Thursday, July 21, 2011

#352: Living STRONG at the Y

On Monday, I started "LIVESTRONG at the Y" a pilot program at the Northside Y sponsored by a grant from LIVESTRONG. The program is designed to give survivors a chance to move, try different kinds of exercise, and learn the ways that physical activity can help them to beat cancer.This video is a very touching introduction to the work we're doing. There are a team of trainers who work with us. We are 8 cancer fighters in various stages of our battle. Some have been cancer free for longer than I. One woman had a radiation treatment this morning, before she came to the gym. The thing these folks all have in common is that they are all funny, courageous, and unsentimental about the disease. Fighting cancer, and living life are serious business for us, and we are eager to do both with more vigor and joy. We meet twice a week, and I have a feeling you'll be hearing a lot more about the group in the weeks to come.

Today, we did some gentle physical assessments. How long can you balance on one foot? How far can you reach your arm? What are your measurements? How much does a quick 6 minute walk affect your heart rate? Simple stuff. Once we were finished, I had to wait about an hour-an-a-half for Mrs P to pick me up, (we're down to one vehicle right now, due to a non-injury fender bender.) So, I went to the weight room.

What a nice facility! They had some machines that I've only seen on YouTube, and a couple that I hadn't even seen there.

Of course, my favorite station was the power cage. I flew to it like a bug to a zapper. It had been so long since I felt a real barbell resting across my shoulders as I dipped down into a squat. How long since I slipped 45 lb plates onto a bar and felt their heft as I lifted them off the hooks? I watched my eyes in the mirror as I squatted up and down, up and down, chest up, eyes up, squat down, press the heels into the floor, the rhythm of the movement leading me on as I breathed in to go down, then hissed the air out to go up. Three sets of 10 at 135. Not impressive by any standard, but it felt so good to be back under iron.

Then the dead lift. My favorite movement in the weight room. Load up the bar. Catch it in an alternating grip, one overhand, one underhand, to keep the weight from rolling out of your fingers. Dip your knees and feel the weight up your arms and across your shoulders. Eyes up, chest up. The a light hiss of breath as you push down into the ground and pull the weight up your legs to your hips You stand like a derrick with the bar across your front. It hangs there for a moment. Your hands are hooks at the end of taught cables. Then you slide your butt back, keep your chest up, and lower the weight straight down your legs. Bend your knees as the bar passes them. Wear long pants, or your shins will be sorry! The bar slides easily toward the ground as nearly every muscle in your body works together to control its decent. The edges of the 45 lb plates tap lightly on the mats of the gym floor, then the big muscles in your legs and butt and back "reverse engines" to push your body up, pulling the bar with you. 3 sets of 10 @ 135 lbs. I've lifted more, but it's never felt better.

I did some work with the dumbells, and did some woodchoppers at the cable machine. Then it was time for a cool down walk on the treadmill, and some time in a comfy chair working on lines and watching folks swimming laps. That really looked good. I don't think I'll be going to the Y without my swimming trunks again.

I haven't been going to the gym because I really wanted to run, and I didn't want to spend all my time working out. Today reminded me how much I love the feel of the bars, the clang of the plates, and the smell of steel and rubber and sweat that just seems like home to me. I had never set foot in this gym before, but I was welcome and accepted at once, when they saw that I was a member of the fraternity. I knew the secret handshake. I wiped off the bench when I was finished. Some kids came in from the basketball court to do bench presses. They wandered carelessly between lifters and mirrors. They joked. They jostled. They leaned on machines they weren't using. They pushed out some lifts, then ambled away again, leaving a wake of youth and testosterone. We lifters acknowledged one another silently. "Posers," we seemed to be saying with our nods and eye rolls. Real lifters are respected in the weight room, no matter how little iron they can move. We know one another without having to say a word. We share machines. We offer to spot. We leave things the way we found them. I didn't learn any names, and barely shared any words, but I made a handful of new friends today. We met in the weight room. We're going to be working out together for a while.

And it feels great.

But man, are my glutes gonna be sore in the morning!



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