Friday, June 29, 2007

Tread and circuses

After extensive paperwork, I managed to wrangle a 1 month membership at the local gym. After over 2 months without a serious workout, I was looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. I showed up at the fitness center and spoke to the gym attendant, who spoke decent english. He scrutinized me, then my paperwork, then me, then my passport, as if he would be shot if I fooled him. But, he's German, and I am used to this (hence bringing my passport to a fucking gym). He asked if I ever took a gym class. Yes, I replied, weight training and gym safety, at College of the Desert. I didn't mention that I was in high school at the time, but recalled the principles: do not lift more than you can handle, stretch a lot, warm up, drink water, follow proper form, etc. He still eyed me as I stretched some more and then began 20 minutes on the treadmill. Felt good. On to free weights. Since I was out of shape, I decided to avoid anything involving weights over my head. Nice, safe bicep curls. I tried curling the bar as a warm up, no problem. The attendant left, so I turned to the guy who seemed most knowledgeable (ie, the biggest), pointed to the bar, and asked, 'This weighs 20, um, ...' I couldn't translate pounds - of course not, I thought, they are on the metric system - so I repeated 20. He nodded. I put on a couple 5 pound weights, felt good. I added a 20 and another 5 to each side. The jolly giant asked if he could use it, I said sure. He grunted through a surprisingly short set, then offered it to me.
'Are you sure you can do this?'
'Yes. Two months ago, I could do this 15 times. It is only 80.'
'You are sure?' I might have been annoyed, but he seemed genuinely concerned. 'Yes,' I repeated as he dropped the dumbbell into my hands. 'I can do this.'
'No. No, you can't,' shrieked my left bicep as my left hand dropped the bar. 'He's right, you know,' added my right bicep unhelpfully, despite managing to maintain a grip. The left side of the bar arced downward. I managed to jump back just in time, since the iron pendulum would have liquified my left foot. The bar clanged loudly, entertaining the entire gym. I stood there, holding a smarterthanmebell in my right hand, confused. The giant gingerly relieved me of the bar. I braced for mockery.
'Are you OK?' he asked.
'Yes,' I lied. In fact, my left bicep and tendon were quite mad at me, plus my lower back and right hip. Nothing requiring medical attention. Estimated repair time, 1 week.
'You should not lift that much.' Note I may be mistranslating, but facial expression, context, and gesticulation go a long way. I had no snappy comeback; what could I say?
'I am sorry. I could lift that 2 months ago.'
The weight room attendant came over and glowered. 'You should not lift so much,' he said in english. 'That is not safe.'
'Thank you.'
'Why do you lift so much?'
'It is only 80 pounds.'
'Those are kilograms.'
'You could hurt yourself.'
'Yes. You are right. That was a serious mistake. Thank you.'
'Do you need a doctor?'
'No.' I didn't mention that, due to the horrible Frau Palandt, who I have already stealthily villified twice in earlier blog entries, I have been uninsured for 2 months. Something to ponder when you stub your toe, get nettles, or pull muscles. 'I will go now. I am sorry.'
'Yes. Goodbye.'
While limping back to the lab, I pondered the cognitive science of it all. I knew Germany was on the metric system, and even considered that while trying to translate 'pounds.' Yet I failed to act accordingly. The human brain is exceptional at developing automaticity. If you usually drive home a certain way, and decide while leaving work to go elsewhere that requires a different turn near the end, you often end up at home before realizing you failed to execute a different plan. Had you been driving a completely different route, or been new to that route, that would not have happened. Old habits die hard. It is the price of skill.

For the record, I will never again attempt to curl over 175 pounds.


jules said...

You okay? I could absolutely see myself doing something similar (though it would be 80!)

Sam said...

Where's the next post? This one is 4 months old!