However, there was another part of me that wanted to accept the challenge. But I shook my head, no, and politely informed the gym manager that I wasn’t interested in entering the Flex Arm Hang Challenge. No, no thank you.
I had to hand it to him, though – he was certainly trying his best. He promised great participation prizes, awards to the top three, and made it seem like a lot of fun!
Exclamation Points!!!! and all.
But still, I said no.
While cooling down on the bike, I tried to convince myself that even attempting the challenge would be silly. I had just finished a massive strength and conditioning workout, I hadn’t been training ‘seriously’ for more than two weeks, and besides – only Marines did pull-ups and flex arm hangs.
It’s open to EVERYONE he reminded me.
And still, I was resolved. Even when I handed my towel back in, gathered my gear, and marched out the door. Walking across the parking lot I could see the pull-up bars where the challenge was being held. I wondered how I would even get up – they seemed so high. And given my clumsiness, it would be just like me to leap for the bar and fall on my ass.
There was that other part…the part that wonders, questions…the part that believes you should just go for it. And she was making her presence known as well. Just think of the funny blog you could write if you did it, the voice whispered.
Now I was hearing things – never a good sign. Clearly I needed to turn the car on and DRIVE AWAY from the damned bars. The only bars I was interested in,were my PowerBar Recovery Bars…yummy and delicious, packed with the best post-workout recovery blend ever. PowerBar vs PullupBar. I knew which one I was going for.
Cue: car being turned on…
I swear to you – I even figured out HOW I would begin my non-flex-arm-hang challenge post. I would quote The Great Wayne Gretzky with, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”
With all due respect, Mr Gretzky – what if you don’t want to shoot in the first place?
But then I scratched that idea. It sounded stupid.
However – the meaning behind the quote stuck with me. You miss 100% of the shots you never take. You miss 100% percent…shots…never take. Never taken… You miss….
And it got me thinking.
Seriously – what did I have to lose?
Yes, my pride when I fell on my ass while jumping for the bar. But aside from that – really, what was there to lose? And besides, I could write one hell of a funny or poignant blog from the experience. I’ll do it for the blog, I decided while turning off the car and marching the 100 meters back to the gym.
Screw that, I thought. I’ll do it for ME. Because I can, because I’m strong, because I love the challenge, because I don’t want to look back and regret the risks that I didn’t take.
Suffice to say, the gym manager, recreation attendants, and other patrons were surprised to see me back in the gym. Before they could get a word in edge-wise, I opened my mouth and blurted, “Okay! I’ll DO it!” And then I continued, plowing on, “I love to write and I have a blog, this will make a great story!”
Yes, I am a nerd. But I’m proud of it.
But I don’t think the second thing I said really registered, they were all super surprised, but super excited to see me back and entering the challenge. Exclamation points and all!!!!
I could feel the eyes of the power lifters on our backs our procession marched through the gym. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except the manager kept turning to me and excitedly saying things like,“I just KNOW you’re going to win it! You’ve absolutely got this challenge! It’s not that hard – all you have to do is hold on for 65 seconds… that’s the first place time, and I just KNOW you can beat that!”
Though is enthusiasm was infections, I was a little embarrassed. And gee - nothing like adding a little pressure.
Especially when the guy bench pressing 395 pounds just looked at me. (For the record – he owns the current bench press record at the gym. And for the life of me, I can’t remember if it’s 425 or 475 pounds. Does it really make a difference?)
Our little entourage was growing, as another gym patron joined our procession. She was eating a slice of pizza, shorter than me (I’m ‘5 4” on a good day), and assured me that I would definitely beat her record of 12 seconds.
I wasn’t sure if she was being facetious or totally serious. Given the fact that she wears a uniform on a daily basis, I erred on the latter.
As we made our way outside, the gym manager was still chatting away. I think he just didn’t want to give me a chance to speak up and back out of the contest. I confessed to the female gym assistant walking next to me, “Um…I’m not sure I can even reach the bar…?”
I was already having palpitations of the thought of jumping for the bars, missing and… The picture wasn’t pretty. I didn’t want the wood-chips at the bottom to be lodged anywhere they didn’t belong.
“Oh – it’s no problem. There are little ledges you can stand on to reach the bar. Even I could do it – and I held on, for: 45 seconds!”
I looked at hear – tall and lanky, barely an ounce of extra fat. Gee - maybe this flex-arm hang thing was harder than I thought…. After all, the top score that Female Marines can receive on their PFT flex arm hang score is: 90 seconds. Perhaps this would more challenging than I had initially anticipated.
Just think: you're doing for yourself. And you're doing it for the blog...
Let’s face it – any physical endeavor where one is just holding oneself in a specific position – is difficult (both physically and mentally). Have you ever tried a plank? I swear that after: 20 seconds, I’m shaking (and that’s with all fours on the ground). Suddenly - supporting my entire body, with my chin over the bar (in proper flex-arm-hang position), seemed a little more daunting. But I assured myself that this was ‘for the blog’. And that I would regret it if I didn’t try…
Before I knew it – we had arrived.
I wanted to tell them before the contest even began – that I wasn’t a moron. That I raced Ironman, for Christ’s sake! (Okay - the moron thing could be applied to Ironman, I grant you that.) But I hadn’t been training and I was tired and my strength workout kicked my ass (courtesy of Jennifer Harrison, thank you very much) – but I knew that any excuse would sound, well – like an excuse. Blah blah blah. So I kept my mouth shut.
Wow… the bar looked – um, high. Thankfully there were only three or four in attendance, and the parking lot wasn’t too full. I could see Marines in the adjacent field playing flag football over their lunch-time break. I hoped they were too distracted with their game to see my attempt.
“Whenever you’re ready! Do you know what to do? Have you done this before? Remember the current record is 65 seconds, I KNOW you can do this! Are you ready??!”
Honestly, the gym manager seemed way too excited about this flex arm thing. Wired. I think I only get that way after four cups of coffee (which isn’t unheard of during concert weekends).
Last minute explanations were given – Keep your chin above the bar at all times…it’s MUCH easier in the underhand/bicep postion, instead of the overhand/lat position…whenever you’re ready… YOU’RE GOING TO DO GREAT!!!!!......
I took a deep breath. This was for the blog. And for trying new things. Oh – and no regrets. That too.
I don’t know if it was the fear factor or not, but at the very last minute I blurted out, “For the record, I did a ‘serious’ strength workout. I want that known.” Seriously – who am I? I must learn to control my outbursts a little more.
And before I could stop myself, I – ever so tactfully – added, “I hope I don’t pee on myself.”
If anyone said anything, I don’t recall.
I carefully stepped on the metal ledge under the bar. I could tell that it had been freshly wrapped – and the white medical tape looked unused and pristine. I guess there’s something good about being ‘short’…no one wants to use the smallest pull-up bar. At least my grip wouldn’t slip because of dirt and grime (very gross – but it has happened in the past when I’ve been attempting pull-ups. Not doing – attempting. There is a difference).
I looked at the entourage. They looked back at me. I swear, the gym manager had his finger on the stop watch, ready at the exact moment I started my hang. Better now than never, I thought to myself.
One more last minute flex of my biceps, a brief thought of Nathaniel doing pull-ups flashed across my brain, and I withdrew my foot from the metal ledge, easing my way to the middle of the bar.
“GO!” cried the gym manager.
And then… there I was… just (literally) hanging out.
The first few seconds seemed…okay. Not too bad – dare I say…easy?
I could feel m biceps engage, core muscles contract at the sudden strain of supporting my body weight. I’ve never attempted a flex arm hang – so this was a new feeling for me. So far, so good. I had managed to not 1) slip off the bar in the first :05 seconds and 2) not fall and get a wood-chip lodged in my rear. Yes – it was a great start.
“You’re :12 seconds down! You just passed my mark!” said the gal, still eating her pizza while staring at the stopwatch. “Keep it up!”
“See – I TOLD you were going to do GREAT! You’re just rounding the :20 mark – NO PROBLEM! You are DOING it! I knew you were perfect for this challenge!”
I looked at the stop-watch wielding manager. His legs were spread apart and he was really getting into this flex arm hang thing. “20 seconds?” I asked. “Great – wow – that went by fast. Okay….”
Still hanging…. I thought about planks, about holding my position, about getting down on my aero bars and cranking out a max effort sprint. This is all that was – sustained control over my body. I could do this! I WAS doing this!
“:30 seconds down! GREAT!”
Good feeling gone.
I didn’t want to panic, but I could feel it… a little bit of shaking starting deep within my core. The tone of my voice caught their attention. “How much time?”
Oh good god.
My arms began to tremble, but I fought to hold on. Stars began to cloud the edges of my vision, and while the thought of drifting away entered my mind, I was way too uncomfortable to enjoy the feeling. My breathing increased to freight-train level. I wasn’t sure how out of control the shaking would get – but I knew it would be ugly. Thank god I didn’t need to pee.
“You are doing SO WELL – I’m not even going to tell you how much time has passed!” Pause. “Okay – You’re at 50 seconds….”
So much for not telling me.
And why the hell is time slowing down? I mean the first twenty seconds had gone by in a snap. And now – well – now I just was more concerned with public urination and deeply embedded woodchips in unpleasant places. It’s all relative, I guess.
“Fifty five seconds!”
And then – before I could help it and as though I had NO control over my arms whatsoever – I could feel myself begin to slip, ever so slightly. It was only a centimeter or two…but my biceps were burning up and sending clear signals to my brain to STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP! Violent shaking was erupting from my legs, and the twitching was downright embarrassing. I could no longer control my breathing, and the gasps escaping from my mouth were alarming. I hoped that my flabby stomach wasn’t too visible through my shirt, and I was grateful I had availed myself of the facilities shortly before this damned contest.
They all took a step forward and exclaimed, “Hang on ! You’re ALMOST there!! Just a little longer to beat the record – keep your chin up! YOU’RE DOING GREAT!! Almost there!”
I think the girl with the pizza was even jumping up and down. But perhaps I was just hallucinating?
But the shaking was getting worse. And their shouts were drawing attention from the gym patrons, curious to see how someone silly enough to enter a felx-arm hang competition was doing. I wanted to yell STOP YELLING – but I was more concerned with the shaking. And lack of breathing - because (to my horror) I was now holding my breath, too much in pain to realize the lack of oxygen was affecting my brain.
I tried to force myself to breath, to find my ‘happy place.’
Trust me when I say – there was no happy place.
But I held on, vaguely aware of the gym manager counting past the 1-minute mark. My immediate focus was to hold on for 1:06 and beat the record of :65 seconds. My brain focused on the number 66. 6-6. 6-6! 6-6!!
Add one more six and you're in hell. If this is what hell feels like - then no thank you. But I've already been there... mile 23 of Ironman Coeur d'Alene when my quads broke down...those final few swim strokes in a 10 X 100 test...2 X 20 minutes at 110% of LT on the bike...rounding the track on my last 400 repeat...
And I got through it then - I can surely HOLD ON for a few more seconds now. I noticed that I was breathing - good.
My legs were violently adopting dancing moves of their own and I gritted my teeth to HOLD ON. It wasn’t pretty, and I know I would never make a poster-child for flex arm hang competitions – but I did it.
As soon as Peppy Gym Manger screamed, “Sixty Six!” I dropped. No – I didn’t land on my ass and thankfully no wood-chips were harmed. But I did it! I surprised myself, and hung on for exactly one second longer than I needed to win the contest.
It was pretty cool – and their enthusiasm was infections, even if my biceps were cramping and I really DID need to use the restroom. I smiled, in spite of myself – already thinking about what I was going to write in my head.
My first words were NOT along the lines of yea! Or yes! Instead I asked, “Is it normal to shake like that?”
The female gym attendant responded that, “Yeah, so far everyone gets like that towards the end.”
Well, there you go. For future flex-arm hang competitions, I will keep that tucked in the back of my head…
After thanking them, and their promises to let me know if I won (I’m SURE YOU DID! YOU DID GREAT!) – I posed for a quick picture and headed home. Yes, my arms hurt to grip the steering wheel, but moreover – I felt really good about myself. Sure, it was only a flex-arm hang competition…but how often do we really get the opportunity (big or small) to challenge ourselves and try something new?
And then I started thinking about those sixty-six seconds. I briefly wondered, had the record been :70 or :75 seconds – could I have held on? And I thought about the incredible mind-body connection that we all have.
When push comes to shove – why limit myself to :66 seconds? Sure, I was shaking and about to pee on myself…and my biceps felt like they were on fire…and my breathing was coming in spurts... But I also know that we are ALL capable of amazing things. And, as so often is the case, when we put our minds towards accomplishing something – from Ironman down to a flex-arm hang competition – we can make it happen. I’m convinced that if the previous record had been higher (within reason, of course), I would have held on JUST enough to eclipse it.
Next time I head to the pool, or set myself up for bike intervals, or run around the track – I’ll remember this challenge. Not so much for the shaking or wood chips or UBER ENTHUSIASTIC gym manager. But for the lessons learned along the way – that when I want to achieve something, I can make it happen. And…to NEVER sell myself short, because at the end of the day – if I want it enough, I’ll definitely go after it.
And you can too.
Part of me wanted to go back and re-test…see how long I REALLY could stay on the bars. But I knew my muscles were completely shot, taxed beyond normal. And I would have to wait for another day. Rest assured – the next time there’s a flex arm hang competition, I am so totally there. With practice and belief, great things can be accomplished. And time-wise, the sky’s the limit…