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Countdown to fitness with trainer is torture

| Saturday, June 14, 2003

Three mornings a week a nice, large man named Brian comes to my door.

He smells of soap and hair gel and whey protein powder. He always greets me the same way.

"What did you have for breakfast?"

As we walk upstairs, I mumble something about my growing animosity toward egg white omelets.

"Any soreness?" Brian asks.

I tell him I haven't been able to lift my arms to put food into my mouth, hence the egg whites on my forehead from gobbling breakfast pig-trough style. As we pass, my husband shouts, "Tell her she can stop complaining any time now."

And then we are in the exercise room -- I, a treadmill, a row of dumbbells, and Brian. He keeps telling me that flutter kicks are my friend.

I hate Brian.

But I invited him, and I'm paying him dearly. Sometimes it still shocks me that he's in my house. Me• Hiring a personal trainer?

I've always lumped personal fitness training in with cosmetic surgery: it's expensive, painful and an unfair way to acquire attractiveness. Hiring someone to yell your glutes into tight formation seems on par with hiring someone to surgically vacuum the fat out of your belly -- both approaches tilt the playing field of physical beauty. Trainers are like crib notes.

And then things changed last month when I had that little panic attack in the swimsuit department dressing room. I staged an intervention right there and convinced myself I need professional help.

Which brings us to Brian, he with the shoulders so broad he has to turn sideways to get through our narrower doorways. As I do my 10-minute warm-up on the treadmill he tells me he wants to put another 40 pounds onto his frame.

"I can get you twenty of them right now," I tell him.

"I want to be big and scary," Brian says, flexing like Popeye after a can of spinach.

I make Brian promise I won't end up looking like an action figure. He tells me 15 more push-ups.

The guy cannot count. I'll be in the middle of a set of extremely painful squats ("Squats are your friends."), counting silently toward my goal, and Brian will suddenly pop in with his tally.

"Eighteen," he says.

"No, it's twenty four," I say, grunting.

"Nineteen," Brian continues. He's sneaky -- and has poor math skills.

Here's the thing about personal trainers: It's uncomfortable having someone pay that much undivided attention to you. For that hour, it's just the two of us in a little room doing nothing but focusing on me, my body and my personal performance. I remember first dates where the guy was less attentive.

And personal fitness training hurts; it hurts during, after, and before.

Although I've always been an avid exerciser, I've never done it under such scrutiny. In aerobics class, when I got tired I would slack off.

"You're slacking off!" Brian yells as I do a halfhearted final squat. He hands me a toning band, a thick rubber tube used to build muscle through resistance. The first 10 biceps curls just about kill me.

"Thirty more!" he shouts. I try to bargain him down to 20. Soon I am so weak and spent I'm concerned I will lose all muscle control and the rubber band with slingshot me across the room. When we do lunge-kicks I decide I will save the last two reps for Brian's teeth. For the entire session, with each rep, he says "Good." I stop counting goods at 12,000. Someone needs to get this guy a thesaurus.

As promised, I always hurt the next day. It's a screaming, debilitating hurt that makes it impossible for me to scratch any itch outside the area covered by my underpants. I must shampoo my hair while folded over at the waist. I'm thinking of hiring someone to come over and bathe me.

"It's a good pain," Brian keeps telling me. When I look in the mirror (after turning on the bathroom light with my nose), I don't see any real improvements.

"Give it another two weeks," Brian assures me. He'd better be right. If he isn't, I'm sending my friends the flutter kicks and the squats over there to cause him some good pain.

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