The New Year is creeping closer, and already the cash registers at every gym and fitness center on the planet is ringing. The murmurations of every overweight, soft, unfit, couch-riding over-eater can be heard for miles as they flock to the nearest sweatshop for absolution. Every year, like lemmings to the sea. They work out for a few weeks, months, whatever and quit. I am not sure what the industry average is for percentages who sign up and are still members a year later, but I can’t imagine it’s very high.
Now, before anyone has a conniption over my treatment of overweight, soft, unfit, couch-riding over-eaters, I speak from experience. I AM one. For years now. Once fit and full of…well…stuff; a long hiatus predicated on half-truths, untruths and laziness found me in the worst shape of my life and in need of an enormous change. Another story for another time, but my current pursuit of greater fitness and my profession as a dog trainer dovetail quite nicely for the purpose of this post.
Where the fitness industry gets a substantial boost throughout the holidays, we dog trainers find ourselves somewhat less busy until winter takes a hike. There are a few interesting theories about that, but after 4 decades, suffice it to say, most owners are inconvenienced by the weather. Dog trainers see an increase in people experiencing housebreaking issues with their dogs as soon as the mercury dips close to freezing, and I get calls from owners who don’t make the correlation. What most owners resist is the simple fact that if they don’t want to walk their dog because of the cold, it”s a pretty easy leap to assume that the dog doesn’t want to go out in that weather either. Just opening the door to ‘let them out’, the dog is pretty much thinkin’ the same thing. I can hear the dog now, “Well hell, YOU get to poo indoors! I don’t see YOU running outside in snowdrifts up to your hoohah to take a dump! Give a dog a break!” It’s a common refrain this time of year.
What it actually translates to is the lack of commitment on the owner’s part to see the deed to its completion, or at least have the sense to confine the dog to assure he doesn’t foul the house, and restrain him until he toilets outside. I could never understand how anyone could allow a dog to relieve itself indoors. If it were up to me, humans would still be pooping in outhouses, but classify that as one of my weird idiosyncrasies. Indoor plumbing applies to bipeds only, unless you can successfully teach your dog to poop in a toilet, flush and PUT THE LID DOWN.
It’s not just the whole housebreaking thing. It’s everything. More dog bites occur over the winter months than any time of year. In about a week (after the first of the New Year, the official conclusion of the shopping season), I will be receiving complaints from callers whose dogs have gone insane from a lack of appropriate exercise. Or rather, any form of mental or physical stimulation. I often wonder what people are thinking when they leave their houses and get in their cars on their way to the movies, dinner with friends, a party, while they leave their dog, a highly social animal, at home alone, after 8 to 10 long hours of being left home, alone. But I digress. Remember, I am a woman of idiosyncrasies. Lots of’em.
It’s a pretty safe leap to mash those two together and come to the same conclusion I did; lack of preparedness and lack of follow-through. It’s a common theme that binds the fitness industry to what I do for a living, like a cosmic spider weaving a monster web. The concept permeates our lives, but no more so than with deciding to be fashion forward or comfortable and dry in inclement weather, at the gym, or when supervising your dog on that rainy, ugly, windblown night to be sure you don’t have a nasty surprise waiting for you to clean up later. People pay pro trainers real money to make sure their dog will ‘go’ outside, but that STILL doesn’t exonerate the owner from the responsibility of seeing to it that the dog actually GOES, and confine appropriately when the dog doesn’t. Or won’t.
So to return to the central theme of this little post; about September of 2016, I walked up a flight of exactly 11 steps and thought I was going to die. I’m not in the habit of giving myself stress tests to determine heart health, but I have to say, that was as close to having a blow-out as I ever want to come. I and my husband had quit smoking about 3 years ago, and I gained over 70 pounds. Not as a result of quitting, but as a result of substituting my pack-a-day habit with stuffing my face and quitting on a lot of other things. Like moving. In my defense, if there can be such a thing, career-wise I was entering a substantially stressful business expansion and an assortment of life-changes that consumed me to the point of distraction. I was desk-bound for most of it, and relatively inert for the rest of it. I made a collection of moderately bad life choices and then, there I was. Unfit, exceedingly overweight, but hey! I had quit smoking! Yay me! Life always offers a series of compromises, but ultimately, it is us that determine how to make things work.
Once upon a time, I had an affair with powerlifting and bodybuilding. Both pursuits I enjoyed for decades before nagging injuries turned into some pretty substantial setbacks; surgeries on two shoulders, a pretty interesting major abdominal surgery, crap-tastic knees, elbows, wrists, broken things blah, blah, blah. I never envisioned myself as being one of those people that settled for the whole “Face it, you’re just getting older!” tropes, but here I was, middle aged, post-menopausal, and moderately to severely uncomfortable, All. The. Damn. Time. I made the mistake of believing the things I felt, and used them as an excuse to cling to my inactivity. I had to do something, and soon. I hated myself, what I was becoming, and the only excuse I had was ME.
I knew what kind of gym I wasn’t a good fit for, but I was really having a hard time finding a gym I WAS a good fit for. I had toured the local national chain type gyms and found them lacking. I am a married, middle aged fat broad. I am by no means self conscious, but these places are more deli cases for youthful, hungry predators, not old farts like me. And just no. The thought of having to compete for a squat rack with some dunderhead showing off his bicep curls to the gal on the tread across the aisle ain’t my thing. And the last thing I needed was mirrors to remind myself how…lumpy…I was… Yuk.
I by no means am an iron-slinging she-beast either, but dropping a weight shouldn’t be a reason for expulsion, nor should audible sounds of MAKING AN EFFORT, so the purple place was out. I want to pick things up and put them down. I want to lift all the things.
I needed instruction from someone who was familiar with the concept of setting, and reaching goals. I needed somebody to see the me that can be. Not the me that is. Or was. And since I don’t believe in throwing money away, I needed to see logic in what I was going to be doing. I needed to see results. I wasn’t going to get those results at the fitness industry equivalent of the Big Box Store. I wasn’t going to get results there not because of fear, but because I was past the point of self-direction and recognized that I needed professional help. If I had attempted the barbell lifts on my own, I’d be writing this from a hospital bed. I know it.
I stumbled on the Westminster Strength and Conditioning Facebook page through a friend of my son, who’s high school football team had been training there in their off season. I read their Facebook page, perused their website and the stuff Just. Made. Sense. It wasn’t that lightweight “toning” bullshit that women throughout history have been led to believe. It didn’t preach weigh loss fantasies and washboard abs in time for summer bikini season. It talked about strength. It talked about training for life.
It resonated. It sounded like the things I tell my clients.
I was eager to start, so I left most of my swagger at the door and allowed myself to be given over to the Starting Strength coach and prepared myself to unlearn/relearn/imagine a different future. I left feeling like every ‘leg day’ meme ever written. It was a good 5 days before I could walk normally. But I went back. And I had improved. And I continue to go back, because I continue to improve. Doing well is encouragement to do more.
The basic tenet is so simple, it’s almost too simple. Basic compound moves that incorporate many muscles, and load the weights progressively as the athlete gains strength. Rinse, repeat. Do the work, see, feel, appreciate the gains. What I have been telling my private training clients for eons. Show the dog what you want, disable his ability to do anything other, reward honest effort.
There is no magic wand to fitness, and there is no magic wand to dog training. Do your research. No, really, do it. Read this post again. There’s a lot of hidden information there. Find a real professional, someone who resonates with YOU. Listen carefully to that person. After all, you are paying them real money to hear their advice. Follow their advice and reap the benefits of their expertise. Pretty simple really.
What you will have to do however, is determine your personal level of commitment and decide for yourself what sort of effort you are willing to make. Just like the seasonal migration to the local fitness centers, I hear from people with dogs that have practiced the same inappropriate behaviors for years. It’s been my finding that if it has bothered them for these long years, I am pretty sure they aren’t really committed to a whole lot of change. The catalyst for the contact was usually an event or gathering of some sort, where the dogs’ behavior was so embarrassing, that the contact was a sort of spontaneous reaction with no real incentive to implement any cohesive blueprint for change.
It’s your dog, your life, your choice. Just be sure you are comfortable with your decision.