Monday, April 06, 2009


The Inner Fitness Manual

As one’s third decade of existence draws to a close, a male’s signs of age get louder and more unpleasant. Sure, they’ve always been there, usually in the form of pleasantries like birthday parties and not-so-pleasantries like selective service registrations. It’s just before the fourth decade, though, that the signs tend to lean more toward the negative.

Triple-digit expenditures like cameras and portable audio devices, once lost or broken, can’t be replaced on a whim; instead, little bits of funds left over from more necessary transactions have to be saved and then spent on such luxuries.

Winter and the germ-related vulnerability it brings can no longer be solved by going home from work a little early and getting more sleep. Instead, it seems to require greater medicinal effort, plus a visit to a guy in a lab coat who recommends that you get more sleep.

And finally, one’s goals for physical fitness have to be significantly pared. Before age 25, nearly any regular form of exercise is not merely done for greater well-being, disease prevention or some manner of cartilage-deficiency; there is an Inner Fitness Manual inside this man which tells him that, done properly, this hobby will be a source of awe for the other males he knows.

Weight training is good for the endurance, bone density and has functional benefits, not to mention lowering the chances of severe back pain later in life.

One may acquire it as a habit simply to avoid being the guy who misses work for a week because he dislocated something while lifting a remote control. Soon, his Inner Fitness Manual will be pushing him to become the guy who can lift more with his rear deltoids than any guy he knows.

Cardiovascular training is also beneficial in that, as its name suggests, it benefits the heart and circulation of blood in general. However, once one’s initial distaste for doing something strenuous for more than 90 seconds passes, one is no longer preoccupied with the idea of preventing heart attacks. Instead, the Inner Fitness manual begins filling his head with dreams of winning the countywide 8.5K charity race.

Taking up a racket sport is good for the whole body, and a fun way to meet people while staying in shape. However, once one gets past the point where most of their exercise comes from chasing the balls they accidentally hit into someone else’s court, the Inner Fitness Manual gives him new goals. It’s fine to be good at a racket sport, but it would be good to be great at it; the Inner Fitness Manual tells him that he can be the guy whose every thunderous swing of the stick makes the other men turn, stare and say, “I’ll bet he’s very virile.”

And so a young man will pour his spare time into these hobbies, turning them from good ideas to preserve health into monumental undertakings symbolic of his manliness. And, up to his late-20s, he may greatly impress the less-dedicated of his peers.

Then, one day, just shy of 30, while pushing up a weight that’s 130 percent heavier than he could lift six months ago (but only 70 percent of what he hopes to lift six months later) a throbbing will begin in his shoulder. Every fitness magazine he’s ever read instructs that he stop immediately, but his inner manual says, “Keep lifting, you can overcome this.”

Only the next day, when it becomes an excruciating ordeal to put on and remove his shirt will he realize that the Inner Fitness Manual was in error. His shoulder pain will, however, present him with the opportunity to double down on cardio training. The next time he’s on the treadmill, he can increase the rate of speed by a half-mile more per hour and try to sustain that pace for an extra two minutes.

Halfway through, when his general knee aches begin, his Inner Fitness Manual will tell him, “Real men don’t give up!” Throughout the day, when he has been made painfully cognizant of how many stairs there are in the world, he may reconsider the merits of being a synthetic man.

When those aches have passed, he may attempt to work his way back into shape through his favorite racket sport. Then, while attempting to hit a ball through an overhead motion at speeds equivalent to a space shuttle launch, he may feel a twinge in his back. “At least finish the match; show some heart!” the Inner Fitness Manual will say.

The next day, when he finds that there’s no position in which he can sit that won’t shoot pain through his back he may realize something: His Inner Fitness Manual is not actually the manifestation of too much testosterone, as widely believed, but his brain, which hates his body for the attention it gets while the brain has to subsist on comic strips and sitcoms as nourishment.

The easy solution to this would be to ignore the Inner Fitness Manual and not overdo it; simply exercise for the purpose of staying healthy and not impressing others. This idea, it turns out, also comes the Inner Fitness Manual, which is attempting to lull the young man into a state of boredom so that he’ll begin overexerting himself again as soon as possible.

And so, the final lesson this young man learns upon entering his fourth decade is this: You can’t win.

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