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.

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 1.48.34 PM

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!

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 4.19.25 PM

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!

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 5.30.55 PM

“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?”