Birds of a Feather

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The red tail hawks return from the shoreline to our treetops early these days, as the temperatures cool and the sunlight grows short. We all make accommodations for the seasons, and fall is in the wings.

In her preparation of the autumn chill, Laree spends the nights sewing long sleeves onto my tank tops and darning holes in my worn wool socks. She's a marvelous companion and her care and generosity do not go unnoticed. I contribute to our wholesome life, taking out the garbage weekly, putting the seat down faithfully and flushing the toilet always. Some folks say we are the perfect couple.

Twice a week we go to the gym together, but it is there we part ways. Laree has her style and needs and I have mine. She trains non-stop with precision focus and form, and I train any way I can. We dig in with greedy hands and gather what we are able from the mounds of iron resources. It works; we don’t have a nickel between us, but we’re rich.

I’m reminded of how Laree and I met almost 20 years ago. I was working at The Spa, one of three coveted gyms in the Santa Cruz area at the time. It was, and still is, the largest and most stylish health club in town: outdoor lap pool, indoor spa facilities, men’s and women’s weight rooms, aerobics, racquetball, beauty salon and childcare and all the other undesirable things a musclehead hates to see under one snazzy roof.

I was offered the job to fill in a gap and pull me from a pit. I was in my gap-and-pit phase of life. The Spa saved my bruised bottom.

I liked The Spa, but it didn’t match my dungeon, no-pain, no-gain mentality. The multitudinous attendees were a cross section of California society before obesity and sloped shoulders became epidemic. They smiled a lot, dressed in matching form-fit gear and loved aerobics, the pool and mingling and they managed to trash the weight room in less than three minutes. I was the on-the-floor professional trainer. In other words, I put the weights away.

They knew as much about me, the Bomber from the ‘60s, as donkeys know about monkeys. That’s okay. I knew as much about personal training as adders know about otters, bucks know about ducks. The place was a zoo. Training myself was no big problem, but training others had never before entered my mind.

Articulating the squat or wide-grip pulldown -- how the movement is properly performed and how much weight is used, its starting and ending positions, its groove and pace, what muscles it engages and where it’s placed relative to the rest of the workout -- was a mystery in words, especially for someone who was in and out of the gym like a phantom before daylight and had developed mumbling as a suitable form of communication.

Laree was one of my first clients, though subject might be a more fitting term. Better yet, make that victim. “I want instruction in bodybuilding,” she said. Ha! She might as well seek instruction in rabbit hunting from a raging bear. “Intensity rules!” The three-hour, six-day-a-week program I prescribed the young lady included everything from benchpress and squats to deadlifts. A zero-carb diet went with the special bodybuilding training package and my tuna-and-water advice was free of charge. Por nada, senorita.

I didn’t see the girl for three months after our first encounter, poor thing. Where’d she go -- underground, home to Mom, the European Health Spa, the SC Police Department (assault and battery), the local ER, reenlisted in the air force... terminated? The last thing she said was, “I’ll be back.”

And here we are today, chugging down the freeway and continuing our one-on-one training adventure. You’d think she’d have learned by now, it’s been twenty-some years. The truth is we are learning, and an essential part of learning is appreciating it never ceases. Like space and time, learning goes on forever.

Yes, we (that would be all of us) know there is more to life than barbells and dumbbells. But for these few isolated IOL minutes we are here to arouse our musclebuilding spirits, fortify our disciplines, reestablish our hopes and energize our limbs.

Encouragement, inspiration and affirmation have always been the keys to the deed, even when we were 16, 26 and 36. Okay, 56 and 66... 76.

I ask Laree, as brain-dead commuters slow down to gawk at a CHP issuing a breathtaking traffic ticket, “What’s on your agenda, adorable?” She responds, “Anything goes today, darling. Last week’s kettlebell workouts were all-out slugfests and blasted the whole body. I like that. Whatever I do today will be done to stimulate and encourage tissue repair. I’ll take my time and play hard.”

“Sounds good. Let’s train together, cuddle-kins, like the good old days,” I said with a wink. She warmed up to the idea fast and we agreed to spend the next 60 to 90 minutes hand-in-hand following our conspired instincts.

The Weight Room was mellow at the one-o’clock hour and we each grabbed a bench to knock out some crunches and leg raises -- essential and fundamental investments. Like round one of a boxing match or the first inning of a baseball game, these movements set the mood, warm up and stretch out the body and set the athletes in motion.

I suggested we blast off with a favorite low-key triset to inflate and enflame the upper body (with the firm agreement that Laree choose the following round of exercises). We started with 45-degree incline dumbbell presses, followed by 10-degree decline stiff-arm pullovers and close-grip pulldowns to the chest. Boom, boom, boom! This compact and athletic and energizing trio is designed to arouse the front, side and rear deltoids, upper pectorals, the biceps and triceps, the mid-back, lats and serratus and the grip. How cool is that?

To keep us moving deliberately and without exhaustion from set to set, we chose an agreeable weight for each exercise that enabled us to perform 4 trisets of 6 to 8 focused repetitions. I tend to go to exhaustion (grrr) every set and, thus, compromise training pace and speed (turtle). I was pleased to adhere to an alternate style. It’s smart and effective, yet I insist on maximum output cuz I’m dopey and it takes forever and my elbows hurt and it’s probably not good for the ticker. Hello, wake up!

Madam’s choice was standing alternate dumbbell curls followed by pulley pushdowns. This combination is very likeable and continues the pumping and burning where it has already begun. Biceps and triceps are the targets, but full-range, rhythmic body action to accommodate the lifts brings muscles from the outer regions along for a muscle-building ride. The upper body from which those arms hang gets in on the action, especially if the knowing lifter focuses, aggresses and finesses. Get all you can, bombers, it builds and inspires (4 supersets x 6- 8 and 10-12 reps, respectively).

We finished with four sets of dumbbell deadlifts for 12 reps. She went, I went, etc, making sure the thighs were involved maximally just to be sociable.

We crawled briskly to our craft where pre-mixed Bomber Blends awaited in a cooler. We flew home, the wind bracing our smiley faces. Another blast!

Go... God’s speed... Dave

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