My brother Jim, in an offhand, almost flippant remark provided the key to my (and hopefully your) regular gym attendance. I was bitching about the effort it takes me to get to the gym, this despite the fact that the damn thing is right across the street from me, as if that matters, because as we all know, getting to the gym is probably 99% psychological torment, 1% physical journey. In my defense, I do suffer from a rather intractable pain condition related to a severe attack of shingles that occurred 14 years ago and any workout is brutal for the first 10 or 15 minutes or more… until the endorphins kick in. That caveat aside, I was still bitching, as I am want to do, and brother Jim shut me down with a quick…
“Never think of going to the gym, that’s just fuckin’ stupid… you’ll never get there, instead, think of how you feel when you leave the gym after a good workout, now that’ll get you through the door.”
Jim said this bit of sage advice as if it was just so fucking painfully obvious. I mean, where the hell did he come up with that glass is half full, light at the end of the tunnel crap. Surely Jim was spawn by the same off-the-boat Irish Catholic father I was, and I’m not sure optimist or even pragmatist, let alone personal motivator would accurately describe our fundamental nature. Whatever turned brother Jim into Tony Robbins that day, I am eternally grateful for. For that very phrase coaxes me into that godforsaken gym 4 or 5 days a week at the age of 51.
I know what you’re thinking, Frank, 4 or 5 days a week, fuck you… you’re one of those fitness Nazis and that shit’s just not for me, I’m too busy or my body can’t take that kind of grind. And I hear you… my body struggles with the grind as well, and I sure as hell didn’t start out going to the gym 4 or 5 times a week, and yes, I’ve had periods lasting as long as 7 months where I fucked off and gained nearly 30 lbs before I got my ass back into the gym and returned to my regular schedule.
The “regular schedule” for those of you interested is Monday legs, Tuesday chest, Wednesday arms, Thursday Shoulders, Friday back, weekend off. I average close to 30 minutes of cardio per day and end every session with stretching and some spine-friendly ab work (mostly variations on planking). I may get into the particulars of all the shit I do in a later blog, but for now I’ll focus on the why… why it’s so necessary for me to get my ass to the gym 4-5 days per week.
I live with excruciating pain, pain that drills inside the body and methodically subtracts, subtracting my social life, subtracting my happiness, subtracting my identity… if I let it, and I did for many years. Exercise, in particular intense cardio at least 3 times a week but preferably 4 or 5 times a week gave me back my sense of self, reinstated my high sex drive, improved my social life and effectively combatted my “woe is me” (or WIM) state of being.
Now don’t get me wrong, as those of you with crippling chronic pain know all too well, it’s far too simplistic to diminish pain-induced dysphoria with a self-pitying platitude like woe-is-me, or suggest that exercise cured me completely of said condition. What exercise did in fact, was enable me to keep my sense of humor and perspective when I come upon a bad case of the WIM’s.
One of my take-away lessons from constantly combatting chronic pain was that had I engaged in a regular exercise regimen prior to my crippling case of shingles, I most likely never would have contracted them in the first place. The prophylactic effect of exercise, in particular some regular up-tempo cardio cannot be underestimated. Yes, in a perfect world you’ll get your ass up tomorrow morning and say, “fuck, I’m getting my ass to the gym this morning so I don’t contract that hideous case of shingles that altered Frank’s life trajectory”. But Frank Kapra’s world doesn’t exist and we’re stuck in this one.
It is my job to encourage you therefore, that no matter what your current state of health, whether you’ve already let yourself slip badly, or simply were born with some shitty genes you never asked for, that you can get yourself to the gym, you can be happier, you can feel and be more fit, you can lose weight and you may even be able to reduce or completely get off some prescription medications if you follow along with some of the actual advice I fit in between all interstitial bullshit I add for entertainment value.
The first step is taking brother Jim’s offhand advice seriously. Never think of going to the gym, instead think of how you’ll feel having come from the gym to get you through those doors. This is the most important step. The next step is acknowledging that no matter what your physical or mental condition, there are steps that can be taken, exercises and equipment that can be utilized to help you feel better and live healthier. In my gym alone I see an older man with MS set down his cane and get on various machines, I see two young women with Cerebral Palsy work out in their wheelchairs and another with MS transfer into and out of hers. I see my own face of pain, a kind of permanent “I might fart” look transform into something almost normal for two precious hours after I work out.
All of which is not to make you feel like shit for being your average Joe or Jill who’s just a bit out of shape, but instead meant to counter your own conceptions about the gym and how you might logically feel “other” people may have time to get to the gym 5 days a week, but I have all these things to do, the kids who need me, the job that pays the bills, and on and on. All of which is perfectly valid, but all of which will mean shit if you don’t take the time to take care of yourself and prioritize your physical fitness.
I would love to say please learn from my mistake, don’t wait until your health is seriously compromised, but that’s not entirely realistic. So while I lovingly address all of you who seek a better, fitter, happier life, there’s a special place in my heart for those of you like me, who let shit get away from them for far too long and are looking for a way back, or a completely new path forward. In the future I will share with you what works for me, and what you absolutely must avoid to be successful in your pursuit of physical fitness. My next blog is going to be the one thing you must absolutely avoid… trying to do too much too fast, getting yourself injured, becoming discouraged and quitting all over. But make no mistake, I will not less you wuss-out so easily either… currently one quarter of Irene and my NY apartment freezer (read small) is taken up with fucking ice packs, including one for the knee, another for the shoulder, a couple for the elbow, and one that can be moved around from the groin to the ass to the hip. I’ll get into all that later… but just know that the road before you ain’t no picnic, but damn will you feel better when you start that journey. Good day, future ass-kickers.
I’m out for now.