Back of Steel

Remember Tamilee Webb and her Arms/Legs/Buns of Steel series?

I am going to start my own dynasty with a series of “Back of Steel” DVDs. Don’t worry, no actual exercise is involved in developing your very own back of steel. Just follow these easy steps:

1. Develop a Type A personality. Be quick to stress out.

2. Carry a heavy shoulder bag. You’ll need to do this for 10, 15, 20 years. Ignore people who tell you not to do this.

3. Sit at a desk made for a 6 foot-tall man. This works especially well if you are a hair shy of 5’1″.

4. Work at a computer at said desk for many hours each day.

5. Fail to develop upper-body strength through weight lifting, pushups or other exercises designed to work your back, chest and arms. Concentrate instead on not developing abs, legs, or buns of steel by spending lots of money on Tamilee Webb tapes in the early and mid 1990s.

Through these five easy steps, I can now boast that I have developed my own back of steel.

I used to think that massage therapists were just trying to get me for more money when they’d exclaim in surprise at the stone-like quality of my back muscles during my infrequent massages. I didn’t realize that it isn’t normal not to be able to touch your elbows in front of your chest. I didn’t like getting corrected in gym classes about my form during tricep exercises — I’m that girl whose elbows bow out from the side of my head — but I got used to it.

Then, last summer, I got a headache that wouldn’t go away. It was, you might recall, a bit of a stressful time. Strangely, the only time the headache would go away? When I had a drink. As much as I enjoyed my drinks of the day last summer, I knew that wasn’t the healthiest habit, so off to other doctors I went. The docs were stumped; the MRI was clean.

Then I went to the physical therapist. The problem, it turned out, wasn’t in my head — at least not physically. It was a pinched nerve running through my back. So I went to physical therapy, and the headaches stayed away. Yeah, the massage therapists said things like, “You have the back of an 80-year-old woman who’s never had a massage,” and “Your back is made of stone,” but the headaches stayed away.

Then, last week, I got shooting, hot, pins and needles across my back. I thought I might have shingles, but thankfully, no — just nerves in my back being compressed by my muscles of steel. And not in a good way.

So next steps? More PT, followed by an ergonomic evaluation of my workstation, which will almost certainly reveal that I, all five feet, three-quarters of an inch of me, am ill-suited for my desk/chair/supposedly helpful footstool & keyboard tray. I will try to remember to get up from my desk every hour to do the stretches my doctor suggests, and fight against my nature to cross my legs under me while typing. I will try to keep doing the exercises my physical therapist recommends.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to touch my elbows.

If not, I’ll try to find a market for a DVD for people interested in developing a back of steel. Tamilee, eat your heart out.

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