Abs of Steel

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange has been hangin’ at the health club, and says he’s getting a six-pack!

(LANGE) The lack of early snow this past winter kinda put me off my stride. There was a depressing lack of opportunity to get ready for the ski marathons of February.

But then somebody gave me for Christmas a month’s membership in a fitness club. And at my annual physical exam the first business day after New Year’s, I heard: “Your engine’s in great shape, and you’re going to live to be at least as old as your father. (He’s 96.) But your chassis is falling apart, and your weight isn’t helping. Lower the calories and raise the regular exercise rate.”

Going to a new health club is intimidating. You know how guys hate to ask directions when they’re lost? Well, they also hate to ask how to operate unfamiliar machines. There are staff members around to show you, but asking them to show you is uncool. So I hopped onto a stair climber and, while climbing, pretended to be reading a magazine and surreptitiously scoped out the machines to pick up the routine.

My job used to be good exercise, when I was running up and down ladders with shingles and planks. But that kind of exercise breaks down all but the sturdiest bodies. Most old carpenters are stiff with arthritis and stooped from working bent over. You see them get out of their pickups; you want to run over and help them till they get limbered up. With my prosthetic joints, I don’t prance around on roofs anymore, so the job isn’t physically demanding enough to do me much good. The fitness club gift, in the absence of snow, was perfect.

The stair climber reminds me of my father. He claims he used to hold the record for climbing the Washington Monument. I ponder whether he’s serious, and by dividing the rise of each tread into 550 feet, the height of the monument, check how long it takes me to get there.

Half-an-hour of that, and it’s on to the nautilus circuit. Each machine isolates a different set of muscles – quads, hams, abs, biceps, adductors – and loads it till it burns with the effort. It’s like beating your head against a wall. But a run through the circuit every other day, and you really can feel the difference.

The difference is as much perceived as actual. The first week, by working out, sweating in the sauna and cutting out doughnuts, I dropped four pounds. At 14 weeks now, I’ve dropped 14 pounds. I fancy my step is lighter and my attitude as sunny as a south slope in April.

One thing about muscles that are being taxed in the name of improvement: they hurt. Especially the abs that the Crunch machine stresses. But it’s gonna give me a six-pack. I may even get a tattoo and go to Old Orchard Beach this summer.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta – ouch! – get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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