“Have you done squats before?”
Once I had stopped laughing, I looked at the personal trainer standing across from me and said, “You’re funny.” He smiled and then showed me how to do a squat. I tried to copy his movements, stretching my arms out in front of me and slowly bending my knees and lowering myself toward the floor.
“Try to keep your heels on the floor,” he said, as I began to go up on my tiptoes. I stood up and tried again, barely able to squat at all as my heels groaned in protest. After a few more dismal attempts, he grabbed a couple of round weights for me to put my heels on and had me do three sets of fifteen squats. My left knee gave a little crunch and I imagined I could hear my woefully underused thigh muscles screaming like the damned.
It was last Friday, my 30th birthday, and I was at the gym for an on-boarding session. As part of employee orientation, the company requires new recruits to meet with a personal trainer to talk about goals, make a plan, and do a workout. When I heard this, I practically jumped for joy, since I’ve been thinking about working on my physical health ever since the happy pills made my brain stop self-sabotaging. And a free session with someone whose job is to be physically fit? Hell to the yes.
I got up early that day and put on four thousand layers to keep warm, then trekked through the piling snow to the club. I was PUMPED. I was STOKED. I WAS READY.
My trainer was out sick. *record scratch*
Luckily, another trainer stepped up to the plate and took over my session, and I have to say I’ve never been so glad that someone was out sick before. I always imagined personal trainers as more of a super-buff drill sergeant, screaming in your face as you sweat (sweated? swat?) profusely and struggled to do even a single push-up, crying and begging for mercy. This dude was a normal looking guy and he didn’t scream at me once. We sat down and went over what I was looking to get out of the session.
I decided the best way to get everything I could out of it was to be completely balls-out honest. I told this complete stranger about losing 140lbs by eating 300 calories per day for a year (that’s called ANOREXIA and is NOT a weight-loss plan). I told him my goal is to lose around the same amount of weight in a way that is sustainable and healthy. I also told him point blank about my struggle with mental illness and how physical health is the next thing I’d like to conquer. I told him I want to be as strong and healthy as I can.
He told me the first step was to get an idea of where I am right now.
“OH GOD,” I replied, probably going several shades paler.
“It’s okay,” he assured me. “We all start somewhere.” He went on to explain that the machine I was about to step on would not only weigh me, it would break down my body composition so we’d know how much was muscle and how much was body fat. We walked over to this funny robot-looking thing and I took off my shoes and socks (OF COURSE I HADN’T PAINTED MY TOENAILS OR ANYTHING, FML) and stepped on. I held onto the handles and watched as the numbers crept up. And up. AND UP.
55% body fat.
So that’s where I am. I braced myself and looked at the trainer, who stood there with a completely passive expression and then explained each number to me and emphasized the importance of getting a whole picture rather than just relying on the overall weight. I stepped off and jammed my feet back into my socks and shoes, then followed my new friend over to a spot beside the weights. That’s where he had me do those godforsaken squats, which he followed with having me bend slightly and pick up a kettle bell while squeezing my “glutes” (come on, we all know you wanted me to CLENCH MY ASS, it’s okay, you can say it). I did that until my thighs were screaming and my lower back joined in with backing vocals.
After that, he showed me how to use the rowing machine. Apparently it will help build up my back muscles, which will help with my rounded shoulders and posture. (I have TERRIBLE posture, friends. I already knew this. Of course, having it pointed out briefly made me picture myself swinging round the bell tower like Quasimodo.)
I got on the machine and started rowing. “Oh, this is relaxing,” I said. “I feel like I’m rowing a boat. Of course, I have never rowed a boat in my life, so I wouldn’t know.”
The trainer added more weight and had me focus on squeezing my shoulder blades together as I pulled back. I could feel it in my forearms and shoulders. A few days later I would feel it ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE in my arms and back.
After that, we went over to the inclining bench and he had me raise 10lb weights up and over my head. When it seemed like that was too easy, he had me change the position and use 12.5lb weights. As I struggled to keep them steady, he said encouraging things and helped me out when I fucked up the positioning. “Three more,” he said, as my arm muscles joined the screaming choir of my body.
“I can do three more,” I grunted.
“Yeah!” he said, “Of course you can!”
I didn’t want to do three more, but of course when someone is watching and you’re being encouraged, you just can’t let them down. I did the three and then we went back over to sit down and make a plan and set some goals.
My goal is to lose 48lbs in 6 to 8 months. He told me if I want to lose 140lbs again, I should have a timeline of about 18 months to 2 years to do it safely, but getting to 40% body fat is my first goal. And he’s going to work with me to get there. That’s right, folks. I have found my official personal trainer. And because I’m an employee, I get a discount on personal training, which means I can actually afford it. Believe me, I know how fucking lucky I am to have this opportunity which is why I plan on taking advantage of it. And I also plan on documenting this journey here, as well as my mental health journey. Speaking of which, my trainer has also struggled with mental health issues in the past and we spent a good portion of my session talking about it. He told me meeting other people who have been through similar things reminds him of what it might be like for soldiers meeting each other after a war, and I understand what he means. When you talk about your struggle with someone who understands what that’s like, you share common ground and I suppose it is a little like trading war stories. The mental health war. I’ve been so lucky in my life to have met other people fighting their own minds too and been honored to call them friends. When this trainer told me that, I knew we would get along just fine. I don’t know if I could trust someone to help me reach my physical goals if they didn’t understand mental health as well.
My other goals are to learn to snowboard next winter, and go skydiving the following summer if possible. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to safely fling myself out of a moving plane.
It’s also incredibly important to me that I never ever lose sight of the fact that you can be healthy at any size and people who work out or are trying to lose weight aren’t better than people who are happy at their size. Not everyone has the same resources or access to gyms or trainers, not everyone can afford healthy food. Just because I’ve chosen to try to get stronger and lose body fat doesn’t mean I want to make anyone feel bad about themselves. It also doesn’t mean I hate my body the way it is now. I don’t. I love being alive, I’m lucky to be alive, and my body is just as valid at 320lbs as it was when I was 150lbs. Anyone who doesn’t think so can kiss my glutes.