Sunday, September 13, 2009

Monday's Challenges

I really just hate benching 65 pounds.

In order to lift your heaviest, you need to warm up at a lower weight. 65, 75 is enough to wake my muscles but not sap any strength needed for the remaining sets, but the bar is bouncy at this weight, flying up and down with a little spring in its step, and I get more nervous with each rep. Did I struggle a little there? At sixty-five? Should I hang my hat now and forget about 115?

When I move up to sets at 90, 95, all the necessary muscles come into play, even the upper back and quads. The bar feels solid coming down and going back up, like wading through water. 3 sets of 5 reps at 9o feels good. On the decline bench, where your head is much lower than your knees, I can do twice as many reps at 90, and that's really fun. Greg, who spots me, has a slightly different take on the situation, as he's getting the spray from me huffing my way through 3 sets of 10 reps at 90. But as far as I'm concerned, it's a ball of fun.

But load the bar to 100 or more on the flat bench, and I can't enjoy things so much. The brain must shift to autodrive--as I was once coached to do, I need to "stop thinking and push the damn bar through the ceiling." They're real self-esteem snatchers, these sets, but on that week when you do one more rep than the weeks before, it's all worth it.

On Mondays, after bench pressing and other chest and shoulder work, I leave the YMCA and head to a homeless shelter to run a late evening theatre class with the women who stay overnight. This, too, is a weighty challenge for me; click on "theatre with the homeless" at the right there and you'll see the difficulties I face. It's tough, but I go in knowing I can survive anything for an hour, just as my pride can withstand knowing a heavy bar beat me this week.

Somehow, having both challenges on the same evening is helpful.

If I do well on the bench Monday night, I'm happy and confident walking into the shelter. (It's hard not to feel self-assured when, with pecs pumped, your chest proudly enters a room before the rest of you--an experience I'm not familiar with otherwise.) To stand in front of 20, 30 women who have walked the streets all day and ask them to make silly faces or tell me a true story takes a combination of guts, mojo and unflappable poise, I'm finding; I would have been chewed up and spit out by now if things were otherwise.

But if I don't make any obvious gains during my workout Monday evening, I'm reminded that I do have limitations, that certain situations are out of my control, and that the only thing I can do is walk into that shelter and give it my best shot. Some nights at the shelter feel like 65 pounds: the air in the room is suspiciously comfortable, I become too self-aware, and events run a little thin. A woman I paired myself up with during an exercise a few weeks ago told me, "I think I'm going to pee myself," and I'm like, "That's cool, we can stop now, no problem"--not exactly the deep profound moment I'm aiming for. The 90+ pound nights, like this one, all my theatre muscles are flexed and I'm ready for action. I went home that night sore but with nothing broken.

No one's making me lift 100 pounds, and it was my idea to teach this theatre class. Both of these Monday efforts strain my psyche and test my strength--and will continue to do so in new and different ways as the weight goes up at the Y, and at the shelter, where the dynamics change virtually every week. In both situations, my goal is to improve the lives of all involved, including myself. Making big muscles helps others? It's true. A few years ago, I found myself telling a fellow participant in a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop that I wouldn't be there had I never joined the Y. There's a connection.

But that's a blog post for another day--maybe a Tuesday.

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