Success in the gym 

Ranger Rich

No one knows precisely how much I weighed. Biologists tried to weigh me once, but the tranquilizer dart fell out of my rump and I growled. They all scurried for the safety of the helicopter.

I'm 5-foot-11. I believe I weighed 220 pounds. Or 225. OK, I think I nudged 230. Most of the excess had settled around the middle. If I was a country singer, I would have been Girth Brooks.

I knew I'd let myself go when my wife showed me a photo taken last November, a photo of an outrigger canoe bobbing in the Hawaiian surf. Susie and four other people looked like they were having fun despite sharing the canoe with what appeared to be a walrus.

I am the walrus. Goo goo g' joob.

I waddled into Infinity Personal Training & Fitness on Jan. 3 and met PJ Musilli. He'd be my trainer. We discussed my goals. No. 1 on my list was, "Avoiding Japanese harpoons."

He didn't laugh. Then he put down his clipboard and said, "OK, let's do planks."

From the push-up position, he raised himself onto his elbows and forearms. And there he stayed. Balancing on toes and bent arms. Back as straight as, well, a plank. He kept talking. Like he was having coffee. This plank stuff looked pretty easy. He said I had to hold the position for 45 seconds. Sissy stuff.

I'd been in the position for quite a while when my body began to shake and tremble. The room was getting dark. I couldn't breathe. The full-body tremors became violent. I collapsed onto the mat. I hadn't quite held the plank for the full 45 seconds. PJ said the exact time was 12 seconds. He had a little grin on his face.

Last Wednesday, eight weeks after my first plank, PJ and I and my wife, Susie, who had also signed on with PJ, were outside. On the Manitou Incline.

A railroad tie loomed just ahead, 24 inches higher than the previous railroad tie. It was blackened with wood-preserving resin and badly worn and splintered. It had felt hundreds of thousands of human feet over the years. But it would not feel mine.

For at that moment when I begged my heavy, aching legs to ascend just one more step on this Satanic staircase slashed into the side of Pikes Peak, I became lightheaded, lurched sideways off the path into a juniper bush and slumped to the ground, gasping.

I was thrilled.

For despite lying in the dirt and making enormous inhaling sounds, I had already climbed more than 2,000 of the railroad-tie steps on the infamous Incline, that nightmarishly steep 1-mile path to the clouds that rises 2,000 vertical feet.

And that morning, when I stepped onto the scales in the early light, I weighed 198 pounds.

Three days a week, an hour at a time, PJ greets me at the gym. And for eight weeks now, it has gone like this:

Planks. Side planks. More planks. Overhead dumbbell presses. Boxing. Jumping rope. More overhead dumbbell presses, while stepping onto a platform and back down. Dumbbell presses while balancing — I am not kidding — on a huge rubber ball. Up-downs, where you drop into a squat, kick your legs out behind you, bring them back under your chest, stand up again and leap off the ground. Push-ups. Push-ups with one hand on a basketball. Push-ups where you roll the basketball from one hand to the other hand between each push-up.

I know. I didn't think I could do any of that stuff, either. But PJ, who has degrees in this sort of stuff, told me I could. Then he told me again. And again. And he was right. So I've lost perhaps 25 or 30 pounds. I think I'll keep going. PJ told me there's more to do.

And the other day, Susie and I (she is perfect and didn't have any weight to lose but came along on this two-month training journey for my sake, I believe) pushed past the halfway point of the Incline from hell.

We're 55. We're going to try the Incline again.

So if you want to make some pretty gigantic changes, you can. Start by calling a personal trainer. Tell him you want to do planks.


Speaking of Infinity Personal Training And Fitness, PJ Musilli

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