The Weight is Over – Week 25: Discomfort is Relative

This is my year to push through discomfort on my quest to grow and reach beyond my comfort zones. Not only am I losing weight, but I’m getting strong and fit working out at Align Private Training with the marvelous Matthew R. Lister four days a week; every day Align is open.

doni lunge with window may 31 2016

This also happens to be the year when I’ll perform a tiny cameo part in the Riverfront Playhouse production, “Love, Loss and What I Wore” on Sunday, June 5.  I’ve always wanted to try acting, and this is a small enough part for me to give it a whirl without ruining the show. Seriously, my part is so small that if I were to set a stopwatch and time how long it takes me to say my combined lines, it’s probably less than five minutes. “Love, Loss and What I Wore” is an all-woman show, one that will probably resonate more with women than men. It’s directed by Marilyn Robrahn, who instructed us to wear black tops, black pants and no bracelets or necklaces. However, because she said we could “rock out” our earrings, my daughter is making a pair just for me to wear for my performance. I’m pretty excited about that.

My teeny part didn’t require me — or the other community women selected to play this same part — to be part of the standard rehearsal process. So I enlisted the services of twin Shelly to help me practice my lines. We went through the script four times, with Shelly reading the lines before and after mine. That’s when I got the bright idea to avoid the repetition and just record us reading the lines, which I could listen to later ad nauseam. So I set my cell phone on record as Shelly read the two other women’s parts, and I read my lines. It worked like a charm.

Have you figured out the flaw in that plan? We’d been practicing for a good 20 minutes before it dawned upon us: Shelly and I are identical twins. Our voices are nearly identical, too.

We replayed the recording and sure enough, we could hardly tell one voice from the other. I may as well have recorded all the parts myself. Silly us.

But back to fitness discomfort.

Tuesday, on the final leg of our workouts, Matthew gave three of us – Lily, Andrea and me – a seemingly simple task: Two planks. Just two planks? I knew it was a trick the moment he said it. It wasn’t long until the other shoe dropped.

Yes, ladies, that’s it. Just two planks. Oh, yes, they’re endurance planks. That means you hold each plank as long as you can.

On your marks, get set, plank!

Tuesday's plank: 1.5 minutes. (This is about 10 pounds ago, but a plank still looks like that.)

Tuesday’s plank: 1.5 minutes. (This photo is about 10 pounds ago, btw.)

Both times, I lasted only 90 seconds before I collapsed onto the mat. (So far, 2 minutes is my plank-holding record.) In all fairness, though, we’d just survived three sets of strenuous hand-weight and triceps-pull-down workouts.

Meanwhile, Ms. Lily, who graduates high school Friday (yay, Lil-E!), held her plank for THREE minutes! Three minutes!

If you think a 3-minute plank sounds easy, I’ll wait while you set your three-minute egg timer, assume that plank position and hold it. It’s freakin’ hard.

As Andrea and I waited for Lily to finish her plank, we chatted about what is it that makes us give in and stop. Did the bones in my arms, feet or spine snap under the pressure? No. My body didn’t collapse, but Doni did.

I sometimes play these head games with myself as I’m trying not to collapse, like imagining that every second I hold a plank I will get $1,000.

Tuesday I would have only earned $90,000 in plank dollars. The potential was so much more.

It’s days like this when I realize I still have a long way to go before I am able to ignore the shaking arms, quaking abs and waves of nausea and just keep going, whether it’s working with weights, holding a plank or sprinting on the rowing machine.

doni rowing machine may 31 2016

Matthew overheard my and Andrea’s conversation, and explained that the brain functions in at least two major ways when we work out, First, there’s that reptilian brain that freaks out and screams bloody murder when something’s hot or it hurts, which makes us stop that. NOW!

lizard in the sun

I’m lifelong pals with my inner lizard brain.

But he said the other – higher functioning, more sophisticated part of our brain – allows us to rationally analyze the situation and decide whether what we’re feeling is actual pain, or just garden-variety discomfort from working out. He said the trick while working out is to do constant mental assessments to determine potential injury-inducing/exacerbating discomfort (not good) versus endurance- and fitness-producing discomfort (good). It’s not exactly no pain, no gain – but close; maybe something like, no discomfort, no gain, though I apologize that it doesn’t rhyme.

This is where having a trainer makes the difference. I’m still new enough at this fitness stuff that if I didn’t have Matthew standing nearby, monitoring what I was doing, I know I wouldn’t work as hard. In fact, I would probably never get on Satan’s bicycle (the Assault Airdyne) again, nor would I do lunges. Why? Because they’re uncomfortable, and for me, part of what got me into my over-weight, out-of-shape state in the first place was a combination of a low discomfort threshold and limited impulse control.  If I wanted a Thrifty’s rocky road ice cream cone, I got one. If I felt uncomfortable while exercising, I stopped.

Doni hates lunges, because they're uncomfortable, but she does them anyway, because they're good for her. Photo by Matthew Lister

Doni hates lunges, because they’re uncomfortable, but she does them anyway, because they’re good for her. Photo by Matthew Lister

For me, this private training is all about pushing me to new places; beyond my soft-and-cushy comfort zones. That’s why this fitness and nutrition plan is as much mental as it is physical. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that as I’ve become stronger physically and mentally, my confidence and endurance have grown in other areas, too.

The topic of endurance is on my mind a lot this week after my interview with Jim Freemon of Redding. He’s a 71-year-old Vietnam vet/grandfather/spinning instructor who’ll join thousands of others on June 5 to participate in a seven-day, 545-mile AIDS Lifecycle bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He needed to raise $3,000, and I’m proud to say that many of us here on A News Cafe.com pitched in with contributions and he’s almost reached his goal. (Thank you!)

I seriously cannot get my head around what kind of super endurance and stamina it must take for Jim Freemon, or someone like him, to do this. He’s already participated in five AIDS Lifecycle rides so far, but what’s really significant is that Jim injured himself in 2005 on Day 5 of the 7-day ride. The aftermath included a seven-hour surgery and a horrifying laundry list of medical interventions: six rods in his back, an artificial hip, two cervical fusions in his neck and a new aortic valve in his neck. Doctors worried about whether he would walk again. He did walk, but doctors said that running – his emotional salvation that he’d taken up 50 years ago to help with the post-Vietnam mental trauma – running was out for good. Not an option.

Not only did Jim embrace cycling with a vengeance, but he kept participating in the AIDS Lifecycle rides. Who among us wouldn’t have totally understood if he’d quit the AIDS Lifecycle rides? For sure, if I were in charge, he’d get a total pass card from me. But he rejected the pass card as an option, and kept cycling.

Here’s the other thing:  Jim Freemon suffers pain every day, but despite that, he still bicycles hundreds of miles and is a kick-ass spinning teacher.  James Freemon on 2014 ride cropped

Likewise, Matthew R. Lister, Align’s young, handsome, energetic owner and super trainer – also lives with constant pain from a former injury. He, like Jim, functions with a back that’s been surgically accessorized with something in the fusion and metal rod categories.

Even so, although I’ve worked out with Matthew for nearly six months now, the few times he’s mentioned his former injury and current non-stop pain is because I’ve been nosy and asked. For the average person to look at Matthew, so positive and cheerful and outgoing, they’d never imagine that he endures daily, ceaseless pain.


In fact, I’m one of the rare people at Align who doesn’t have pain issues. Many of the other clients suffer pain everywhere from backs, knees, hips and shoulders, to arms, legs and feet.

Seldom is heard a discouraging word at Align – except from me, whining about lunges or Satan’s bicycle. The only way I even surmise people’s pain and injuries comes from overhearing Matthew’s questions: How’s the back feeling, how’s the shoulder feeling, how’s the neck feeling, how’s the knee feeling? He then takes their answers and modifies their workouts accordingly.

Me? Just today Matthew asked as I walked in, “Hey, were you sore from working out yesterday?” And when I said, “Yes!,” he just laughed and said, “Good!”

He laughed because at Align, discomfort that follows a workout is cause for celebration, not sympathy. It’s understood that with progress comes some discomfort – not all-out pain – but exertion, exhaustion, and yes, some degree of necessary discomfort.

Speaking of discomfort, 2 p.m. Sun., June 5, I will take my place on stage and face my fear of performance exposure, embarrassment and botched lines as I perform in my first play.

On that very same day, Jim Freemon will be in San Francisco where he will put feet to pedals and begin the first mile of the 545-mile AIDS Lifecycle ride to Los Angeles.

No doubt about it; Jim’s got the hardest task.

I will keep that in mind Sunday; that, and the fact that discomfort is relative. And with any luck, I’ll be better off because of it.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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