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body work

Body work Before Zippy gets buffed there are more fundamental things to tackle, like setting goals, learning to stand upright... By G.D. Maxwell Sweat stung my eyes. Breath came in burning gulps. I was probably hyperventilating. It made me more lightheaded than usual. I rested both arms against the machine’s grips and stared vacantly at drops of sweat, my sweat, soaking into the fibres of the carpet at my feet. "Excuse me," came a voice from out of the fog. I didn’t know how long I’d been sitting there, contemplating the nothingness of exhaustion, exalting in the rush of endorphins, deafened by the sound of my heart straining to move blood through what I imagined to be severely plaque-constricted vessels, but the husky voice snapped me back to the here and now. Without lifting my head, I glanced over. Oversized crosstraining shoes were topped by bulging calf muscles topped by sharply delineated quads rising to a taut waist and rippling, washboard abs. I didn’t want to see the chest and arms attached to the rest of the torso, so without looking any higher, I muttered, "Huh." "Excuse me. I wasn’t sure if you were resting or passed out. Mind if I work in?" She said it in such a nice way, I just muttered a resigned, "Yeah, sure," and watched as she upped the weight I’d been straining against by about an order of magnitude and snapped off a set so quickly, I swore she was going to achieve flight. Welcome to another humiliating preseason at the gym. After a summer marked by exercise consisting mainly of casting a fly rod, hoisting an anchor and occasionally mixing a drink without the assistance of a blender, I thought it would be wise to mosey over to Meadow Park and whip myself into shape for the ski season. I convinced myself that beginning in earnest on October 1ish would give me more than enough time, even taking into account the possibility of an early opening. I’d hit the slopes late in November in shape and in control, at least to the extent either of those words have ever really applied to my life. But here I was, October 5ish, running out of steam. I’d run out of interest somewhere around the evening of October 1ish, but soldiered on for the greater good. The way I figured it, I had two choices: keep dragging myself to the gym out of sheer cussedness and flail pointlessly away at the various medieval-looking machines whose function I vaguely understood; or trick someone who knew what I should be doing into taking up the hopeless cause of guiding, nudging, cajoling, threatening me if need be — and let there be no doubt, there need be — down the road to... fitness? As luck would have it, there are people who are actually crazy enough to do just that for a living and 10 very talented ones work at Meadow Park Recreation Centre. It didn’t take too much pleading to get me in touch with a couple of them who were willing to rise to the challenge of overcoming my sloth and indifference about all things gymmy. Because of their dedication and professionalism, this is the story of Zippy Gets Buff instead of the story of Zippy Buys a 10 Visit Card to the Gym, Uses it Twice, Swaps it for a Big Bag of Doritos, Five-For-Five Videos and a Six Pack. When the teeny weight room at Meadow Park opened in August 1994, Diana Rochon was there as a trainer. Her timing was fortuitous. She’d arrived in Whistler a few months earlier, having taken up a friend on a typical Whistler Godfather offer she couldn’t refuse — rent-free couch surfing until she found a job. With a background as an athletic trainer and sports therapist, she’d just closed her own sports medicine clinic in Thunder Bay where she ministered to the injuries and designed strength and conditioning programs for 60 athletes. Prior to that, she’d been a trainer with the hockey, soccer, football and just about every other team at the University of Manitoba in her home town, Winnipeg. Diana knows more about how the body does what it does and, more importantly, how it can do it better, than I would have thought was possible. As Fitness Centre Programmer at Meadow Park she oversees the staff of 10 trainers and still manages to run a business on her off days, training mountain bikers to go where no two-wheeler has gone before. Not willing to slough off an impossible challenge on her staff she wouldn’t take up herself, she agreed to work with me. "What’s your goal in training?" "I need a goal?" She explained goals were important. Obviously if all I wanted to be in shape for was couch surfing, any program she would devise for me would be long on right hand index finger exercises and short on aerobics. "Okay," I said. "I want to ski on opening day like I skied in February last year. Before the crash. Only better," I said. "That’s an admirable goal," she replied without a touch of irony in her voice. "But," feigning a look at the calendar, "you should have been in here in August if that’s what you want to accomplish. It’s too late for this year." "Well then, let’s do what we can with what we have," knowing I was whipped already. Subconsciously, I found myself humming Paul Simon: A man walks down the street, Says why am I soft in the middle, Why am I soft in the middle, The rest of my life is so hard. "Generally, we try to get people who want to start working with a personal trainer to take the Canadian Standardized Fitness Test. Some of our trainers here administer it," she explained. Now, I had an inkling about what that test might consist of. Cardio-vascular testing, flexibility, range of motion and something benignly referred to as a body composition test. That’s a test of your percentage of body fat, as opposed to, say, muscle or Cream of Wheat. I wasn’t sure whether they were going to utilize the "pinch an inch" test — "heft a handful" — or whether I was going to be submerged into a tank of water only to see how fast I shot out the top and set a record for buoyancy. Either way, Zippy wasn’t about to take a test. "Look, like you said, I’m already a month, okay, two months too late. Just give me a D+ on the test and let’s get to the sweaty stuff," pleading wouldn’t have been an unkind description of the edge in my voice. Retiring to a quieter — more private — room, Diana said, "Okay, stand like you normally stand. Good. Now stand straight up. You are? Oh God." So this is what it had come to. I was going to have to work on basic posture before I could even work up to walking and chewing gum at the same time. I didn’t know how to stand, let alone how to do anything involving something as complex as a rectus or transverse ab, which until that moment I’d mistaken for peaks in the Alps. I had visions of spending the next few weeks coming to Meadow Park and standing in a corner until I mastered it. But I had to ask, "Why is this important? I wanna get buff." "I like to start out by looking at a person’s posture. Looking for how much they deviate from normal posture. For example you have a classic chin poke; it’s actually quite enormous." Translation: Your head arrives anywhere you go well before the rest of your body. "And you stand like a duck." Quack. "Your shoulders are quite rounded, probably because you work at a computer a lot." Video game tester. "And you’re a borderline physio referral." Your body’s so twisted they’d have to bury you with a corkscrew. For the next 45 minutes, we stretched and flexed and walked and stood and did something on all fours involving muscles long neglected. Diana listened to joints that sounded like rusted hinges moving and was probably surprised I could actually bend at the places my body was designed to bend. After she’d put me through the paces, she summarized the day. "Next time we meet, I’ll have a program for you that focuses on overcoming some of your posture problems and includes basic exercises for generating strength and balance." And so she did. Two days later, she had me on the floor. The workout she designed for me had several exercises to straighten me up and get my head somewhere back on top of my body. "There are no chest exercises because you’re so rounded forward; your pecs are already tight and I want to concentrate on stretching them and working on your back, your rear delts and rhomboids. They’ll pull your carriage back. There’s nothing in here that’s specifically for skiing except squats, but everything we’re going to do will get your body set up for skiing — especially the aerobic workout — and we’ll add some ski-specific exercises in two weeks." One of the main reasons I wanted to engage a personal trainer was I felt I wasted a lot of time in the gym. I don’t mean the obvious time wasters, like pretending the stationary bike was on a long, very long, downhill stretch, but wasting time doing exercises I shouldn’t have been doing. Here was a perfect example. I’d spent the last few weeks doing lots of pec exercises, having looked in the mirror and realized it wasn’t too long before I was going to have to go shopping for a bro if I didn’t. The problem wasn’t my underdeveloped pecs, it was my underdeveloped delts, whatever the heck they are. Unbeknownst to me, I’d fallen into the "guy at the gym" trap. Diana explained, "Guys work their mirror muscles. If they can see ’em, they work ’em." Oh Vanity, you heartless bitch. Sometime after body ball squats, external diagonal rotations, rowing a boat to nowhere and suffering the embarrassment of discovering I didn’t even know how to breathe right, I tried to throw Diana’s count off as I suffered through cross-crunches. "Tell me why someone ought to spend some sessions with a personal trainer?" It didn’t work. She didn’t miss a count as she said, "The best thing a personal trainer does for people is guide and educate. They let people know why it’s important to do certain things. My goal working with someone is to do the assessments, get them started and on their way, work with them for a few sessions and wean them off so they can do their workout by themselves. What people are really surprised by when they hire a personal trainer, is how much more they learn and how many myths they have about exercise. Everyone needs someone who they trust and respect to push them along. You can’t stay in any one program too long; you need to adapt and change it to suit where you are in a certain time and space." I didn’t have time to get bored with the program Diana set up for me. I followed it diligently for a few sessions, noticed my posture improving, felt muscles aching in a hope-inducing sort of way, and then went to see Mark Hornby. I was curious if there would be much difference in what two trainers might come up with in the way of programs. Mark is a skier and a coach when he’s not a trainer at Meadow Park. He coaches people through gates in the Gatebusters program and is one of the pros at many Dave Murray camps during the season. When he’s not doing either of those, he’s fighting Norm and Denis to see who gets to teach the level 7/8 groups at Ski School. He moved here from Nelson three years ago where he’d spent the previous 10 years coaching junior racers. In his off time, Mark’s a serious biker. Serious. As in shaved leg serious. With a degree in Phys. Ed., and numerous training courses in gymculture, Mark hung out around the fitness studio and seriously bugged Diana until she agreed to hire him two years ago. Since then, he’s become a fixture at Meadow Park, developed a good clientele as a personal trainer and become well known as a guy why can get you fit for skiing or bring you back from post-injury rehab. Mark didn’t want to hear about me taking a pass on the fitness test and put me to work, heart monitor and all, in what would wind up being a two-scotch, multiple-humiliation workout. After a session on the bike and stair machine, he managed to convince me working aerobically at my target heart rate was the best thing I could do for myself. I’d heard and read about target heart rates, but it was one of those things that just seemed like more trouble than it could possibly be worth. After 40 minutes, Mark had me converted. "You’ll burn just as many calories working at the correct level and you won’t leave yourself exhausted and unable to do the rest of your program." He’d confirmed Diana’s prognosis that it was way too late for me to be reach my goal but promised I’d have the best first day I’d ever had if I worked hard with him. After we finished the assessment, that is. If we finished the assessment, I thought. Tossing a jump rope at me, he said, "Chris Kent comes in here and does this for 20 minutes before his workout." I’m not sure whether this was supposed to motivate me or scare me but I do not jump rope. I offered to show Mark some way-cool nautical knots but he insisted I jump the damn rope. "One, two, three, O’Leary..." Just so there is no misunderstanding, I failed the rope test. It was a lack of co-ordination rather than a lack of aerobic capacity that did me in, but it was a failure nonetheless. I figured that was the low point of the test. I was wrong. When I was whipped, exhausted, sweaty, and bowed, Mark said, "One more test." Finally, we’re almost through. "Do as many pushups as you can in one minute." Pushups? I’m not going to further embarrass myself by revealing just exactly how many pushups I did in 60 seconds. Suffice it to say I was well into double digits but rest assured, you will not see me doing one-hand pushups at the Academy Awards next year. After an off day getting reacquainted with the soothing vapours of Ben Gay, I returned to see what kind of tortuous program Mark had worked up for me. Having whined my way through his assessment test, I was surprised to find Mark’s take on my overall fitness level sufficiently high to put me on what can only be described as a You’ll Be Ready Last Week program. I didn’t know at the time we went through it that’s what it was, but the next day when I couldn’t manage to get up and down off the couch without hydraulic assistance, I realized he wasn’t foolin’ around. Surprisingly, the two programs — Diana’s and Mark’s — were quite similar. Diana’s was geared for someone she suspected hadn’t spent his entire life walking upright and Mark’s was geared for someone who might slouch, but slouched his way down black diamonds. Where Diana would have me doing squats, Mark had me doing squats while standing on two wobbly inflated discs. While she was having me lift dumbbells to fatigue my delts, he had me doing it on those damn discs. Where she wanted me to straighten up, he wanted to cramp my legs out from under me with a series of thigh-burning, get-ready-to-go-skiing exercises, including the dreaded balance board. When I finally got the two of them together and asked about the differences — after having made them promise not to talk to each other about what each had me doing — Diana explained the crux of the differences in their approaches. "I come from an athletic therapy background," she said. "I blend that background with all my training, so I do a lot of periodization work with everyone. I always start with the basic things. What Mark did was start you with some of the stuff I would have been doing in the second phase but my major concern was, well, your posture’s horrendous. It’s something that definitely needs to be worked on. And I’m very strong on the point that all those little nit-picky things must be done first, before you get into the other stuff." "Yeah, I would never have put you on that program except it’s four weeks before skiing. I wanted to give you the next stage of what I thought Diana would be giving you," Mark agreed. "When people come in here, my goals are to keep them coming in. So I have a tendency to challenge people. I want to give them one or two things they can really challenge themselves at." Okay, I’m challenged. I’m trying to be good. Both Diana’s and Mark’s programs have been blended into one I can grow with until Christmas, when I’ve promised myself a few more sessions with them as a present. I’ve had two of the best trainers available work me through the things I was doing wrong, the things I wasn’t doing at all, show me things I should be doing and throw in enough interesting exercises to — I can’t believe I’m saying this — make it almost fun to go to the gym. I’ve understood for years now the life enhancing reasons for hiring a fishing guide when I’m splashing around unknown waters. But hey, I’ve been to the gym before, who hasn’t? So who needs a trainer? I do. You do. Anyone who wants to spend their time in the gym productively does. Anyone rehabilitating off an injury does. Anyone who wants to get ready or get better at a sport they love does. Trainers know the machines, they know the trends, they know the toys and they can show you some seriously cool things to do with those big beach balls I never paid any attention to. Most important of all, trainers aren’t deluded about us the way we’re deluded about ourselves. They know better.