Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bench Bias

There's a scene in Len Cella's low-budget Moron Movies during which Len sits at a typewriter, his hair sculpted into a fin and a cardboard set of teeth taped to his mouth. "I can type 90 words a minute, but nobody will hire me just because I'm a shark," he says. The scene, which I've just described in its entirety, is called "Shark Prejudice."

I've been running into Bench Press Prejudice lately, myself.

From my reading I knew that men on benches were generally a source of mockery, ignoring as they do most all other exercises in order to prove themselves while horizontal. But I didn't think the rules would apply to me, being a woman and all. Until a conversation I had yesterday with a non-powerlifting trainer.

Not all exercise people are the same, I'm coming to learn, and they stand by the merits of their chosen path. Fitness experts know how to order and pace a set of exercises to produce maximum weight loss. Sports-specific people stick to the demands of a particular sport. There are the functional strength people who have little patience for extraneous muscle fullness, preferring instead that you perform activities they've deemed essential to life. And powerlifters want power, power, and more power; you know them by their tree trunk core, barrel chests, and short, dangling flippers.

Because I respect this particular trainer, I asked her a question related to a recurring injury.

"Does it happen on the bench?" she asked.
"No. Usually the other exercises, like X,Y, and Z."
"That's some pretty heavy weight I see you lifting in there. I wouldn't discount that the injury isn't originating on the bench."

And then she gave me the look. The look that says both "you're strong," and, "you're stupid."

Bench Prejudice: Amy sits on a bench with huge cardboard biceps taped to her arms. "I'm strong but no one will take me seriously because all I do is bench press." End of scene.

She meant me no harm. Still, I hadn't realized until this point that the other trainers at the Y might be watching this whole bench press program with a smirk. Not that they're vindictively waiting for a repetitive use injury to settle in, but that when it does, they think to themselves of course it did.

I saw the need to explain why I show up four times a week.

"I know it's hard on the body. But...it's the one sport I can do, and it's the one sport I enjoy. I like having a goal. I love being strong and pushing my limits. It's just...fun."

There I am, my arms and chest gorilla-like with post-workout pump, and I sound like a kindergartner. "It's fun," I say. No further justification necessary. Strength-training is great for heading off osteoporosis, depression, obesity, and the worst parts of menopause, but she knew all that. In that moment, I just needed to put out there that this is something I enjoy, I'm going to keep doing it, and nobody can stop me.

She understood. Because guess what? She's a softball pitcher. Recurring repetitive use injury in her shoulder. She keeps pushing herself a little too far, too, and as we talked, the beginnings of a smirk were replaced with a knowing smile.

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