Once Again: Weight Training 1, Sit On Your Ass 0

I have been seeing people with lymphedema off and on since I started practice; it can crop up from nowhere for no apparent reason, or develop from cancer surgeries that remove lymph nodes. It is no joke; arms or legs swell up and have to be bandaged or otherwise drained, owing to the loss of fluid return pathways.

I’ve always felt as if something was just wrong about the typical prohibition on exercise that most patients get. If you work an extremity you lay down new drainage channels. “Don’t pick up anything heavier than 15 pounds,” the standard protocol, sounds like a life sentence of dispiriting uselessness and deflating fitness. Some of my cancer survivors agreed, wrapping their arms in Ace bandages before jumping on the elliptical trainer or picking up hiking poles, and doing damn well on it, I may say.

Now along comes the New England Journal of Medicine to say my gut is right and so was theirs. Here’s the NY Times breakdown, which also links to strength training programs and DVDs for cancer survivors with lymphedema:

Last week, The New England Journal of Medicine reported on a study of 141 breast cancer patients who had lymphedema. Half adhered to the traditional restrictions, while the other half embarked on a slow, progressive program of weight lifting. To the researchers’ surprise, the weight lifters actually had significantly fewer flare-ups than the women who restricted their activity.

One of the study participants quoted in that article is seventy-five and now a regular at her condo weight room. You rock, lady.

I don’t even like Bob Dylan (I think I’d rather listen to an aviary full of parrots than his voice) but he got that one line right: “He [who is] not busy being born is busy dying.” I wish it didn’t take doctors, who seem to think all problems are solved when they impose restrictions, so long to figure that out.

Creative Self Abuse


The pinheads who run my gym have come up with a new way to protect people from getting fit. According to some dirt dug up by Sister Age, whodeadlift-platform stops to talk trash with the location owners a little more frequently than I do, the corporate management decreed that the dead-lift platform had to go because it was an “abusive exercise.” Who was feeling abused I’m not certain, but now people are doing dead-lifts flat on the floor where the platform used to be, starting the bar cold from the low end and jolting themselves when the plates bottom out, which the platform prevented. It’s only a matter of time before someone’s lumbosacral disk goes flying across the room like a hockey puck.

Sister Age is only 5’2″ so she never could use the damn platform, which is proportioned for six-foot guys (even I, at five foot seven, have to hyperextend a little to get the bar off the catchers). She stands on an Olympic bench press unitbench-press and hoists the bar from the catchers that are normally used to keep guys from dropping a bar on their necks after benching their weight or whatever. This requires a degree of control as there is just enough room on that bench for two feet side by side, but Sister A has grit, and a somewhat dumpy husband who keeps watch so the management doesn’t come back there and find her deadlifting in mid-air.

Me, I scouted a stack machine intended for shrugs that features a platform about five inches above the floor. That’s enough for the quarters I use on an Olympic bar for deadlifting, since I’m going for reps and the odd facet joint adjustment in my lumbar spine more than absolute poundage. I’ve been using  a Z-bar of the kind designed for heavy curls and tricep extensions, which seems to obviate the need for lifting straps, which were bitching up my wrist joints.

Any day now they’ll be outlawing lifting straps, anyway.

I figure we’ll reach a point where the management wants to come in and take out squat racks and incline racks and anything that might smack of someone hoisting a weight big enough to make them work for it, and we’ll be in the back behind sandbags with a couple of mortars and a flamethrower, defending what’s left of a once proud iron gym.

I keep telling myself, ten bucks a month.

The Return of the Bench

I don’t know if I’m disturbed about this, or disturbed that I am not more disturbed.

I spent the early part of the week beset by two anxieties: that my bank wouldn’t cough up a document critical to a nearly $200K financial instrument, and that the glute-ham bench, a piece of equipment for which there are no substitutes, had been permanently snookered from my gym. I invert myself on this thing daily, usually clutching a 45-pound plate, before throwing every muscle on the back of my body into a dispute with gravity, and the sensation — compounded of spinal therapy and sheer will — is like no other.

Of the two, the financial clusterfuck was easier to face with equanimity.

Fortunately banks delivered and, Wednesday, the bench reappeared — painted, thank Goddess, not the Easter-egg purple and yellow combination beloved of my gym, but a sober black and white. Not that I cared. They could paint it pink as long as they brought it back.

I flung myself on it, kissed it, wedged myself between the pads and seized a sewer-lid plate. A cartaliginous, succulent  sound of decompression issued from my mid-thorax; I paused a moment to savor it before going into full extension with the plate hugged to my chest.

The rest of my life is made bearable by these moments I spend engaged with the romances of pressure and traction, much as I imagine an electron thrives in the moments of  tension between its nucleus and the nearest other electron shell in the vicinity. Dante said that Love moved the sun and the other stars, and probably would have invoked the same cause for the movement of subatomic particles had he known about them.

I love my bench.

Fairy Dust

So I was nearly through my workout and walked over to where the glute-ham bench usually is and it wasn’t.

glutehamThis thing is my butt buster, end-of-workout chiropractor, and gratuitous showoff platform since I get the best bang from holding a 45-pound sewer lid while I’m head down on it. Back goes pop, thunk, crackle.  Not having it isn’t an option. Knowing that the Barney-colored corporate entity that assimilated my gym, kind of like the Borg, periodically snakes one or another “intimidating” piece of equipment, I turned to claw the scapula of our favorite trainer, the P-man, pointing in cold panic at the empty space.

“Oh shit,” he said, clearly as puzzled and horrified as I was.

“Oh shit,” said Lou, his training partner.

“Shall we all go ask the manager?” I said.

“Yeah, you should ask him,” said the P-man.

It turned out they were having it painted. There was some babble about it being scarred by plates banging against it but mainly, this place has been painting all the old equipment their signature shade of purple, powder coated with gold fairy dust fired into the finish. You know? Like sparkly nail polish?

I went back to report to the P man, who was getting even edgier because now we could see that six of the eight welded barbells were missing too.

As we stood there one of the gym functionaries appeared, as if on cue, to return them to their rack. Painted.

I shit you not, kimosabe.

Sister Age

This morning when I hauled myself into the gym — I do not like gray mornings — I was rewarded by the sight of my oldest and best gym buddy from the days back at the straightforwardly named Weight Room. She’s also now my oldest and best professional colleague, having become a massage therapist in the time-honored junkie-becomes-dealer system that we use to recruit. She is an arthritic, sixtysomething grandmother of four, also a triathlete, about 110 pounds dripping wet, and you seriously, seriously do not want to meet her in a dark alley. When lacking diversion she rehabilitates aggressive Rottweilers. Back in the Weight Room days, she was canned from waitressing at the local biker bar for being too rough for the clientele. She has gentled greatly since then, but her voice would still cut through a street riot, so the whole gym vibrated when she yelled: “Hey, [Sled]! Could you stick your elbow in my butt?”

The great thing is that since my gym became about 75% geriatric, due to some chucklehead’s idea of a marketing strategy, the people who aren’t wearing earbuds are deafer than dirt, so no one even paid any attention to this request. It had to do with a strain incurred on the single leg curl machine. I should mention that Dangerous Grandma got beaned off her bike by an SUV a couple of years ago and had to have her whole tibia rebuilt with steel plates and a bone graft, so she still trains legs separately.

Not even in a well-lighted alley. Trust me about this chick.

We went in the locker room and she dived onto a bench where I murdered the trigger point in her behind and stretched the muscles for good measure. I watched her trot out to the parking lot, much relieved; turned around to look at the ranks of laudable but tame-looking grandparently types trudging away on their treadmills, and thought of my favorite Ogden Nash couplet:

One day when the senior citizens are sitting around projecting the image of an age-adjusted social group,
The old men will rise up and knock them for a loop.

Ogden didn’t mention the old broads but we are not going to cut you any slack either.

Palaestra Flashbacks

An occasional hilarious spectacle in the gym is that of some old musclehead mentoring a younger musclehead-wannabe in the art and science of hoisting weights, with a grave ceremony more appropriate to instruction in religious or military ritual.

It’s not that I scoff at this kind of instruction, it simply cracks me up when Father Feeney couches his lessons in earnest, this-way-or-die phrases and his deferential altar boy allows himself to be led around the gym and asks respectfully at every station exactly what the grip, form and rep strategy are to be. “Do I touch the weights at the top of the rep?” I heard one asking today, with a ridiculously straight face.

I wanted to holler Hell, yes, boy! Bang those suckers together like the class bully’s balls are caught between ’em! Get your ya-ya’s out! (Currently, we have rubber coated weights in my gym so you can’t get that satisfying gong-like clang, but you can pretend, I guess.) Actually, I don’t think it makes a spit of difference. Just engage the muscle you’re after and control the rep until you can’t no more, and then let em down easy or hard, whichever you got the juice left to do.

It all gives me an entertaining fantasy that I’m in one of the original palaestrae or gymnasia (the Greek ones, where everyone was gymnos, meaning nekkid) and I’m watching some older cat weave his spell of seniority and adoration around a hot young ephebe. Except of course the kind of guys who do this nowadays would usually call that faggotry and get huffy if you made the comparison.

Or maybe not. My old and wondrous biker gym, the Weight Room of Falls Church, VA (long gone but lovingly remembered) boasted one member, a banty little middle-aged guy who called himself Joe Tiger and clearly thought he was bitchin’, and his not so buff boy friend and postulant, who seemed to see nothing riotous about the fact that Joe had had T-shirts printed up with quotations from himself. They wore them ensemble.

You had to turn your head to laugh, but no one gave them any crap, and that was 25 years ago. As the scruffy desk man said to me once, “Geeks and hommasexshels keep this place in business.” Maybe that’s one of the things I like about gyms. As long as you’re seriously there to work out, no one minds who or what you are, as long as you don’t do it on the leg curl machine.