, I finally understood why people say that lifting shoes are a worthy investment. If you’ve ever ridden a fixed gear after doing most of your miles on a road bike, that’s what wearing lifting shoes feels like. Except the plastered-on feeling is on your feet, not your butt.

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Although I’ve tried lifting with plates under my heels to  replicate the effect of lifting shoes, it never felt stable. The soles of my feet seemed to cave in towards the ground. With the Asics, the stiff leather soles keep my feet glued to a hard, supportive surface which means I can grip the ground more effectively. The lack of any cushioning translates to the feeling that I’m lifting barefoot, but with enough support to keep my heels raised. Lifting in normal sneakers feels like standing on a soft bed in comparison.

People say that lifting shoes will automatically add 5kg to your squat max. I can’t say that I’ve been gifted those instant gains – for a number of reasons, I haven’t tried to max out my back squat this year – but I can say that squats feel good in these shoes. My muscles still feel awful during the movement, but I’m not trying to feel out the “tripod foot” in soft, cushioned shoes. Instead, I can grip the floor through my shoe and drive up through my heels with a little more efficiency.

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The only drawback I’ve experienced is the lack of cushioning makes for a harder landing. I noticed that my heels would occasionally hurt after a lift, and that they sometimes felt bruised for a couple days afterwards.

“Is this normal?” I asked my coach.

“Probably,” he said, “I think I stopped noticing.”

That was a couple months ago and he’s right. It becomes one of the aches and pains that come with weightlifting way too much in your mid 30s. Like being constantly, visually assaulted by genitalia that you have no interest in, you eventually just get used to it. And in the end, both are a small price to pay for solid weightlifting classes at my favorite box.

* The Asics shoes are considered world-class, but those with less ankle mobility might want to consider the Nike Romaleos or the Reebok Legacy Lifters which provide a higher heel.

Prescription Dom Perignon

Every couple of months, I find myself in a compromising position, where the strangest part about my situation is not that I don’t have any pants on. It’s not that a virtual stranger is hovering over me with a giant popsicle stick, or that hot wax is involved. Or that I actually enjoy the process. It’s always something else with my waxing sessions.

There was the time in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where I swear the woman was using a pumice. It was so painful, it scared my hair into not growing back for nearly two weeks (unfortunately, it’s also been the best wax job I’ve ever received). There was the time I ended up hearing about how much skin you have to push, pull, and generally move around when you wax a scrotum. That time I got offered a job (I’m still not quite sure what to think of the fact that the only time I’ve been offered a job on the spot, I was naked from the waist down). And then there was that time that the nice lady working industriously over my nether regions was convinced that I really needed to get on Tinder.

Of course, I could lie. “I’m dating this awesome guy, fantastic in bed,” I could say. “I’m totally gainfully employed; love my job,” I could also claim. Yet, somehow, being deceptive at a time when you’re lying back, half naked, seems extremely silly. And because that translates to guys as well, I haven’t allowed myself to download Tinder. Besides, I like to tell myself, I’m not a reliable date. After all, I’ve been prescribed Dom Perignon.

Okay, it’s domperidone. Not quite the fizzy, alcoholic elixir – ironically named after a monk – of the French aristocracy, and more like a small, coincidentally pale yellow tablet that lets me eat somewhat normally. It’s the current fix for stomach problems that have been getting progressively worse over the past three to four years: hardcore morning nausea, a tight throat and more nausea after meals, and other unpleasant symptoms like bloating until I look pregnant.

And so, while I had hoped by this time that I’d be re-establishing those tan lines, I haven’t ridden outside in over two months.

It sucks. A lot. The worst part is the unpredictability. I’ll be fine for five days in a row, and kitted up and ready to head out on a long-anticipated outdoor ride, my stomach will suddenly throw a temper tantrum. I’d like to say that I’m coming to terms with it, but my friends would probably claim otherwise. They’d be right; I’ve been reduced – more times than I’d like to admit – to lying in bed in my bib shorts and sports bra, weeping in frustration.

It hasn’t been all bad, though. Usually, I’ve managed to make it to the gym a few times a week. One could argue, of course, that if I could lift, I can probably ride. That may be true; but fighting nausea in a squat rack near friends seems far more appealing and comforting than trying to keep a belly full of Skratch down while attempting to pedal myself home, alone. And though I still can’t squat for shit, I’m finally growing some arms. I’ve made gym friends I can laugh with, too, and lifting ensures I go home genuinely, honestly hungry.

On days I lift, the rest of the day can throw what it wants at me. It can involve stories about scrotums, some serious exfoliation that borders on sadism, or not-so-subtle hints that I need to get laid. It can involve that frustrating feeling of being hungry yet nauseous at the same time, for the entire day, or acid reflux that burns my throat and keeps me up at night. Even getting creeped on by the local creeper at the gym ain't no thang. I might not have my bike to run to, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be okay.

If not, I can always take more Dom Perignon.

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.