Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Coming Home (3 of 3)

A few weeks ago my former trainer, Sam, who is now my coworker and who I'm increasingly apt to call friend, was getting ready to compete in what I consider a "gun show." Part of this process involves doing unnatural things to one's body. Don't ever be under the illusion that bodybuilding and physique competitions have anything remotely to do with health. The aesthetic side of the fitness industry is the antithesis of health; it simultaneously inspires and alienates. It sets artificial ideals and then places undue emphasis on them.  Health is an afterthought, and it is easily sacrificed in the name of whatever the judges the day of the show consider desirable traits.

Saying that - I have tremendous respect for people who participate. My disdain for that side of the industry is not a disdain for those who compete. Quite the opposite. I hate the war, not the soldiers. I admire anyone with that much discipline.

But I knew that was never the direction I would take my personal goals - I'd be years away from even attempting to compete anyway, but the idea of standing in front of people judging my physical appearance pretty much dredges up every fragment of insecurity I have remaining and enlarges them. Even seeing my friends and coworkers do it kind of makes me feel bad for them, as proud of them as I may be. It seems somehow degrading, borderline dehumanizing. Then again, I'm still new at this. Maybe I just don't get it.

No - I knew I something to work toward that didn't have me checking and rechecking and posing to the side every time I walked past a reflective surface. I knew didn't want to be somebody who measured their obliques with a ruler. Even if I ever enter the local abs competition it will just be to have done it. Faces aren't in the pictures, so I could almost handle that. But I knew that no, that's still not what I needed to have as my first major goal, as much as I considered it. But then I heard something at work - a phrase. The phrase was rolled out of someone's mouth here in the office recently, and it echoed around my head for a while. It was an idea, anyway.

And besides - what I do now will just  be the first goal. Once completed, I'll set another. But if I did this, it was going to be in the three to five year plan. Sam suggested I do it in two, and I conceded. Any longer risks my stagnation. So I started working toward it this weekend. I'm on the lookout for training partners. I will do this. By this time in 2014 I want to have completed an IronMan Triathlon.

I've got my eyes set on my first half-triathlon in June of next year in Raleigh. I would like to complete at least two other marathons next year. My cousin is donating a bicycle for me to adapt for triathlon use, and Sam will be giving me pointers on my freestyle swimming stroke. Janet, another trainer with K180 has agreed to look at my running stride and let me pick her brain. For the past three days I've been running five miles a day and plan to up that in the coming days. I'm modifying my diet to add some calories and try to minimize losing some of the muscle I've worked hard to build. I'm researching ways of continuing my strength training as I also train for endurance. And as much help as I'm getting, and as many questions as I'll likely ask my coworkers in the coming months, it's ultimately up to me this time. This thought occurred to me as I worked out the other day: Trainer, train thyself. 

In that, I'll in turn be a better trainer. After the IronMan, what will I do? Who knows? All I know is that I've just started down a very interesting road. IronMan is just the first stop. But for a while, at least until it's done, along with what I'm learning as I'm becoming a coach - is the new focus of this blog.

This is my new life. And since I managed to earn myself a new life, found what I was supposed to do and found a way to do it, I feel like it's also up to me to help others do the same. And every day, it's up to me to help my clients find out what's inside of them, half asleep, waiting to wake up and stretch its legs.

Are you ready?

Let's make it happen.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Coming Home (2 of 3)

I was in the gym more and more every week. And as I finally began going through the motions to get certified as a Les Mills BodyPump instructor, I spent nearly as much time in the gym working out and learning choreography (all Les Mills classes are pre-choreographed) as I did at work. I was losing sleep, but each day went through the motions at work just to get to the gym. I felt alive again, felt like I was going to a place for which I was far more cut out than an office. Every morning I hit the gym either to work out with my trainer or by myself, and every evening after work I hit the gym to take a class or practice for my certification. And every evening when I left the office (I started referring to it as the "cold, florescent place") and got to the gym I felt like I was coming home.

My solo workouts were my new escape, my alone-time, meditation time, my ME time. The harder I worked, the more even-keeled and mellow I would be throughout my day. And while I wasn't sleeping as many hours, the sleep I did get was of better quality than I'd had in years.

My doctor was pleasantly shocked as my weight continued to drop, I was taken off my blood pressure medication, and where I used to get a cold every two to three months - to this day, I haven't had a cold in nearly a year.

Every morning as I put on that tie in the gym locker room it was obvious where I belonged, and where I didn't. I just didn't feel like I had a choice, that the military had been my only escape route, until one day - quite unexpectedly, the obvious slapped me in the face while I was working out with my trainer.

I had recently completed my Les Mills certification weekend, and was practicing by team teaching, getting ready for the final part of the certification - which was to film an entire class from start to finish and send in the tape to Les Mills for critique and evaluation. It was during that training that two small, seemingly insignificant events occurred that today give me goosebumps. We were sent on a two-mile run to warm up for part of the training. I ended up leading. Me. The hundred-pound overweight, chain smoking, hypertensive guy was leading a group of fitness instructors. And later that afternoon, the teacher referred to us as athletes. Athletes. I was an athlete. Really?

I've always loved to teach. I've always been especially good at it. And the gym is where I feel at home. Working out and learning how to work out changed me, inside and out. I was working out with my trainer, as I said, and that word kept popping back into my head: athlete. I feel myself changing more all the time, becoming more and more who I was meant to be. Who am I not to do this for other people? As my trainer was spotting me, standing over me while I was pressing dumbbells, it was obvious that I should be on the other side of this.

But my confidence, while increasing, still wasn't where it needed to be. I really still didn't look like a trainer, how would I sell anything? I didn't know the first thing about training, did I? I decided that would come.

I gave my notice it work - it was supposed to be an extended notice, but that didn't work out as planned. So I ordered the ACE personal trainer certification study materials. And then I spoke with the Director of Personal Training at K180 Fitness (the company with whom my trainer worked). And then I registered for the exam.

My last day in the hospitality business was uneventful. At around 1pm I walked out of hotel doors for the very last time as an employee. I was done. That was it. What did I do to celebrate? I had a Legs Day. I ran into the Group Fitness Director at our club, and informed her that my schedule was now pretty wide open. She gave some pointers on getting my taping ready, and after a few days I started scheduling classes to be videoed.

I was done. I was out. It took a while to really hit home, but I did it. I was no longer a Hospitality lifer.

My last day at the hotel was also exactly one week before I was scheduled to take Personal Training Certification exam, and I couldn't officially begin work as a trainer until I was certified. So I had to pass - there was no question. There was no "if." So that week I spent nearly every waking hour either studying for the exam or shadowing trainers. Twice I team taught BodyPump classes so that I wouldn't lose sight of my taping, but my focus was mostly on the exam.

I went into the testing facility the Friday morning of the test, and I passed. I was a personal trainer. I was a Certified Personal Trainer. It was my full time job. I can't tell you even now what that was to me, how very right it felt.

Three weeks later I recorded a BodyPump class and emailed it for evaluation. Eight days later I received an email that I had passed. I was also a certified Les Mills BodyPump instructor. I had in fact managed to change my life and move it in a new direction. I loved driving to work every morning, and still do. I'm where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

It's said that success is the enemy. So what now? I get better at being a trainer, yes. I read all the time, research everything, ask constant questions, and I feel like I'm getting better all the time, building a good client base and building strong relationships with them, beaming with pride as I watch people with whom I'm lucky enough to work get stronger, leaner, happier.

But in addition to working on becoming a better trainer, I realized I needed more solid goals. Something measurable. I needed another hill to climb. Not just the endless one that is getting healthier, changing my body and getting better at what I do. Those things are never-ending. I needed an attainable summit.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Coming Home (1 of 3)

I'm sorry for my long absence.
I got distracted.

When I last wrote  on here I was about a hundred pounds overweight, desperately squeezing a novel from my brain through pudgy, oily tobacco-stained fingers like a rusty caulk gun fixing a hole that could only be fixed from the other side.

The hole got bigger. It let in more fat while it tried to fill itself with unhealthy food, cigarettes and intricate stories developed from an overactive, escapist imagination. I should've asked from day one: from what was I trying so desperately to escape? My happiest days were spent in front of a laptop, staring at the screen that was a window to a world of my own construction - where the characters acted how I expected them to act and the universe behaved according to my rules.

The only thing I knew for certain was that I hated my job, and was bitterly angry at this career that with each passing year trapped me in the jaws of experience, dangling me above the fear-of-taking-a-pay-cut pit. At some stage I inexplicably came to the conclusion that the only was out was to join the military.

I was ready to pack up and leave at any moment. Only I was a little too out of shape. Although at some point I finally managed to quit smoking, I was still overweight. So I gave up escaping into the world of plot convenience and instead escaped into the world of cardio, clumsily hammering away pounds on the eliptical machine, afraid to go on the weight floor and look like a complete fool, not knowing that I had successfully completed that task already. I made myself work until it hurt, punishing myself for my excesses, stomping away life's tedium with each cylce, creating artificial exhilaration with the hammering of my heart and yet doing very little good. But yes, I got smaller, dining on WeightWatchers and denying myself the calories my body needed. No food for you, fat boy. 
I was still pear-shaped, but I was a smaller pear.

One day I was happy enough with my weight loss to go ahead and take the next step to joining the military: announce it on Facebook. And then I told my employer and family. I was finally getting out. I was reaching escape velocity. I hired a personal trainer to ready me for boot camp. For the first time in many years, I was really, truly excited about something - not so much joining the military but changing my life for good. I knew that above all else, that was my goal, direction or not.

The trainer introduced me to weights. And as I passed the age deadline for active duty military, I found I wasn't even terribly upset. My mood seemed to be evening itself out. I still loathed going to work (more and more with each passing day) but I had something to look forward to. I started working with my trainer before work just to set the pace of the day right. The worst part of the day was always leaving the weight floor to shower, put on a tie and take the walk out of the gym to my car.

Soon I started working out on my own twice a week. I started taking a group class, and as I discovered a confidence I'd never felt, decided one day that I would teach that class. I met new friends.

The gym became my escape - my therapy and my medication. Walking in, putting on my headphones, melting further into my music with each rep was my new happy place. The pain I caused myself was no longer self-punishing, but a reward that manifested each time I looked in the mirror and discovered a new muscle, or looked at my face and thought "is that really me?" I discovered the adrenaline and endorphin releases that could be found on the weight floor. I was discovering someone deep inside me who may always have been there, but I never bothered to wake up. I was discovering me. The person curled up in a fetal position beneath layers of fat like rings on a tree was stretching his legs.