I walked into my gym the other week anticipating the usual 7:30 Friday morning work out with my personal trainer. He told me that the club had decided to start fitness testing clients in order to help them work towards a goal. I had been asking them to do this for years since most of the goals they promote are about weight and fat loss and not about health improvement. I have been very explicit with them that I will not set a weight loss goal because I will fail and feel shame and then have to quit the gym.
Back to the test. Rather than do the normal workout, he explained the test that the trainers had devised. He called it a “10 x 10” meaning we would do a series of exercises in a pyramid starting with 10 reps of each and then repeat the set doing one less rep until we got to zero. The time limit for completion was 20 minutes. The set was squats, pushups, lunges, bent-over rows, one-legged bridges, and crunches followed by 40 ‘high-knees’ at the end of each set. I started laughing and said, well, I probably won’t finish. My trainer, who is a nice guy and really quite supportive, agreed. He told me that most of the people make it to the set of 6 or 7 reps and I would probably do the same.
We got started. Now, just for a bit of background I have been working with a personal trainer for about 10 years and it has greatly improved my consistency with working out and my form. I have also played sports most of my life and I currently cycle extensively and play ice hockey in a men’s pick up league in the winter. I do my cardio at the gym on an instrument of torture called “Jacob’s Ladder”. So, I am not unfit by any means. But I am 55 years old, I have grey hair, my BMI is well over 30 and has been that way for most of my life. The paediatrician told my mother that I was going to be “a big one” while I was still an infant. On every health measure except BMI and waist circumference, I hit it out of the park. But, because I am fat both my trainer and I always start from the position that I will be less capable than all the other gym rats with their six pack abs and their 2.5% body fat.
Off we went. When I hit the 6x set, he told me that I was posting a great time. When I hit the 4x set, he was completely amazed. I finished in 14:05. The fastest time in the gym was 13:15. My trainer’s time was 14:55. I had posted the second fastest time in the gym and beat not just my trainer, but all of the trainers. He double and triple checked.
Yay me! Needless to say, I have bragged about it to my physiotherapist, doctor, friends on facebook, and anyone else who will listen.
But that isn’t the point. The point is that neither I, nor my trainer, thought that I would even finish. Despite all evidence to the contrary – the fact that I have worked out for years, that I have always had a solid capacity for cardio exercises, that I have posted other excellent results in the same gym – my internalized belief that old, fat chicks can’t be fit and his socialized belief (and probably textbook taught ‘knowledge’) that old, fat chicks are never fit still prevailed before we were able to “prove” the contrary in a test.
And I still look at the ‘fit’ ideals and wish I could be different. I long to have long straight legs and a flat tummy and a back that doesn’t look like a long lens view of the rolling dunes of the Sahara. I want to do straight leg fold overs without feeling my tummy between my back and my thighs. I want to do a plow pose without suffocating. But none of these things have ever been true nor will they ever be true. And none of them are indicators of either fitness or health.
Here is an analogy. I just had to replace the sewers in my house for a vast sum of money. As a result, I will likely never have a granite countertop or a soaker tub. I imagine telling people looking at my home when I sell it that while it may not look like a show home, we have a sewer to die for.
But no one should have to sell their value in the world (or to themselves) by saying, I may not look that great in a push up sports bra and boy shorts, but you should just listen to the sound of my heart pumping and see my cholesterol scores.
Melinda Munro is a lawyer and consultant in Windsor, Ontario. Among her greatest moments in fitness (and sports) is being awarded “Man of the Match” at the Cambridge v. Oxford Blues Hockey game in 1990. In this photo she is celebrating scaling Pen y Fan the highest peak in South Wales.