Since I sprained my ankle last August, I haven’t been doing the group class thing at my gym these last few months. My intent for Saturday was to start the Bodypump® class, guaranteed to make you burn 560 calories in an hour, but when I went to sign up online, it was already full. The following hour was Pilates, so I signed up for that instead. You could ask me if I broke a sweat in that class, but honestly, I am still aching too much in unexpected places to remember.
Pilates relies on small weights (1 or 2 lbs.), resistance bands, the body’s own weight, and small movements, repeated many times to strengthen specifically targeted “core” muscles, i.e., the muscles that support and protect the muscles and joints that actually do, as one might say, the heavy lifting.
I personally know the importance of these muscles from having subluxed one shoulder once and the other about four times. Subluxation is when a joint pops out and then pops right back in again. I’ve been loose-jointed all my life and my doctor says it will serve me well as I get older and arthritis kicks in more, thickening the joints. But I still remember the first time I did it back in karate in college. My teacher performed a simple circle block with minimal force but a very good angle and I was committed to the punch, which meant I was just stiff enough that his wrist on my wrist tugged my arm out of my shoulder for a millisecond. I was instantly on my knees, gasping.
Don’t go there, people.
At first glance, this might appear to be a convenient metaphor for masculinity and femininity: the large muscles getting the big job done, and the small muscles stabilizing the joints. It’s not a terrible metaphor. In martial arts classes, men do tend to try to use their height, weight and muscles against their opponents. As a woman who is anywhere from 3 to 12 inches shorter than most guys, I, like my women peers, tent to go more for speed, angles, and being sneaky, er, I mean strategic. For example, in a fight don’t necessarily try to kick him in the nuts. Go for the knees. Men ALWAYS protect the family jewels automatically, but in comparison forget they have knees. Also, the knees being lower, you can always reach them. And all trees are felled at ground level.
But like most metaphors about binaries, this lacks the subtleties present in real life with its wide spectrum of experience. I, too, have sometimes tried to use brute force (and failed, natch), I think in part because we live in a brute-force culture. In the west and the US in particular, we are surrounded by ideas of physical power, supersized pickup trucks, World Wildlife wrestlers, and hamburgers. When I was writing this yesterday, I was sitting in a restaurant known for its 1 lb. Godzilla burger (with 4 slices of cheese and fries, $12.99), which is actually the smallest of the “Gigantic Burgers.” There are six increasingly larger and more expensive choices, the largest being the “Eagles Challenge”: 6 lbs. of burgers, 20 pieces of bacon, 20 pieces of American cheese, 5 lbs. of fries. And a dill pickle.
Heart attack: $65.99.
Don’t get me wrong. Like every student of Asian history, I know that China and Japan and lots of smaller countries in the region have had their massacres. But the idea of balance is much more respected in the east. In some Asian countries, the officers mark their rank with flowers (rather than stars or pips). Imagine a US Marine general wearing a small gold chrysanthemum on his shoulder boards to convey his rank.
Brigadier General: “I’m a badass! I have a flower!”
General: “Ha! I have four flowers!”
Brig. Gen.: “I bow down to your extreme badassery.”
Anyway, now that the college year is ending soon, I’m going to have more time to spend at the gym. It has taken me the last six years to lose the first 20 of the extra 30 lbs. I put on in seminary. It should have taken less time, but I get into ruts, doing the same exercise routines all semester because it’s easy and at the end of the day after work I am tired. One of the advantages to group classes is that all I have to do is follow the teacher’s routine. And since the gym’s schedule and mine are very different, I probably won’t be able to take the same class twice in a week, which will change up what I am doing even more. And when I can’t make it to class, I’ll do weights or rowing. With any luck, my body won’t know what hit it.
Hopefully, being more strategic this way will give me a better outcome. My New Year’s resolution was to lose 6 lbs. this year, and although I’ve lost about an inch around the middle, because I have been building muscle, my weight hasn’t changed. I want to lose another 2 inches so that the shirts I bought 5 years ago fit again and I don’t feel semi-strangled by them. That is no fun and leads to a negative body consciousness that I had actually never experienced before. I prefer the positive body consciousness I haven’t completely had since college, the feeling that because my body can do cool things like kick your hat off, the person inside the body must be pretty badass.
And by the way, I have three flowers. (Thank you, Ebay.)