Of Bicycles and Bingo Wings

By Laura JenkinsDSC_5790I first heard the term “bingo wings” during one of my standing dates with Late, Late Show TV host, Craig Ferguson. During his monologue, Ferguson started waving an imaginary bingo card over his head while shouting, “Bingo!” in a falsetto Scottish voice. From that I learned that a bingo wing is the hanging fat that swings from a woman’s upper arm when she’s claiming her win at a bingo tournament. Of course I laughed, but nervously so.

I’ve been sprouting bingo wings for some time.

If you’re my Facebook friend, chances are you think I’m reasonably physically fit. And that helps me convince myself that it’s true. (Yes, that’s right. You are my accomplice in deceiving myself.) Since I chart my cycling workouts on Dailymile, my friends get regular reminders that I rode nine miles, or 13 miles, or seven miles. And they’re often impressed.

“You inspire me,” they say. “I wish I were as committed to working out as you are.”

But deep down, I know.

I know that nine or 13 or seven miles isn’t that big of a deal when you’re riding a hybrid bike. In fact, there’s quite a bit of coasting and it takes a hefty wind or lots of hills to get the kind of workout that will make a difference. And that seems to be the problem: the older I get, the harder I have to work to “make a difference.” Truth be told, I’d rather pretend that I’m going all Jillian Michaels than actually step up the effort and push myself beyond recreational exercise.

Not that I haven’t made modest attempts.

Last year I decided to try a complimentary spin class at a nearby gym, and the workout was killer, as in, sweat pouring down my face while my lungs and quads caught fire. I was so blown away by the experience I walked up to the front and joined the club as soon as the class was over. It was like walking the aisle at a Billy Graham crusade. This is going to change my life, I thought.

But I haven’t been to a spin class since.

Oh, I’ve been to the gym, though mostly I’ve just wiggled around on an elliptical machine enough to mess with the buggy TV, burn about 100 calories, and head for the hot tub and the steam room. Going to the gym right after you’ve joined is like enjoying the smell of a new car. It’s loaded with endless possibilities. But once the first car payment comes due you pine away for your 1999 Ford Fiesta.

When I finally admitted that getting to spin class on time was a problem, I had another idea: find a spin podcast and do it on my own schedule. I reasoned that even if there’s no instructor, I can still get on the spin bike if I want to. So I searched and researched until I found a podcast to download. But when I finally made it to the gym and mounted a bike, I realized that I had forgotten to purchase the app. I also forgot that the debit card tied to my iTunes account was expired.

A few expletives later, I got off the bike, walked past all the sweaty folks who were actually working out, and unsuccessfully tried to open two lockers that weren’t mine. On the third try, I finally located my wallet.

From there it went from bad to worse. I spent ten minutes looking for the web page where I could update my credit card information. I finally purchased a workout and a message popped up saying that the file was too large, that I needed to connect to a wireless network. The gym didn’t have wireless. Are you kidding me? I wanted to throw my phone down, squirt my electrolyte water in every direction and storm out. Yes, I could get on the bike without the workout, but without someone telling me when to turn the knob, stand up, and sprint, I probably wasn’t going to do anything but pedal like Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz.

I finally resorted to YouTube and found a spin workout, but the first five minutes were devoted to a tutorial about setting up the bike properly. I skipped ahead but went too far. I skipped back but went too far. I finally heard music and just left it there. For about 18 minutes I raced and climbed and recovered, until my cellular connection bit the dust. At that point it was either let Resistance win or spontaneously combust. So I angrily grabbed my water and headed for the spa. ( If that last sentence isn’t a first-world statement, I don’t know what is.)

I won’t even go into detail about what happened the next day, when the weather was absolutely perfect for outdoor riding. But it involved things like a flat tire, a repair attempt that resulted in a severely pinched finger, a brief marital spat and a few tears.

Does exercising have to be so #@$% hard?

Apparently, yes.

You might think I’m crazy, but I’m absolutely certain Resistance has it out for me. Author Steven Pressfield has written a lot about the idea of resistance, most notably in his book The War of Art. His basic premise is that there’s a force, a stealthy, cunning, commanding force that opposes pretty much anything good we set out to accomplish. “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution,” says Pressfield, “the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

Clearly, taking care of my aging body is of supreme importance. I know this because every time I try and do it Resistance appears out of nowhere and initiates the throw down. It’s as predictable as death and taxes.

But I cannot let it win.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine estimates that we lose one-half to one percent of our muscle mass per year after age 35, unless we engage in some sort of regular effort to prevent it. That means that a person who doesn’t do any weight bearing exercise will lose up to twenty percent of her muscle mass by age 55. I don’t know about you, but that scares the hell out of me. Take it twenty years hence and I could be a 75 year-old who’s lost up to 40% of her muscle mass.

And that ain’t pretty.

Of course it’s not as much about looks at this stage of the game. It’s more about coming to terms with what my future will look like if I do nothing.

So I keep trying.

Last week I made a commitment to try some cardio weight classes at my local rec center, and my efforts confirmed what I already knew: I’m a fitness poser. An entire wall of mirrors and a hovering instructor don’t lie. The teacher was clearly concerned when I started getting dizzy.

“Did you eat this morning?” she asked.

“No,” I replied.

She shook her head at me and made me sit down on the step and place my forehead on the big rubber ball, while everyone else kept moving. I felt like the kid who’d been rescued out of the shallow end of the pool. When I saw her at the gym the next day I asked if she thought I should come back to her class.

“Yes,” she enthusiastically replied.

For a split second I felt a twinge of hope and relief at her answer. Maybe I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was.

But then she continued her sentence. “We’ll just have to make some major modifications.”