Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gym Rat?

Are You Calling Me a Gym Rat? How Dare You!

I’ve never been one to lift weights and going to a gym has always made me self-conscious.  I am a skinny guy; I have small arms and not much upper body strength when compared to your typical gym rat.  With my predilection for endurance sports, I’ve never felt the need to lift weights or get “pumped up.”  I felt that most of that weight training would be lost on me.  It would just create extra weight that I would have to carry around on the bike or while running.

A few months ago, I read an article about weight lifting for cyclists.  It started me thinking about what I might be missing out on by avoiding the machines and free weights typically associated with body builders, football players and guys that “pick things up and put them down.”

Last summer I began training for my first triathlon.  I was already a runner and cyclist, but not much of a swimmer.  Let me be honest.  I had a solid sidestroke and that was it.  I couldn’t keep my face in the water for more than a second or two before I was choking and flailing for the side of the pool.  Char found me a nose-plug that helped me keep the water out and we spent the entire summer working on my swim routine.  As anyone who has read my previous posts knows, we did manage to get my swim up to where I could finally complete my first triathlon without lifeguard assistance or rescue.

Then I came to the ‘Deid.  I was determined to spend as much time as possible in the pool and get this swimming thing down.  As I developed my stroke and built power in my lungs, I started to notice that now the issue was my tired legs and arms.  I needed more muscle in my shoulders, chest and back to keep my stroke fast enough to propel me through the water. 

For the first time in my life, I hit the weights. 

I was timid at first.  I furtively glanced around the room to make sure no one saw me adjusting the weight on a machine, lowering it until I could lift it.  I wasn’t comfortable with my workout routines and I didn’t really have a solid plan.  I just picked a couple machines that didn’t look too uncomfortable and that I could figure out.  Some of these things look more like medieval torture devices than fitness equipment.  When I found a few I liked, I started hitting them a couple times a week.  I started to notice results in the first month.  I wasn’t really getting bigger, which is what I was afraid of, but I was feeling stronger in the water.  I was swimming faster for longer.  But I needed a better plan.

Sometimes, that’s what friends are for.

My boss is a meathead, and most of my coworkers can brag about benching some ungodly weight that makes me gasp.  They started dragging me to the gym for their workouts.  They showed me how to not be afraid of several of the free weights and more diverse machines.  At first, the muscle soreness was pretty scary and I was embarrassed to be lifting only a fraction of what they were using.  But over time I learned to accept my limitations and feel confident about the weight that I could handle.  Equipment that I couldn’t figure out before was now familiar and fitted into my own personal workout program.  I don’t feel bad at all about walking into a room full of weights, proudly picking up some bars that are probably meant for small children, and grunting away with the other Neanderthals.

I’ve started looking forward to my gym time.  I plan workouts that specifically require me to hit the weights either as a warm up or break between cardio sessions. 

I think I’ve become a gym rat.  I pick things up and I put them down.  Then I lift them over my head or pull them towards me.  Then I pull them down or swing them away.  And I make sure to grunt in a manly manner.

But on a serious note, I am swimming better.  I feel stronger in the water and my times are slowly dropping.  I don’t have to pause between strokes to breathe and recover.  I can maintain a pretty solid pace without exhausting myself after each lap.  My legs feel stronger and recover more quickly after a good run.  I noticed all these improvements in the Tri the Deid Triathlon last week.  Even after forcing a fat tire mountain bike through 15-20 mph winds I had enough strength to run an 8-minute pace for 3.1 miles.

Maybe becoming a bit of a gym rat isn’t such a bad thing.

Now, how do I get into that yoga class?  That looks like fun.