Steve Eaton: Why exercise at my age feels like I've been buried alive in a gravel pit

Published: Friday, Jan. 31 2014 4:55 p.m. MST

People are quite worked up about Obamacare, gay marriage and the duck hunters.

While those are important topics to debate and pontificate about, there's another matter that generates little discussion until it invades your life. It's usually an affliction to the young, but recently it has come for me and, don't kid yourself, it may soon come for you, too.

It's called the burpee.

Think back to junior high. Burpees are an unnatural, form of exercise that includes dropping to the floor, doing a push-up and then leaping to your feet. It turns out that there are some people older than 55 years old who believe that leaping in the air should only be done for very important things like pizza buffets, a moose made of solid chocolate or a three-month vacation in Maui.

And even then, this leaping should never ever be done after doing a push-up.

I recently joined a gym that is far different than any other I have experienced. When you go to the gym you are immediately part of a class of people who have decided they will pay money for the opportunity to work themselves to exhaustion with a trainer who knows exactly how this can best be done.

There's no slinking off to walk on a treadmill in the corner. There's no pacing about with a towel between reps on the way to the drinking fountain.

The teacher is one with years of experience, a trainer who goes to seminars and trains other personal coaches. He's invented his own exercise equipment, hosted his own infomercials and teaches a style that emphasizes proper movement over tonnage repeatedly pushed. Nearly all the exercises he has people do are non-traditional things done with straps, ropes and odd-shaped heavy things.

Remember the movie "Rocky" when he was going to fight the high-tech Russian and he prepared by working out in a barn and picking up heavy stuff to sub-par Rocky music? It's sort of like that.

While he never has us just sprint away and run to top of a nearby mountain like Rocky did, for me everything feels like an unbelievable workout. It starts with an internal soundtrack that is noble and bold, like that a superhero would have, and ends up sounding like a drug-induced, slow-motion nightmare.

So, you can see that throwing a burpee into the mix is just wrong on so many levels. I don't leap to my feet, I get up slowly and painfully, like Rocky does after he's been knocked down. The look on my face is grumpy.

It just doesn't make sense. Imagine the president gives the State of the Union address and they cut away for the opposition response only to discover a senator sitting in deep thought. She then looks up and says, "I thought he had some good ideas. Give me a few minutes. I'm trying to think of what we could do to make them better."

That's about as likely to happen as it is for me to leap to my feet after doing a push-up.

If you've read my column before you know that I'm not tall enough for my weight. I should be about 7-foot-6. Before I go to the gym, I like to imagine what it would be like to be a fit person who rarely wears a shirt and spends most of his time slowly rotating, showing off his abs and muscles like the guys do in the Bowflex infomercials.

After my workouts, I move like I'm the subject of an inspirational movie about a man who was buried in a gravel pit landslide for two weeks and miraculously survives. In fact, he walks away even more overweight than he was before the crush. Think "Reader's Digest" meets the Hallmark Channel meets the "Twilight Zone."

Once a new person came to the gym and in a rare moment when I could actually speak, I lied to her to be funny and impress her.

"Do you know that last week at this time, I weighed 540 pounds?" I said as I tried to keep from going off the end of the treadmill. "Now I only weigh 520 pounds."

"Good for you!" she said in a very supportive way.

I had been hoping she would roll her eyes and tell me that there was no way I was more than 500 pounds. My wife said she may have been just trying to be polite and play along like strangers do when I tell them stories about my time as a rodeo cowboy and synchronized swimmer. She may have felt it better to just encourage me before I tripped, fell on her treadmill and cleaned us both out of the exercise business.

This is not a pretty business. I keep at it, knowing that at the very least I make everyone in the class feel better about themselves. I spend much of my time trying to figure out a way out of the burpees.

I tried once to put an end to the class by shouting in my best trainer impersonation that everyone had done well and that was "it" for the night. It was a desperate and ill-conceived approach because the instructor, who is normally quite supportive, was standing right there. The next time he had us do burpees again, only just before we leaped to our feet we were to do so with a weight that we were to thrust over our heads.

That's one principle to remember when it comes to being an overweight, old person in a gym: know it can always get worse.

So, next time you see me, would you make some kind of encouraging remark about how good I look? Would you resist the temptation to make some joke about me being a 500-pound fit person?

Perhaps you could just say, "Hey, have you been leaping in the air with weights or buried alive in a gravel pit?"

That may be just enough to motivate me to go back to the gym, only this time I'll do so with the classic Chicago song in my head:

"And knowing that you would have wanted it this way; I do believe I'm feeling taller everyday."

Steve Eaton lives and works in Logan, Utah. He can be reached at Eatonnews@gmail.com

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