In a discussion the other day with my personal trainer, I asked one very obvious question: What am I doing with a personal trainer?

And then I looked at all the torture machines lined up in the new gym I had joined, the machines that had been used to extract top-secret information about tulips during the War of the Roses, and I knew the answer: I needed someone to explain how to not hurt myself on those work-out machines.

(Of course, I also liked having a personal trainer so I could say to people hey, I have my own personal trainer and that’s much better than your having your own dental hygienist.)

After making sure that I was in excellent shape for a 106-year-old nearsighted lifetime smoker with fallen arches, my personal trainer went through a description of all the torture machines, explaining carefully how to set them up, the correct posture, the right technique, which muscle groups they worked and what emergency number to call when I got my finger stuck in between the weights.

And then she left.

I was left alone with the machines. They smiled mischievously, inviting me to come closer so they could work my abs, squeeze my quads and pilfer my credit cards.

I remembered, of course, nothing about what I had been told about the machines. Fortunately, each of them had brief descriptions on their sides telling people who already know what they’re doing what to do with them. This is more or less what I think some of them said.

Machine #1: Bicep curl

Adjust the seat to the appropriate height and make your weight selection. That’s the weight you want to curl, not the weight you weighed this morning or planned to weigh after you finally eliminate Oreos from your diet.

Place your upper arms against the pads and grasp the handles. This will be your starting position. It will also be the ending point because you won’t be able to move your arms.

Perform the movement by flexing the elbow, pulling your lower arm towards your upper arm. Scream in pain.

Machine #2: Pec fly

Adjust the seat so the handles are slightly below your elbows but above your knees and close to your kidneys. Rotate the hand grips until your hands are bloody. Make coordinated movements leading smoothly to that awful crook in your neck.

Try to figure out what pec fly means.

Machine #3: Lat press

Press your lats close to the point where you can feel the tension between your desire to be home reading a book and your embarrassment that other people in the gym might be watching you.

Pause at the top of the movement, and then slowly return the weight to the starting position. Try to figure out if you have lats and where they might be.

Of course, there were more machines to go. I decided, instead, to go home and really work my quads by reading a book placed on top of my thighs.

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