By this point I had been lifting weights and doing cardiovascular exercise productively for the preceding four years. I had added sixty pounds of lean muscle to my ectomorphic frame and had a college work-study job here as the “weight lifting instructor”. With my studies in physiology and chemistry combined with hands on experience in the field of exercise, I thought I knew it all. Sadly, I now realize that I still had much to learn.
One day I was approached by a new member wanting to get started on an overall fitness program. His name was Larry and he worked as a sales clerk at a local music store. In his mid twenties, Larry was getting married that summer and told me that his fiancee wanted him to lose some weight to get into good shape for his wedding and honeymoon. Toward that end, I structured a well rounded program for him which included riding a stationary bike, a simple program of resistance exercise targeting all of the major muscle groups, and stretching. But there was a problem. Knowing what I know now, I realize that Larry’s odds of success were poor, seeing as how this was all his fiancee’s idea and not his, an example of external motivation as opposed to internal motivation. When our personal achievement becomes a greater priority to someone other than ourselves there can be few major accomplishments on the horizon.
After two weeks of half hearted effort in the weight room, Larry came up to my desk and told me he planned to terminate what there was of his workout schedule. He claimed that his bride to be was a registered nurse and that she had warned him of the horrible outcome from resistance exercise, that he would become too big, muscle bound, and that his muscles would “turn to fat” by the time he was thirty years old.
Try as I might I could not dissuade Larry from heeding his fiancee’s advice. He chose to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to all of the objective evidence I presented. Instead, he left the Y and never returned.
Thirty years later at a local gym I was approached by a female aerobics instructor wanting to know about the supine dumbbell triceps extensions I was doing at that time. Just as I was beginning to explain the purpose of this exercise, I was interrupted by her boy friend.
“NO! NO! NO!” came his voice in a chastising tone, “Lifting weights will make you TOO BIG!”
I looked up and was shocked. It was Larry, thirty years older, now divorced from his RN bride, and at least fifty pounds heavier. He resembled a more bloated version of George Costanza from the Seinfeld television show. These two preceding incidents serve to demonstrate that my knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry could never hope to address the psychological dimension of why we do what we do. I still wonder how much more fat Larry would have gained had he continued to lift weights over the preceding two decades with any muscle he might have developed turning to fat.. After all, he had become obese without having touched a weight.
On the other hand, fat serves a number of important functions in the body, one of which is insulation. Metaphorically we could say that excess fat may serve to insulate us from having to deal with many of life’s challenges.
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