“One set of ten,” Christine says, handing you the purple weights. You take their measure, these small latex-covered bits of iron, tentatively lifting one then the other. They pull at your already-tired arms, drawing out a thin line of pain in protest.
You watch her in the full-length mirror as she demonstrates the motion required: arms crossed over her chest slowly make a “Y” and then back. “Go easy, this is supposed to be hard,” she says.
You cross you wrists at your waist, thumbs pointed down, and you square up your shoulders. “Don’t try to go too high,” she warns you. You try to lift the weights in a smooth motion. You try to make your thumbs sweep in a gentle arc up away from your body. Pain stabs through your left shoulder. You stop, far short of the goal.
Staring into the mirror, you see your left shoulder has risen up towards your ear. You squeeze your shoulder blades together and you are rewarded with a straight collarbone line. “Looks good!” Christine cheers from behind you. You slowly bring your arms, your hands, back down across your chest, your recently-repaired bicep already burning.
“One,” you whisper.
You begin the arc again and your left shoulder loudly pops. You are certain everyone in the room could hear it, but no one comments. As you finish the motion, the mirror reflects your failings: your right hand is nearly two inches higher, your right elbow is straighter, and your right shoulder is a smooth line. Your left arm resembles a puppet sans puppeteer: elbow bent, wrist dangling, shoulder out of alignment. You grit your teeth, throw your shoulder blades back, and swing your arms back to start.
“Two,” you breath out between your teeth.
“Keep that elbow straight,” Christine admonishes.
“It’s only one pound,” you remind yourself. You flex your imaginary wings and swing your arms up.
“Excellent! Keep going!”
Scarred muscle tissue cries out in revolt as you drop your arms and immediately raise them again.
“Four…my own good,” you tell yourself as the barbells make the transition from perpendicular back to parallel. Your focus narrows to the person reflected in the mirror. “Five. Six. Seven,” You count in quick succession, struggling to keep the motion smooth, shoulder down, thumbs up, go-so-high-but-not-higher.
“Slow down,” warns a disembodied voice. You are alone with the mirror, the tortuous weights, the screaming of your muscle.
“Eight. NINE!” You ignore the pop that explodes from your left side. You refuse to recognize the shrill signal from your shoulder. You raise your arms in one final salute to your reflection. It smiles back at you as your drop your arms to each side, lead weights dangling in your shaking hands.,