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Lift…Uhhhhhh…Enough Already!

Learning how to work out at Retro Fitness,

with pain and gain

We’ve known each other for about ten minutes, but I already have a love-hate relationship with my trainer, Joe. Right now, I hate him; he’s making me use a  machine called a shoulder press, and my shoulders are letting me know, in no uncertain terms, that pressing is the absolute last thing they feel like doing. The burning sensation in my upper body flares into a searing hatred for this friendly, muscular man. Why does he look so happy? Can’t he see I’m in pain?

For the next set, Joe pulls out a tiny pin in the back of the machine and lowers the weight I’ll be pressing for my next set by half, and suddenly, I love Joe; Joe understands me. As I coax my screaming shoulders into action again, I realize that I must have the beginnings of GSS, or Gym Stockholm Syndrome; the only psychological disorder that comes with dramatically increased cardiovascular fitness and fabulous abs.

I’m at Retro Fitness in Syosset, finding out what it takes to get into shape, with the help of general manager and trainer Joe Colon. To be fair, I’m not completely hopeless in the fitness department; I jog a few miles on the treadmill a few times a week. But I’ve long avoided any fitness equipment that doesn’t come with a milometer, thinking the machines meant for strength training look like medieval torture devices. Now, Joe isn’t one to stand on the sidelines and let his charge sweat it out. He’s right next to me. “Great job! Just five more, I’m right here with you! Keep it up, you know what they say—no pain, no gain!”

This leads to a conversation, mid-set, about exactly who it was who established “No pain, no gain!” But we agree that it would be a waste of time to hunt this person down and make them take it back. We tend to agree a lot, at least when I’m not begging him to lower the amount of weight I’m lifting, like some kind of ongoing peace negotiation.

Joe takes me through a several exercises: shoulder presses, an abdominal machine that feels like doing sit-ups without the neck strain, and various pulling mechanisms that strain different muscles in my arms. Joe assures me that I will feel the ache in the morning (and he’s not wrong), but surprisingly, as the workout goes on, I find myself feeling better. Instead of panting for breath in between sets, I’m bouncing on the balls of my feet in my sneakers, ready to tackle the next piece of machinery. When Joe says we’re done, I’m surprised to feel a momentary flurry of disappointment.

I hobble over to the treadmill, something I understand. Or at least, I thought I did: I’m used to older treadmills with options like Run and Stop Running, whereas this one, the latest model from Life Fitness, has a control panel that looks like it would be right at home on the Starship Enterprise. However, once I start using it, with a little help from Joe, I realize that this machine really isn’t that different from the treadmills of yore but just has a few more bells and whistles.

Just then, Amy Golan, co-owner of Retro Fitness and on that day, angel of mercy, brings me something from the juice bar: a peanut butter, chocolate and banana smoothie, formulated specifically for post-workout refueling. Normally, I associate that flavor combination with pigging out on too many peanut butter cups. But this shake is an anomaly; I can tell there’s peanut butter and chocolate in it, and yet somehow it tastes…healthy? I’m told that the shake includes lots of added protein, and can serve as a replacement for lunch. It’s true—I have the shake at noon and don’t start to feel hungry again until past 6 p.m.

Later, I have to wonder what bizarre alchemy can make peanut butter and chocolate combination into a health food, and whether or not I have a responsibility, as a journalist, to investigate if the technology that makes these smoothies is strictly legal.

Before I leave, Joe tells me I did a great job, which I think is a nice way of telling me that I’m really weak. But that’s okay, because he’s Joe and I love him—whenever I don’t actively want to claw his eyes out for making me do another set.

My time at the gym ends all too soon, and then I’m back at work. But something strange happens; after my tough workout, the mid-afternoon doldrums, which usually tempt me to take a nap under my desk, never arrive.

Stranger still, the day passes quickly. Later that night, starting to feel the day’s exertions in my muscles, I fall asleep almost immediately, nothing like my usual parade of tossing and turning. The next morning, I wake up achey, as promised, but with more energy.

Should I join Retro Fitness? I don’t know—the noticeable energy boost makes it tempting, and as my trainer was quick to point out, it will be bikini season soon (low blow there, Joe.) But it’s a 20-minute drive from my apartment, and I have other commitments.  

One thing for sure: I am coming back for that peanut butter, chocolate and banana shake. And maybe to work out with Joe again, even though I know he’s going to make me lift heavy things while claiming they aren’t that heavy. Love makes you do crazy things.