It’s been four months since I started exercising with a personal trainer, and if I were to stand shirtless before you now, you’d probably say, “John, dude, put your shirt back on. Do you not have a shirt? Take my shirt. No? Well, how about you just turn around then? Ooh. No, that’s not any better. How about I turn around?”
What I’m saying is, after four months, I don’t think I look that much different. I haven’t lost any weight, save for a single pound that comes and goes, sneaking in and out, like Bigfoot at the edge of my peripheral vision.
However, even if I don’t look much different, I feel different. In a word, better. My core — that elusive foundation of fitness — is more easily “energized.” My energized core has made doing even little things easier: walking up and down stairs, lifting flower pots, reaching to the back of the freezer to root around for an ice cream sandwich.
The biggest breakthrough is that I don’t dread exercise as much as I once did, though I still need Michael, my trainer, demonstrating each exercise and saying things like, “Don’t dump your knee,” and, “Keep your belly button in.”
I have no idea what that means, but I try my best.
What I have noticed is that all of these lifting, pulling, pushing, stretching and bending exercises were designed by sadists. There’s an easy way to do them, and there’s the right way to do them.
“That’s good,” Michael will say as I’m on my hands and knees, repeatedly lifting one leg like a dog at a hydrant, “but keep your back straight and your foot in line with your knee.”
But, Michael, keeping my back straight and my foot in line with my knee makes this exercise harder. Oh. That’s the point?
And how come, without fail, every time I’m lifting a dumbbell, Michael says, “Exhale,” just as I’m about to inhale?
I am making progress, though. I got to pull on a rope the other day. This wasn’t the rope I dream about: the one that’s as thick as an icebreaker’s hawser and is stretched across the gym for people to whip up and down like they’re trying to throttle an anaconda. This was a thinner starter rope. It was looped around a bar, and I just had to pull it toward me as fast as I could for a minute.
If you ever need your Venetian blinds raised in a hurry, I’m your man.
I was also excited to finally toss a medicine ball. I’ve seen other people pick up the medicine ball and slam it on the ground over and over again, which looks really satisfying: “Down, bad medicine ball!” This exercise, however, involved lightly tossing the ball against a wall, squatting to catch it, then rising and tossing it against the wall again.
So, we’re still friends, the medicine ball and me.
I am in better shape. I’m stronger. I worry less about being unable to free myself should I get trapped under a lawn chair or an Ikea bookshelf. However, I do worry about getting trapped in a hole, and the only way to reduce that risk is to reduce me.
I confessed this realization to Michael. He said people often ask about the best percentage between exercise and diet. Is it 80 percent exercise and 20 percent diet? Fifty percent diet and 50 percent fitness?
“It’s 100 percent diet and 100 percent fitness,” he said.
I take consolation in knowing I’m not alone. I recently stumbled upon Lyndon B. Johnson’s daily diary online. It was typed up by his secretaries when he was in the White House. There amid the legislation, the world crises and the politicking is the president worrying about his weight.
During a flight to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Nov. 4, 1966, he mentioned to his secretary Mary Slater that “this morning he was down to 212 pounds--within a week he would be under 200 pounds!”
The entry for April 23, 1967, when Johnson was flying to Germany aboard Air Force One, includes: “The President ate sitting at the conference table. Started w/ consomme, then roast beef, green bean salad, potatoes, dietetic pie, buttermilk and Sanka. [Valet] Ken Gaddis and the stewards made every effort to discourage the President from eating so large a lunch, but, according to Ken Gaddis, ‘it didn’t work.’ ”
Later, Johnson went to the back of the plane and said he wanted some crab meat. “[When] Ken explained that he really shouldn’t eat both crab meat and roast beef, the President countered by saying that the crab meat was just an appetizer. At that point, Ken gave up.”
Then there’s the catty parenthetical tacked onto the menu of a breakfast meeting on June 7, 1967: “Orange juice, scrambled eggs, poached eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, cinnamon pecan buns, toast, tea, coffee. (Pres ate some of all items).”
They were fat-shaming LBJ!
Where’s my Ken Gaddis when I need him?
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.