Trainer helps pull beginners past beginning

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I was never one of those kids who could play the "fall back" game.

You know the one, where you stand in front of another person and allow yourself to free-fall backward, putting complete trust in your partner to catch you.

I just couldn't do it. That wall was high and I had no interest in tearing it down -- I would save my own self, even if I ultimately couldn't.

Leslie Snyder at the YMCA had no idea of what she was asking when she instructed me to do a side-step-up-and-over maneuver during a "functional, everyday exercise" session. I looked at her, down at the high step, and back to Leslie's eyes.

In this strength training series my friend Ann and I have embarked on, a few things about my body have come as unwelcome surprises. One is that my balance sucks. Stepping up, high, and going over to the other side -- SIDEWAYS -- would surely send me toppling, right in front of the Buff People working out with weights as they checked their muscles in the wall of mirrors.

Can't you see I can't do this, I silently pleaded. I am afraid.

As if she heard me, Leslie looked me dead in the eye. "When you don't have confidence, I will have the confidence for you."

I took the deepest breath of my life and took the step, wishing I could squeeze my eyes shut. And I did the maneuver, well enough to earn Leslie's smile.

This is part of the message the Y trainer has been conveying to Ann and me this past month -- for us to be brave enough to try new things, Leslie would have to earn our trust. To do that meant starting with baby steps, she said.

Ann and I might be bigger babies than Leslie bargained for. You should see us, trailing after Leslie in the workout room and staring at her like kindergartners touring the big kids' classes ... it's obvious we're scaredy cats and in unfamiliar territory.

Not that we haven't used the Y before, of course, but this experiment is proving different. Ann and I are doing a slow but steady dance designed to build our core strength and make everyday life easier.

We often don't look like we're working on muscles. When we "swim" on land, bellies to the mat and arms and feet in synchronized movement, we flail about like toddlers in Tiny Tots swim class. Nonetheless we're building shoulder, thigh, gluteus and I don't know what other muscles.

It's hard work and we're breathless at the end. But Leslie told us we can do this, so we do.

You might see us on the floor and leaning on our elbows. A closer look would reveal that we are precariously balanced while doing a "side plank with straight leg." Ann hates this one, while I choose to believe my newlywed status has, um, enhanced some of the muscles used.

We form tables with our bellies and our backs and do reverse crunches, tiny movements that make one of us curse and sweat. Ann loves them.

We both like the wall pushups. If you haven't done a pushup in decades, you'll definitely respect yourself in the morning after trying those.

Ann and I groan through the side lying abductions, which are putting rocks where our outer thighs used to be. We do adductions (please note the "d" in place of the "b") while we are down there, making our butts scream for mercy.

Is it working? My husband assures me it is.

On some Saturdays, Ann and I look up on YouTube whatever we forget between sessions, collapsing in laughter on my living room floor at our incompetence.

Leslie is full of new tricks every time we go in to the Y, which freaks us out -- how will we ever remember the way to the playground? -- but she promises we are building muscle memory. When our bodies have the game plan down, we'll be set for the hard work, she said, with a smile I chose not to see as menacing. "I'm about to be done being nice."

Oh, boy.

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