Those Four Little Words

Being a man can be tough.

Now this is not some chauvinist rant about how women under-appreciate all that men do, or get mad when we don’t share our innermost feelings, or fail to understand our need for fire, football, and grilling dead animals. While all that may be true, this is more a case about what we men do to ourselves.

Last week I was at Body Specs for a regular workout. As part of my warmup exercises, I was assigned reverse incline crunches. This involved lying on my back on an inclined ramp, knees higher than the head, then raising the upper body to about a 45 degree angle, while holding a medicine ball. I then spiked the ball to one side, retrieved it, and laid back down. Repeated for three sets of 10 crunches each.

The proper starting position for the crunches.
The proper position for holding the ball during the raise.

I’ve done these before with a ten-pound weighted ball. But this time it was twenty pounds. After just a couple of crunches I knew it was going to be a struggle. But I found that if I began the crunch by pushing the ball outward a bit, I could gain some momentum and ease the load on my abs. I asked my trainer if it was all right to do this. Her reply was deadly.

“If you have to,” she said. “But it’s best if you keep the ball tight the whole time.”

Oh, the damage those four little words can do to a man’s ego.

If. You. Have. To.

She wasn’t going to stop me from doing it the easier way. But I wouldn’t be following the proper form. And I would be admitting to her – and myself – that I wasn’t capable of doing it the correct way. Well, we all know what that translates into for a typical guy:

Female bullfighter

So I gutted through the three sets of ten crunches, doing them the correct way. Then it was off to the “real work” of the session.

My abs yelled at me the rest of the week.

This is the kind of situation men face every day. You’re given a challenge, and if you turn it down, you feel less than a man. Doesn’t matter if the situation is risky, even reckless. Alcohol only amplifies this, which is why so many “famous last words” stories begin with, “Hold my beer and watch this!”

Hans and Franz meme

The Body Specs incident was my own fault, of course. I asked about the right form and was quite properly corrected. And I was there of my own free will; heck, I pay these people to do this to me. I want to keep a high level of fitness, to continue the activities I enjoy and for overall quality of life. And improvement, by definition, involves pushing beyond what one is currently capable of. In other words, no pain, no gain.

But is it really “a man thing”? Probably not. Based on who else I see at the gym, and the people I see out running and cycling, women are just as interested in becoming and remaining physically fit. And yet, I think men more then women suffer from being perceived as less than up to the task. Admit to needing a lighter weight? Nope, not here!

Take that! I laugh at your puny twenty pounds!
Take that! I laugh at your puny twenty pounds!

The story has a happy ending. The head trainer came up to me at the end of the session.

“Good work, Jeff,” he said. “You brought it today. But you always bring it.” It made me feel, well, manly. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

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