Vive la Resistance!

My body is reeling today from my last workout with Bassem, my PT ‘doctor’ in Cairo. Honorifics are rife in Egypt, but Bassem is a legitimate degree-holder who teaches part-time at a university. I was recommended to him by Suzan, an Egyptian-Danish psychologist. Suzan is always jetting to Copenhagen or the Emirates, where she straightens out business-cultures gone awry. I wish I were in Suzan’s line of work. She flies a lot, works long hours, but seems well-compensated and, more importantly, vitalized, humming. The job, however, is a stressor on her body. She works out a lot. She tops it off with Arthur Murray dance classes — anything to maintain that edge and, apparently, to have a good time. It was funny when I mentioned my shoulder problems to her one night when we were coming home in the same car from a party last spring.

“Who have you seen in the past?” she said.

I reeled off three or four names, because I’d already told her I was no stranger to physical therapy. I’d had any number of bodily areas fall outside of the okay zone.

After each name I mentioned, she gave me a thumbnail digest of her experience with the same therapist. She’d been to them all. She said, “You should really try this new guy Bassem.”

“Okay. Where’s his office?”

“He works out of Gold’s Gym at Midan Mahatat (Metro Station Square).”

My heart took a dive. I can’t stand Gold’s. My wife gave me a membership there that cost plenty, and I was excited until I visited the gym. The pounding dance-hall music wore me out before I could get dressed. Then I started feeling that I was a freak just to be there. Everyone was walking around like Arnold Schwarzenegger – even the women. I’d never seen so many machines – here I mean literal machines. I didn’t know how to work them. The membership came with several trainer sessions. My trainer, nice guy though he was, took on that gym-trainer persona of a boot camp sergeant.

I had enough problems with authority at a military school in 1964. Does getting healthy have to run back along the path of those roaring voices?

Long before my membership ran out, I quit Gold’s. Now here, years later, I was being counseled to go back. I considered my options, ran through all of Suzan’s thumbnail sketches of the other PT’s in our neighborhood, and decided, ‘What the heck, give it a try.’ That’s when I met Bassem who I thought was going to give me a few massages and have me stretch my left arm up the wall, that sort of thing.

But no! Down on the floor. I was instructed to put my hands on a rubber half-moon that rolled and slipped beneath my palms. ‘Let’s go. Pushups. One-two…’

Like an automaton – after all, eight years of wrestling workouts each winter – I fell into the regimen. Bassem wasn’t nearly as much of a barker as my first Gold’s trainer, so I was able to bridle my doubts, my anti-enthusiasms, which occasionally reared up like cobras. At the end of the workout, my shoulder had stopped feeling strange.

‘What’s the problem with my shoulder anyway?’ I asked.

‘You have an overall problem with strength, my friend. You are weak up through here and into here.’ He began putting fingers on various parts of my shoulders, around my neck, basically everywhere.

So I’m brought to this conundrum with my health goals. I hate resistance training, but it seems to work. How do I dial it down to a scale that I can live with day after day?

I’ve been told that my muscles will get used to the strain and won’t hurt any longer. Why don’t I believe that? Why do I simply not want to do resistance training?

Deep, deep. I’ve got a few more chapters on this question, this issue that I want to lay out. I need to work through some fundamental questions. Where exactly is my inner resistance? Maybe if I can find my resistance to resistance training, I’ll find a piece to the overall puzzle.