Thursday, July 31, 2003

I Didn't Know I Had Muscles There

So on Tuesday, I took my first Pilates class at the gym (pronounced peh-lotties, I've learned, not pye-letts like Pontius Pilate, as I'd originally assumed). Now parts of me hurt that I didn't even know I had.

But after one hour-long training session and a few practices on my own, the results are actually visible... whenever I start crying that my abdomen hurts, I just go to a mirror and note that, except for a little fat under the skin (which I'm hoping my diet will get rid of soon... I am treading water at 205 lbs, I can't seem to get past that), my belly is quite flat.

Now, I know this flatness is because the muscles inside are pulled tight, freaking out from the unaccustomed attention and strain; and that as soon as they heal and relax, the rolling landscape of my torso will roll again. But it's very encouraging when an exercise has immediately visible results... usually you have to wait weeks to get results of any kind.

The whole Pilates thing, for those of you who don't know yet, is to breathe in a certain way (in through the nose, expanding your chest as much as you can; out through the mouth, contracting your abdomen as much as you can; in again without letting go of the abdominal tension; out again tensing it even further) while slowly moving other body parts in small tension-inducing movements which force your chest to expand while your belly contracts, causing the tensors behind the abdominal wall to pull the weight of your legs or arms or torso or whatever is being moved.

Most abdominal exercises, sit-ups and crunches and what-have-you, concentrate on the outer abdominal wall, that portion that makes the classic "six-pack" formation. This can sometimes be counterproductive to slimming the waist, as it can bulk up the abs and obliques, making an even bigger belly than you started with, especially if you're not losing the fat at the same time.

Other parts of the Pilates motion and breathing tightens the laterals and pectorals without forcing the shoulder-to-neck muscles (I'm going to have to build up my muscular vocabulary if I'm going to make a habit of talking about these things) to take the strain that one normally puts on them in such movements; this is supposed to tighten and tone the torso without bulking it up.

When I was working out before (years ago), I got a lot of bulk in places that were distinctly unfeminine, such as my shoulder muscles (the trapezius, I just looked it up) and biceps, which, along with the bulked-up abdominals and pecs, ruined my drag illusion. Although the mass was negligible on my male body, it wreaked havoc on my feminine figure.

The Pilates stuff is very counterintuitive, and it relies a lot on having much looser hamstrings than I have (I haven't been able to touch my toes without bending my knees since I was twelve), and there's balancing and other little difficulties involved. But I'm going to continue this training. Even though it hurt like hell, I felt fabulous after the class was over. And considering how much discomfort I endure for the sake of temporary beautification (heels, corsets, heavy earrings, etc.), I don't think I'm asking my body for too much in the quest for a more permanent improvement.

In the meantime, this evening I'm taking another class, Afro-Cuban Rhythm Movement. It's another one I've watched from the treadmills facing the aerobics room windows; they sometimes have live drummers in that class, and it looks like a lot of fun. I've wanted to try some aerobics that are more dance-like, which should benefit my performance style as well as helping me fit back into those beloved size-fourteens. Here's hoping it's not a lot harder than it looks, like the Pilates was (pick up your leg and move it in little circles? Easy breezy! But not when you're doing the crunch breathing, that adds that extra element of OW-itch).

Well, that's enough blather for one day. I can't quite believe I just wrote a whole post about my abdominal muscles, or that I learned words like trapezius in order to do it. Promise me: if I start spouting off sayings like "feel the burn" or "no pain, no gain," you will promptly slap me silly. Thank you!

(8:30 p.m.) PS: It was a lot harder than it looked. It was even harder than the Pilates. After a half-hour, my heart-rate was running around three hundred and my lungs told me to go fuck myself, so I spent the second half of the class sitting against the wall trying to breathe while sweat poured down my back and my pulse pounded in my temples. It was still a lot of fun, though, I just have to pace myself better and try to learn the steps instead of trying to keep up with the advanced students (damned my performance pride). On the other hand, Afro-Cuban dancing isn't really my style... I wonder if they offer aerobic Ballroom Dance?

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