Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Assessing the Fitness Assessment 

I went to the gym yesterday for a “Fitness Assessment.”

What a crock!

It came “free” with my membership, which I’ve recently begun making more use of. Before I begin to tell this story, take a few seconds and think about what you might expect during a “Fitness Assessment” at a gym.

OK, as far as a Fitness Assessment, here’s what I anticipated: I figured I’d go in, meet with a trainer, fill out a form, discuss my fitness goals, get weighed, get my body fat measured, maybe have my BMI calculated, and then take a nice little trip around the gym to learn how to use a few of the bazillion mind-boggling and potentially painful machines they have. I also eagerly anticipated receiving a large index card that we would fill out together reminding me which machines to use and what weights and seat levels to set them at – a routine, in other words.

Sounds fairly reasonable, right? Well, after my so-called Fitness Assessment yesterday at my local LA Fitness, what I really feel like doing is quitting the gym. No joke.

I found my meeting with the trainer so totally demoralizing yesterday and physically painful today that I don’t even feel like going back. Ever. And no, it had nothing to do with me feeling badly about myself. I am not the type to get bent outta shape in that regard. I don’t hate my body and I am not hung up about not being 20 anymore. In fact, I kinda like myself just the way I am, and I just want to maintain a high-enough fitness level so I can age gracefully and stave off osteoporosis and other such aging-body type of problems.

I arrive at 2:25 for my 2:30 appointment (which they wrote down for me on a piece of paper when I made the appointment earlier in the week, and which I had in my possession upon arrival). The receptionist tells me that my appointment isn’t until 3. OK…no problem; I don’t bother arguing because I knew it wouldn’t get me anywhere. I go upstairs to walk on the treadmill for a half hour, which I was going to do after my Fitness Assessment anyhow.

At 3:00 I go to the trainer’s desk. The trainer, a handsome 30-something jock-type with a huge tattoo on his forearm, is on his cell phone saying “No, I’m not calling to cancel, don’t worry. I just need to push you back a half hour.” (Hmmm, I wonder why.) He hangs up, smiles, and motions for me to sit and I do.

He introduces himself and starts to fiddle with his computer like he’s trying to look something up, all the while muttering under his breath. Not knowing what else to say, I try and break the ice by asking him if he’s having computer troubles, and he acknowledges that he is. Apparently he needs to print out a form for me to fill out and can’t seem to locate it. Eventually he does (on the floor somewhere, actually) and he hands it to me.

Well, at least I got a form to fill out. That much I anticipated correctly.

I start to fill the form out, when he grabs it and decides that he’s gonna fill it out for me by way of an interview instead. We start to discuss my fitness goals, and what I have been doing over the last few weeks since I started coming to the gym again. He shakes his head and clucks at everything I say. Apparently I have been doing everything wrong and he’s about to fix all that. Oh – and I should seriously consider a personal trainer if I really want to accomplish anything. Since I am no fitness neophyte, this does not bode well for the rest of the session.

As I am explaining that one of my fitness goals is to age gracefully and avoid osteoporosis, he very forwardly compliments me on my figure, especially my legs, which I found truly odd since I was sitting behind a desk where he couldn’t possibly even see my legs. Not that what he said was at all done in a sexual manner or anything, in fact I honestly believe it wasn’t; it was just weird that he commented in this way at all. If I were a hundred pounds overweight, would he have commented on that? (“Yes, I can sense that you favor couches and potato chips, right?”) If I were an anorexic/bulimic stick-figure of a woman, would he have commented on that? (“Yes, I can tell you’ve been spending some time worshiping at the porcelain shrine.”)

After the “compliment,” he continues on apparently in delayed response to my “aging gracefully” comment, telling me, “You’re not old!” Well, I never said I was. But what do you do when somebody says this to you? Of course! You smile coyly and respond “How old do you think I am?” “Early to mid-forties,” he replies.

So now my internal background dialog is running wildly amok: “Didn’t anybody ever teach this guy how to guess a woman’s age politely? You’re supposed to guess an age that is at least five years younger than what you actually think. Oh my God, what if he DID do that? Does that mean I look like I am in my late forties?”

I squelch the paranoid background dialog just in time to hear him telling me that he is ready to take me through a few exercises using free weights and “explosive” anaerobic exercise. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. I patiently explain to him that my body has a tendency to bulk up quickly when I use weights, and I want to avoid that. I also don’t want to start a program that is so difficult that I avoid the gym.

I go on to explain that I would prefer to burn fat while very slowly building muscle and upper body strength, which is why I’ve been doing the treadmill/stair-mill/elliptical machines followed by an upper body (with light weights/high reps) and abs workout. He patently assures me that as far as my body bulking up, “it could never happen,” and that I really should consider working out with a personal trainer to ensure this.

Sigh. Now I know he’s just an idiot who’s just trying to sell the gym’s personal trainer service. I gamely continue the farce of the Fitness Assessment. After all, I could learn something, right? And I’m here already, right?

As we are making our way towards the free weights section of the gym, he compliments me on my legs again, especially my “muscular calves,” which I then of course complain about never being able to fit into zip-up boots. He laughs and enthusiastically exclaims about how much he would rather see a strong shapely body than a skinny weak one. He then goes on to theorize about how the fashion industry is run by gay men. (And he should know, his wife is a designer and all of her coworkers are gay, wink, wink.) Continuing, he explains how these gay men who are running the fashion industry like to design clothes for extremely skinny women because extremely skinny women resemble twelve-year old boys. Somewhere this part of the conversation he slips in that he’s an ex-Marine with three children (I guess he needs to announce his virility.)

I only wish I were making this up.

As we walk he totally disses the rows and rows of pretty weight machines the gym contains as well as all of the gym’s cardiovascular equipment and aerobics classes in general. (I’m thinking “Does his boss know he has so little respect for all of the equipment and programs in this brand new state-of-the-art gym?”) He asks me if I’ve ever noticed how many “fat girls” (yes, those were his exact words) frequented the upstairs portion of the gym (where all of the cardiovascular equipment is)? He assured me that they will all stay chubby if they keep working out that way. He then enthusiastically mentions how much better my body will look with muscles. And how much faster I will lose weight because the muscles in my body will burn fat even while I sleep. And how much I would benefit from working with a personal trainer.

Again with the paranoid background dialog inside my head: Who said anything about losing weight? Do I look like I need to lose weight? How much weight does this guy think I need to lose? I HAVE read that muscles are fat-burning machines. What WOULD I look like with muscles? Hmmm…I wonder.

Sigh. So much for having a strong self image. Now I am starting to wonder if he’s right and I’ve been doing everything wrong. This is how it starts, right?

He takes me through a killer 25-minute upper body workout using free weights that were too heavy for me to do any more than 10-12 reps with, and “explosive” anaerobic exercises in-between each set, both of which I am painfully feeling today. The in-between exercises included 1-minute intervals of climbing up and down on a knee-high bench and doing those insane crouches where you put your hands on the floor and then shoot your legs out backwards and then in again and then stand up. I’m beginning to wonder if this guy is set on killing me. He does giggle a lot for an ex-Marine.

When my face is embarrassingly red enough and my breathing is obviously labored, we go back to the desk where he then tries to work out how he can give me a special bargain if I were to “sign up right then and there” for two sessions a week of personal training. While he is apparently fiddling with the numbers on his computer (and I am admittedly playing along because I wouldn’t mind working with a personal trainer -- as long as it wasn’t him), he calls over another trainer and laughingly asks him what he finds more attractive, “skinny little nothing calves, or strong muscular calves.” His pal plays along and answers muscular, of course, but confides that, personally, he’s more into “that spot where the torso meets the leg.” Marine trainer giggles and good-naturedly agrees with him.

I am beginning to wonder if I am on some sort of anti-reality show or something. Are these people for real? Is this 2004? Am I trippin’?

I wish I could say I had a strong ending for this story, but unfortunately I don’t. This is just my real life on a very screwed-up day. I didn’t have the nerve (or the energy, or the creativity) to tell them off or point out the error of their ways, or to serve up a massive crippling blow to either their egos or muscles. I just thanked the Marine and assured him that I would discuss the importance of working with a personal trainer with my husband and report back to him the next time I was in the gym.

At that moment, I was thinking that might be never. Now I know better. But still, how much does that suck?
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