I’ve had TWO dreams lately in which running was bliss.

In the first, the running quickly turned into flying – the BEST kind of dream. As soon as I wake up, I recognize the flying as actually being swimming, but without any water, including me pushing off walls and parked cars, etc. as if they were the side of a swimming pool, and then I “fly” even faster, breast-stroking madly, until I drift to a stop and have to push off something else.


In the second, I was running – happily – along a mountain path at night. No, I don’t know why; it was a dream – hold all your questions until transactional analysis. I realized I’d gotten off the path. With a dream-like déjà vu, I knew that if I continued, I’d be attempting to move along the side of a cliff, so I backtracked wisely until I found a road.

The road led me to a town, where rednecks menaced me. When I turned for help to the toothless tavern owner, she grinned at me and locked the door behind me. The man with no feet leered, and the original thug in the baseball cap appeared at the back door. I thought, “Man, are these guys going to be surprised when my super powers kick in.”

Wait. What was my point again?

Oh, yeah. I dreamed – TWICE – that I was really enjoying running.

Like – I was feeling the delicious cross-body stretch from up-elbow across to up-knee, from forward shoulder to forward hip, and my breathing was easy and deep, and my shoulders were down and back, and I felt like I could run forever.

Despite what those dreams evolved into, don’t you think this is a positive, hopeful sign for my future as a runner?? One day I could run as effortlessly, as fluidly, as easily as Barbara?

(New reader? Barbara is my fitness trainer at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, Virginia. She’s a gifted trainer and a contagious runner, in that she makes you want to run, too. Like an infection. Like the plague. You’re GONNA catch it, poor bastard.)

As previously noted, I’ve spent 58 years arranging my life so I do NOT have to run. To discover, at this advanced age, that MAYBE it’s not QUITE as horrible as I previously thought? That’s – well, it’s dreamy.

I can’t consciously envision myself as being fleet-footed – ever. But I can in my dreams. So it must be in the outer bounds of possible. (Still waiting for the super powers to kick in.)


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When you were in high school, your mama was praying that you’d run with a “good” crowd.

Parental influence sets the dye of your personality, but there comes a time when your background gets tie-dyed by non-familial influences. If you were a jock, you hung with jocks. If you were a head, you and your friends smoked a lot of pot. If you were a thug, your buds persuaded you to shoplift lipstick and cigarettes.

Of course, you’re reading an amateur’s fitness blog, which points strongly toward you being a nerd in high school. You didn’t play field hockey with the boomers, you didn’t lurk malevolently in the smoking lounge with students dressed entirely in black, you didn’t date college students.

No, you were debating the relative merits of Star Trek vs. Star Wars, you were collecting Louisa May Alcott and Little House books, you were wondering if the Debate Club was really as scary as it sounded. And your friends were the people who did the same. (And you love them to this day.)

I was thinking about the importance of running with a good crowd when I was working out with Grace today. Body Dynamics (in Falls Church, VA) isn’t a very big place. I visited one of those massive warehouse gyms with a friend a few weeks ago; Body Dynamics isn’t like that. In this clean, unfussy, sunlit world, I’m now on a smile-and-nod level with all kinds of people…

…and they’re people who look like me. That is, this isn’t Gold’s Gym, where muscle-bound weight lifters would probably look at you like you’re taking up space and using valuable oxygen. At Body Dynamics, the clients are all older, pudgier, move like they could use some help. That’s why they’re there.

They are my allies. They’re the “good” crowd I’m running with at the moment… and I’m grateful! My non-workout friends are all supportive and kind about me spending so much time in bulging exercise clothes, but I suspect my effort can seem to them like a silent accusation. (I know this because I’ve felt that way. A friend appears, all rosy and toned from working out, and I’d feel pasty and sedentary and pathetic; that’s the kind of friend that maybe you draw away from a little.)

So I try to not dwell TOO much on my workouts (saving it up for a blog that people can choose to read or not)… and I’m grateful for the people I know who are at a place in their lives when they, like me, can devote time and energy to getting healthy. These people are ready and eager to discuss the endless challenge of the sugar demon, or the merits of one masseuse over another, or a new exercise or work-out plan. These people help me keep my enthusiasm high.

I suspect “these people” are actually YOU—and so I offer you my thanks! We’re doing this together, even if we’ve never met.

And if you’re someone who cannot yet devote the time and energy to getting healthier but wish you could—and there are a whole lot in this particular crowd—then I hope you know I respect your yearning. Every one of us is doing all that we can manage every single day; if the time isn’t right yet for you to devote your energies to health, then don’t feel bad about yourself. Tomorrow may be better. You’re a good person, even if your waistline is thick or your knees hurt. Really.

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If you start out with high school crowds, it’s law that you need a Breakfast Club photo – right? Typical that all of them were beautiful; Hollywood doesn’t understand the TRUE high school clique, but never mind. Still a great movie!






First, I’d just RUN A MILE. Seriously. I did it on a treadmill because Northern Virginia has become an aquatic neighborhood of late; it was raining when I arrived for my Body Dynamics session with Barbara. It’s raining right now.

(Advice: If you’re ANYWHERE near Falls Church, Virginia, treat yourself to Barbara. She’s uncanny in her ability to read a body, motivate a spirit, and never set an exercise too hard to actually do.)

Next, after my session with Barbara, I moved one room over to do Stretch Class with Clara. (Clara is moving on in two weeks, which is a tragedy for me but not for her; she’s going to intern with the George Washington swim team trainers, which sounds amazingly cool plus she’s fresh out of college and adorably cute and thus it isn’t creepy for HER to lust after and perhaps have romances with those college men’s triangular swimmer’s bodies – like watching Timothy Olyphant walk across a TV screen, all wide shoulders and snaky hips and puma-like grace… lord, I have COMPLETELY lost my train of thought and need to start again.)

After my session with Barbara, Clara said she’d seen me running on the treadmill and that my form looked really good. That alone is astonishing for someone (me, not Clara) who has spent so many years (MANY years) avoiding running for just about any reason at all. Light changes halfway across the crosswalk? No one WANTS to hit a pedestrian; they’ll slow down, right? About to miss the train? Eh, another one will be along. Rabid dog heading this way? Well, it’s just a series of painful injections to the belly; why run now?

So here was a trained fitness expert (a child, but she’d graduated with a degree in whatever) telling me that my running form was no source of embarrassment. Of course, I’m Barbara-trained; I knew I wasn’t making horrible errors… but still, it was very nice to hear, so I was pumped up and sassy.

And finally, I was dressed in fitness garb. Spanxex-influenced pants to just below the knee in always-slimming black, and then a blue shirt big enough to cover the part of my body where the blooming happens.

That is, my legs are beginning to look pretty good. Naked in front of a mirror, I’m not dissatisfied until pretty high up on the thigh, and then things bloom like algae in the Great Lakes. Ampleness ensues. Oxygen deprivation due to fat clotting. That goes on for another foot or so – flared hips, what might be generously described as a Rubenesque belly, a posterior for which “drooping” is the best descriptor – until the waist, at which point things get better, and the threat of accidental public nudity is no longer nightmarish. Healthiness is working down from the top of my head and up from the soles of my feet; I’m pathetic at about the hinge, and the rest is getting okay.

The point is, I was looking not only pretty good (with effective camouflaging) but I also looked like someone who had recently engaged in reasonably vigorous exercise. I was moving as if my joints had all been oiled and as if nothing hurt, because—thank you, Barbara and Grace and Gwynn—nothing does hurt.

So when the teenager at the cash register awarded me a “Seniors Tuesday” 5% discount on my groceries, I was thrown.

I wanted to reach across the conveyor belt and drag his skinny torso toward me to enquire – with desperation, not violence – do I look like a senior?  DO I?? Seriously – really??

I really don’t care much about my age; I’m 58 and consistently getting better. But there were still two ancient people in the check-out aisle in front of me, suspiciously studying the three-foot-long receipt the teenager had just given them as if they thought he might have listed their bank account, their blood types, and the location of Great Aunt Irma’s pearl broach. Shit – THEY deserve the senior discount. Do I look like they do??!

On the other hand – maybe the kid just gave the discount to everyone he checked for. He had a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of just slapping a 5% discount down for every customer, rightly assuming no one (including me) would say “Hold on there, my good man – I am not yet a senior. I WANT to pay more for my grapefruit and organic Greek whole milk no sugar plain yogurt.”

(All right – and also my container of Ben and Jerry’s. Don’t judge.)

A vast, orchestral argument ran through my brain as I smiled vacantly at the little boy at the register. I accepted my receipt and walked out (passing the elderly couple, still intently focused on the military launch codes apparently embedded in their sales receipt), feeling very out of sorts… but ever so slightly richer. Five percent.

I felt…discounted.


Truth: Would you look at this face and decide you don’t even have to ask if she qualifies for a 5% senior discount? I can take it. You can say “yes.” But… really??

(Nice dog, huh??)





It’s human nature to look at crater strikes on the moon and immediately decide they look like a face. We seek patterns everywhere…

…which means that when you see three friends posting on Facebook about needing to reboot their dedication to health and fitness, it’s evah-so-easy to decide that EVERYONE IS SCREWING UP their training this summer and we should all just have ice cream and calm down about it.

On the other hand, I can also see posts from my brilliant trainer, Barbara (from Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA), who is on vacation and apparently running for the sheer joy of it… for ninety-two straight minutes… in July… during a heat wave so massive the entire east coast was melting.

So it’s not ALL of us who are off track. Damn it. There’s always some overeager kid waving their hand and crying “But teacher – you forgot to give us homework!”

I’ve abandoned my exercise regime for one solid week. No, wait – this is day ELEVEN of doing NO formal exercise at all. (Jeez. Those lazy days mount up quick!) At first, I was on a mission of mercy to help a friend in need; too tired from helping her pack up her house to take the twenty minutes to do my HEP. That was a pretty good excuse.

Then the weather was gaggingly hot; the A/C could barely keep up and that was my excuse for skipping stairs.

(Skipping stairs sounds like a vigorous, sprightly exercise; what I mean, of course, is that I skipped trotting up and down the stairs, which means I am neither vigorous nor sprightly.)

The weather broke yesterday; the air is dry and kind and the heat is only warm and not sauna-like… so why aren’t I exercising now??

I don’t know. Because… I don’t want to?

Yes. That’s what it comes down to. I just don’t want to and all my sisu has dried up. I’m out of the habit.

I’m back at Body Dynamics on Tuesday for a session (including running a mile) with Barbara plus an hour of Stretch Class with Clara. (And on Wednesday for an hour with Grace, and on Thursday for Balance Class with Barbara.) That will put me back on the straight and narrow – so why don’t I linger happily here on the curvy and wide for just a little longer??

Summer. It DOES get in the way!

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This is what Barbara posts; that’s her most recent run. On vacation. Just because she loves doing it. I dunno – are we the same species, do you think??

What, Now?

July 3, 2018

She pulled uncertainly into the parking lot of the gas station-cum-garage and rolled, confusingly, over the now out-of-date line that rang a bell in the dark bay ahead of her.

“Haven’t heard one of those in decades,” she thought nervously. “Maybe I should wait until I’m back on home turf…”

Too late. From the shadows an overall’ed form was moving toward her. The mechanic was nondescript and plain. He didn’t seem menacing, so she put the car into park and got out.

“Hi,” she said brightly, hoping he wasn’t one of those Neanderthal men who make women feel small for neither knowing nor caring much about the inner workings of the four-stroke combustion engine.

“Help you?” he asked as he wiped his hands on a filthy cloth. (Why bother?, she wondered. His hands can only get dirtier from that.)

“My car has a – well, it’s a shimmy. If I go over about twenty miles an hour, it begins to feel like things are going to fly apart.”

“Uh-huh,” he said flatly and toed a rolling dolly over to the car. Without preamble, he disappeared under the car and she heard him banging around. Knowing he could only see her well-shod feet pacing nervously, she held her questions until (it seemed) eons had passed.

“Can you find anything?”

He rocketed out from under the car and walked to the office. “C’mon,” he said shortly.

“Oh, well…” He ignored her, so she moved ahead but stopped in the doorway, uncertain of the situation. Hedging her bets, her head was inside while her feet were still on the pavement outside.

He was rummaging in a worn metal desk, discarding oily bits of metal and poorly folded road maps as he went. “Here it is,” he muttered. He turned and held out…

…an apple.

Startled, she reached out instinctively and took it from him. Then she regarded the apple with profound suspicion. What the hell was it? Why hadn’t she refused to take it?

“Hold that,” he said. And then there was silence.

“Um – okay.” They regarded each other blankly.

Finally he clarified. “When you drive. Hold that when you drive.”

Words failed her. She shook her head and raised her eyebrows. Her forehead creased.

“Go on,” he said. “Try it. You’ll see.”

“You want me to hold an apple… to fix the shimmy in my car?”

“That’s right.”

“Is it a MAGIC apple?” she asked, not able to bite back the sarcasm.

He grinned. “Once around the block. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. Go on, now.”

Thinking she’d entered a madman’s lair, she scurried back to her car, clutching the apple, and drove off.

“Insane,” she muttered. Then, as the car began its alarming shuddering, she looked suspiciously at the apple, lying innocently in the drink holder. Her frown of contempt became a moue of frustration. “All right!”

She reached out and grabbed the apple – and the shimmying stopped. “What the hell?!?”

She put the apple down and the juddering began; she picked it up and it stopped. I do NOT understand, she thought – but it’s working!

* * * * *

This tale is a parable. A fitness parable. I composed it to explain how WEIRD is the power of Barbara Gallagher Benson at Body Dynamics, and of Gwynn Hegyi, and of Grace Ball – my BDI team of WIZARDS.

Listen: About 18 months ago, I came down with a strange numbness that was diagnosed as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (which I incorrectly call Guillaume Barré because it sounds like an interesting protagonist in a French thriller). For reasons unknown, my own immune system attacked the sheaths around my nerves from the ribs down, leaving me mildly numb.

Some people have quite exciting experiences with Guillaume Barré; I don’t happen to be one of them. Despite being slapped into the hospital for five or six days, I was fine. I was numb and then I slowly got better. My right leg is still a little numb; I barely notice it any more. Not a big deal.

But I (now) know that at some point, I began shifting my weight to the left, which woke up more rapidly. And the muscles on the left got correspondingly stronger. The muscles on the right, relieved of duty, decided to take a break. Everything that was SUPPOSED to be done by those big old glute muscles on the right began to be accomplished by the muscles on the left, except the movements that HAD to come from the right side.

I now know which movements those are, because I have two sets of muscles which have begun to rebel – like colonists throwing tea into Boston Harbor. My adductor magnus runs up the inside of the thigh from knee to groin; the magnificently-named quadratus lumborum sit above the butt muscles like two mainsails.

Mine have been shrieking with increasing fury for the last six weeks or so.

And then Barbara said… “…tighten your glute mede.”

Barbara probably CAN tighten her gluteus medius without engaging minimus and maximus. I can’t – but I can clench a butt cheek in general.

And what happens?


Immediately. I can go from mid-wince to limp-free in the span of time it takes me to flex my ass.

This is VERY WEIRD INDEED – but honey – it’s a freaking blessing.

It is VERY CHALLENGING to see how these things are related, anatomically, but they are. Like solving a car problem by holding an apple. It makes no sense. But Barbara figured it out anyway. And Grace. And Gwynn. They worked my complaints until they solved it. And by damn, they DID solve it. I can’t believe it.

Of course, my glute mede is weak – so to make the parable complete, the apple that makes the car stop shaking has to weigh about twenty pounds; you can’t ALWAYS hold it until you build up some endurance and long-term strength (I have exercises now to add to my Home Exercise Program)… but you can be sure that building endurance is easier to do when NOT doing it causes pain.

I don’t know how those geniuses keep doing it, but I’m damned glad I’ve got them in my corner!

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“Oh – here’s your problem: Your ass is totally weak on the right side. Think of it as a bad boot around the CV joint, got it?”



I had an uncharacteristically Biblical thought yesterday.

I’m not much of a gardener. I mostly kept up with the weeding until I saw a long, lazy, benevolent black snake in the garden. Then I screamed like a 1950s sitcom and refused to go into the yard for months; let the snake weed.

(This was an unsuccessful weeding policy, as it turns out, and the yard quickly began to assume a jungle-like air of neglect that only felt more alarmingly snaky.)

But when I discovered a (quite large) turtle in my tiny, man-made pond, I was restored to the natural world. (From this experience we see that the fear of a snake is JUST SLIGHTLY outweighed by the delight in a turtle. Mathematically, snake < turtle.)

I hired a landscaping company to create a turtle paradise; the result is so stunning that I can’t imagine Yertle isn’t blissed in his groovy bachelor pad. I rather hope he’s on TurtleMatch.com, finding himself a little honey to enjoy Eastern Slider Eden. One of the things the landscaping lady did was fill my little turtle pond with all kinds of luscious water plants. (Some of which sit on low tables made of slate on stone legs, under which GOLDFISH would be happy to hide! I’m going to buy Yertle his pets this week.)

And one of the plant varieties is a bulrush.

Bulrushes, it turns out, are lovely. They have pretty, oblate leaves, and they stand tall and wave gently in the breeze. They have pretty lavender flowers growing shyly from their stalks.

But of course the most immediately awesome thing about the bulrush is its place in literature (or history or religion, depending on your interpretation), as it was among the bulrushes that the Pharaoh’s daughter found tiny baby Moses. (I pointedly omit a wealth of commentary about family planning and societal shame and the unlikelihood of babies drifting, carefree and untethered, among tall reeds in a wetland.)

So I heart my bulrushes big-big, and occasionally look to see if any baskets have fetched up among them. Nothing so far.

But a big wind did come roaring through. It pushed over one of the cattails and one of the bulrushes, and I bravely took my bare feet to the distant side of the pond (where, one might reasonably assume, a snake could possibly be enjoying a poolside sunbath) to stand up my reclining plants.

Once I was safely back in the kitchen, I looked with satisfaction at my pond. It was perhaps the biblical nature of the bulrushes that made me think to myself, “I have restored the habitat to order; I am the god of the turtle pond.”

Any time you decide you’re a god, it’s a good opportunity to slap yourself in the face and shake that thought loose. I don’t follow a formalized religion, but I do believe in karma, and if you decide you’re the god of ANYTHING, the actual god of that thing will make a point of proving just how wrong you are.

(I follow no formalized religion, but there are gods everywhere in my world, and it’s best not to piss any of them off. Be grateful. Be humble. You never know when a deity is paying attention.)

But before I lost the image of me as a god entirely, I felt an electrical pull that meant an analogy was inbound. Annnnnnd…. It’s here! Listen:

I’m a bad gardener, but a landscaper with a green thumb and a love of growing things has put me on the path. She’s given me the bare rudiments of knowledge to be the goddess of the turtle pond.

I’ve been a poor manager of my health for my entire life. Now a fitness trainer with a knowledge of musculature and an understanding of my emotional barriers has given me the bare rudiments of knowledge to … No, too blasphemous to say I’m the goddess of my health. But really – the analogy holds true. I have the ability now to be a good steward.

This analogy is pretty sound, even without the biblical value of a garden. I have a garden; I can ignore it or I can tend it. There’s a snake in the garden – not Satan, in this case; I think my snake is sugar – but it won’t hurt me if I don’t hurt it. I just have to accept that it’s a part of my garden, and work around it.

If you don’t weed a little every day, things get away from you, and what could be magnificent instead looks like a rental property, where no one cares what happens to the shrubs or trees or – yes – bulrushes. That’s how people get to looking tatty and worn out before they need to. I was treating my body like a rental property. (Whoops – switched analogies there. Let’s try again.)

I was treating my body as if I was only going to look at it from the kitchen – but you can’t see the turtle from the kitchen, or the goldfish. You can’t see the blooms on the exotic water lily, which only blooms at twilight. (How cool is that?) You can distantly hear the frogs croaking, but you can’t get the full effect until you get out there.

A stint on the elliptical (or – help me, Rhonda – jogging a mile with Barbara) is like weeding. It’s annoying and hot and I dread it beforehand. But once it’s done, I feel better. I look better. And the bulrushes offering their surprising lavender flowers is like (and you’ll have to take my word for this, as I will NOT post a photo) the nascent little crease that is developing between my thigh and my butt. It’s not just one large slab of flaccid any more; I’m getting enough muscle definition that things are starting (just barely, but it’s a start) to look less embarrassing.

Bulrushes. There’s so much they can teach us.


That’s a fitness blog entry of 23 paragraphs, and only the last five have anything at all to do with fitness. This seems like a LONG way around a pretty simple point. You’re very patient!


June 18, 2018

I was at my 40th high school reunion, tired from two days of chatting with people I hadn’t known for decades (which is fun but exhausting). I was sitting lumpishly on a sofa listening, delighted, as a guy I barely spoke to in high school – Phil Clark – told a fantastic rabble-rousing story that ended up explaining why he hadn’t been allowed to walk with his graduating class at college.

I was digging Phil Clark big-big, and I decided that if someone had said “Let Phil hold your baby for a while, there,” I would have done it, handing over my infant son to a relative stranger who told a good story, had a glorious mop of leonine hair, and the ability to wear a sports coat with an undefinable brio, and all I would have thought was “I hope my baby is cool enough for Phil Clark.”

Of course, my baby is now 6’4” and dwarfs the magnetic Phil Clark, but this fantasy-on-the-fly made me think about the nature of beauty.

There are lots of studies about how much better handsome people are treated than homely people. (I’m just a slacker blogger; go look ‘em up yourself.) Of course, these studies aren’t just about women thrusting their infant sons into the arms of bejacketed men with Andrew Jackson hair. They’re more scientific – something like most of the Fortune 500 CEOs are taller than average and more than usually good-looking; things just happen for pretty people that don’t happen for the ugly.

Then I wondered: DO things happen for handsome people because of cheek bones and slim hips? Or is it the confidence that comes from cheek bones and slim hips?? If you took identical twins and spent a lifetime praising one’s beauty and berating the other’s homeliness, you’d end up with one successful person and one guy who lives in a van down by the river.

In high school, Phil Clark was just a guy. I don’t remember even having a crush on him, and I had a crush on EVERYONE. Somehow, in the intervening 40 years, Phil uncovered a well of self-confidence, and it made him – technical term coming up here – yummy.

So then I swiveled my regard onto my own experience. By objective measures, I’m now more attractive than I’ve been in decades. I’ve carved inches off my eminent posterior, I hacked off my hair to a more stylish length, and my movements are powered by muscles that have been regularly exercised. Was I having a better reunion than normal?

Well, I always have a good time at my reunion. That’s no measure.

None of my former crushes swept me into manly embraces and confessed a lifelong yen for me that caused them to turn away from their fathers’ highly profitable tradition of stock brokerage and instead subsumed their life essence into an artistic career involving chain saws and large statues of bears. So I’m not sure how to score that.

I suppose the answer is – I felt more confident. And so I had an even more enjoyable time.

And I’m expecting a love letter from Phil Clark any day now.

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See? Andrew Jackson, although a horrible bigot and a bloodthirsty bastard, had very nice hair.



Here’s a life lesson for you: Wherever your physical or mental pain is?? That’s possibly NOT the problem site.

Mind you, there are exceptions. If you’ve sliced your finger with a kitchen knife or chopped off your foot with a poorly-wielded ax, by all means: Direct pressure and elevate. Hurry.

But when things are not quite as overt (or horrific), just be aware that if you’re clutching at an owie-spot, you might have been distracted from the actual source of your pain. Shall I explain? (Oh please, do.)

I have this muscle in my right thigh that regularly sings to me. There’s a collection of long, tough thigh muscles called the adductors. (Sit with a ball between your knees. Try to pop the ball with your thighs, like Bond villain Xenia Onatopp attempting to crush Pierce Brosnan’s handsome torso. Those muscles are your adductors. Xenia Onatopp’s are stronger than yours.)

(Holy smokes! I had to IMDB that Bond movie, Golden Eye, to see what Onatopp’s first name was, and you know who played her? You know who attempted to pop Remington Steel’s steel core like a squished grape? JEAN GRAY from the XMen movies. Famke Janssen. Didn’t see THAT one coming!)

Dang it – where was I?

Right – the three or four muscles that make up the adductors. One of them, appealingly, is called the adductor magnus (which sounds very Roman Legion – or maybe like Monty Python doing the Roman Legion. Adductor Magnus is right next to Biggus Dickus.).

Adductor magnus goes from the inside edge of your knee right up the inside of the thigh and hooks onto the pubic bone, exactly where you don’t want to point when you say “It hurts HERE.”

Mine has been angry for a few months now, and mutters with such vigor on occasion that I actually limp for a few steps, usually hissing and cursing at the same time. Walking pigeon-toed helps a bit, but that seems like a short-term solution where I need resolution.

There are no fewer than FOUR fitness brains working on this with me. Barbara, of course – my wizard at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA. Grace, the ballet dancer Pilates expert who works with Barbara. Josh, the physical therapist who rapidly identified two exercises that stretch the adductor magnus. And Gwynn, the Body Dynamics therapeutic masseuse.

And what is the source of my right leg’s angry adductor magnus?

Left hip, of course. Duh.

It turns out that there’s something going on in my left hip that affects my left knee and my left heel. I had no idea there was anything interesting happening because my right leg was compensating – and it was compensating by running a high-tension electrical line through my adductor magnus, which was being asked to provide pelvic stability it was not intended to provide.

Well, damn.

So it hurts HERE but the problem is HERE?

This is like the fifth time I’ve seen this pattern. Say I go see Gwynn for a massage and she says “What’s up? How do you feel?” And I think – it would feel great to have my back muscles massaged, so I say “My back is really tight.”

Well, that’s an automatic backfire, because she’ll start me out lying on my back and she’ll start digging into psoas muscles over the edge of my hip and down into the abdominal cavity, or have me lay on my side and work on lats or curl into a pretzel position with one leg thrown off the side of the table entirely. But damned if I don’t get off the table with my back feeling supple and content. She might never touch a back muscle, and she gets them to loosen.

The location of the pain just never seems to be a good identifier of where the problem is… unless you know enough to know how pain refers.

Oddly, this is NOT just a physical thing. Regina, the ace biofeedback counselor, hears about a problem and the first thing she does is ignore it for now and start fishing around for what ELSE is going on… and DAMN. She’s RIGHT. I’d totally lost track of THAT stressor because THIS one was using up all my oxygen.

In fact, Regina has asked me to be aware of certain patterns. When I find myself in the grocery store up to my elbows in the ice cream case, I’m to ask myself what else is going on in my life that I suddenly can’t resist either Ben or Jerry. And she’s right. I’m almost always able to identify something that’s eaten up all my will power or discipline or internal strength that I hadn’t even considered when the gravitational pull of organic Greek whole milk no sugar plain yogurt is suddenly so weak that I veer abruptly away and into the frozen desserts section.

So I offer you this for your consideration: Very often, the location of the pain is only distracting you from the actual problem. Something to be aware of.

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Here, Xenia Onatopp demonstrates an excellent adductor magnus exercise.










Barbara is very subtle with her phone when we run. She holds it in her hand so very casually – nothing to see here.

Of course, I know she sets the timer when we leave Body Dynamics (Falls Church, VA). She’s mapped out a loop that is “about a mile” (this is the kind of statement that defines the difference between a marathon runner and a professional couch-sitter. I have not yet grabbed her by her slim, strong shoulders and shaken her with the mass of my far larger body, shouting “MORE than a mile? Less? Tell me precisely. I NEED TO KNOW” but that may yet be coming…).

She starts the timer at the corner; if you’re not watching, you’ll miss that she’s doing anything at all.

Today I ran a little farther than last time; I’m down to three (or is it four?) spells of walking in between plodding along. My endurance is definitely increasing, but I think my speed is slowing down. (Of course; I know it’s going to be longer until I allow myself to walk again.)

“Soldier, I’ve noticed that you’re always last.”  “I’m pacing myself, sir.” From the Book of “Stripes” – the wisdom of Bill Murray.

When we got back to the “about a mile” corner, THIS time Barbara acknowledged the timer she held. “Fourteen minutes! That’s almost a minute faster!”

(Barbara sometimes puts on Facebook the training runs or actual races she does; she regularly maintains a pace of eight-minute miles over such long distances that if you were following her in a car you’d need to pull over and get gas, so for her to be pleased with a 14-minute pace just proves how exceptionally kind and encouraging she is.)

I was pleased with the feedback. I can’t yet run for a solid mile, but I think that day is coming… and I don’t think a 14-minute mile is much to be proud of, but it’s far better than it was a few months ago. So I got my feedback today, and found it edible.

Then, because sessions with Barbara are 60 minutes long, I had to do another three-quarters of an hour with her in the gym. This seems unfair; my instinct is that if I manage to get across “about a mile” of distance, I should immediately be shown to a soft couch and handed the remote control; isn’t that enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after all?

But no. Today we worked on squat-type exercises, while I dripped with sweat. (I astonish myself with my profound sweatiness during exercise. I’m surrounded by people who are also working out; they have perfectly dry skin and look lovely. I’m red-faced and sometimes the beads of sweat amass so much matter that they go rolling down my face to splash disgustingly on the mat or bench or whatever. Who knew I was so sweaty??)

Barbara had me focus on stepping up onto a bench while my weight was in my HEEL. (This is my cheat: Everything for me is a quad exercise. I stand on my toes. If you stand on your heel, you have to use your glutes. After a lifetime of toe-standing, my quads are mighty and my glutes are astonished at the exercises they’re being asked to accomplish. It’s a constant battle.)

The fact that she’d strapped a broad belt around my hips (exactly like the Yves Saint Laurent Russian Peasant styles of the late 1970s, but with a pendulous belly) and hooked me to resistance made the action far more challenging than simply stepping up. We did this for two or three years, interspersed with some triceps exercises and some modified push-ups.

When the governor finally called and offered me the reprieve (that is, the clock finally ticked over to noon), Barbara said “You’re done. How do you feel?”

“Glad we’re finished!”

She gave me her Barbara smile, and it suddenly occurred to me: SHE needs feedback, too – and more than me simply bitching with every new exercise.

“And,” I added, “We worked out muscles that I would NEVER have gone near, and when I’m 80 I know I’ll be grateful to you – so let me thank you 22 years in advance. I’m going to feel great!”

“THAT’S what I was hoping for,” she grinned.

So today’s lessons are: (1) Weight in your heels. And (2) everyone benefits from feedback.

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“We all have one thing in common: We were all STUPID enough to sign up for this.”



Barbara held her cupped hand at about chin height and her other fist an inch or two below, like someone trying (but failing) to make the “Ultraman” gesture – or a combo of the black power salute with a “hide your light under a bushel” movement.

“This is your hip socket,” she said of her cupped hand, “and this is your femur.”

She waggled the vertical forearm.

“If your hip socket is perfectly aligned to factory specifications, it fits in such a way that you can do squats while standing on your toes.”

(Barbara, my guiding star and primary trainer at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA, didn’t use the “factory specs” language; she said all this in trainer-speak – but the message got through even if the words fell useless beneath the crushing weight of my ignorance.)

Then she began to wiggle things. Her fist came a little forward below her cupped hand, and then back; it went from side to side – and she began to rotate her wrist so sometimes I could see her fingers and sometimes the side of her hand.

“But not every femur head fits into the hip socket in the same way. There’s nothing wrong with that. You can move, you can bend, you can do all the things you’re supposed to be able to do with a ball-and-socket joint. But if your hip is a bit different, maybe you can’t do things on your toes without your knees hurting.”

A light went on in the dim, cobwebby reaches of my brain. (My brain looks a bit like an attic crawlspace. I don’t go up there much; it’s kind of hot, and only a few cross-boards indifferently laid protect me from plunging through the ceiling if I misstep when walking from rafter to rafter.)

“So if I’m hunkered down on my haunches and go to stand up…”

“Can you hunker with your feet flat, like kids can?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Then your knees are going to hurt.”

“They DO hurt!”

She nodded. Barbara has an uncanny understanding of body movement; she’s a savant even without the evidence of working with me for the last year and a half. She knew I couldn’t get up from a crouch comfortably; she’s seen me go through my giraffe-at-the-watering-hole movement to go from the floor to standing.

(Do you know that move? Get on your hands and knees and push one leg out straight behind you. Follow with the other one until you’re in an ugly version of down dog. Walk your hands towards your feet until your weight is back far enough to stand up. Lions would definitely attack during this very ungainly series, were there any lions running loose in the Washington, DC suburbs. Nature abhors a vacuum; I feel sure there will be soon packs of wild dogs preying on pudgy women with misshapen hip sockets as they struggle to regain verticality.)

All of this explained why my knee had argued with me while I was working out with Grace, who is a ballet dancer of such extraordinary suppleness that she could do the giraffe-at-the-watering-hole move and you’d burst into spontaneous applause at her beauty.

“So people who DO have factory-spec hip sockets…”

Barbara nodded to encourage the line of thought.

“…they become dancers?”

Barbara did a few classic pliés. “They can do this all day long. They DO do this all day long. But it hurts MY knees.”

This made me feel absurdly better. I can’t stand up from a crouch without feeling vulnerable to the attack of a predator (or the humiliation of sticking my posterior too far into someone else’s space)… but no-one could possibly expect me to share joint structures with professional dancers. It’s not a moral failing; it’s just the way the bones are formed. Yay!

The next day, I met with Grace again and explained to her that I needed to do her exercises in positions where my heels were down. Grace looked at me with great affection. “Your heels WERE down when your knees were hurting – remember?” “Oh, hell.”

The moral of the story? I have no idea. Just that trainers know SO MUCH MORE than me; I am astonished I tried for so long (and with so little success) to be healthy without a guide!

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Ultraman, not at ALL doing the cupped-hand-with-raised-fist gesture. Image may be subject to copyright laws. Like I need another reason to feel paranoid about stealing blog photos.