The Return of the Pump

It isn’t grammatical. The word doesn’t even sound like what it is. But, today, I felt it. The Pump was back.

For about twenty seconds. I sat on the exercise machine, took a breath, and there it was: the impossible, unreasonable and thoroughly unrealistic feeling of indomitable power that zings and zangs through your muscles after a round of exercise has actually done some good!

And, like the satori that sages say presages the moment of enlightenment, it was gone before I realized what it was. I stepped away from the exercise machine and lingered a little too long in the Swagger Lane–that corridor between the machines that the Beefalos and the Spandex Queens sashay up and down, their eyes not quite on their cell phones so they can see, peripherally, who just might be checking them out.

I don’t exhibit this behavior because, at my age, with my gut of expanded wisdom and a male-pattern-bald head that is like is like a sign that says OLD, nobody checks me out. I might as well be just another geezer staggering among the machines, adjusting the weights way down until a child could move them.

But this time was different. I didn’t FEEL like a geezer. I felt like I did years ago, when I’d exercise as much as two hours a day, in a gym, running or doing karate and yoga (sometimes on the same day!). I’d endure a few hours afterward aching, limping, or, when I went to Peru to hike the Inca Trail, gasping for breath and emotionally shattered that so much dedicated muscle moving hadn’t saved me from altitude sickness–but, at least, I had moments when I felt the pump, that endorphin-juiced, swagger master, superhero thrill.

I guess the word comes from the slang “pumped-up,” which suggests that wherever you were, you’re temporarily something else, due to some kind of deliberate action that may, or may not be ethically sound.

I first heard about “the Pump” in karate class, when my teacher warned that just because you’ve blocked a punch and counter punched so much you can do it without thinking, doesn’t mean that you can conquer the world.

But you can’t deny that there is something exciting about confronting danger (the punch) and deflecting it so that you not only survive, but you also take control (symbollically, of course), by either counter-attacking with your own punch, or neutralizing your opponent with take down. It isn’t quite a “natural” high, you don’t feel good as much as you feel powerfully adequate. An exercise freak I once knew described as exactly what happens after you do twenty push-ups. You get this tightness in your chest. Your fingers are splayed out. Your arms are stiff. You’re breathing a little too fast and you’re secretly grateful that you don’t have to see that groady patch of the mat zooming up and back.

But you think you can conquer the world. You want to do what you previously thought was unwise, unsafe, dangerous or thoroughly stupid, like marching into a South Philadelphia bar in a Dallas Cowboys football jersey in a South Philadelphia bar. You are overwhelmed by how impressed you are with yourself until–

The person waiting patiently behind you drops down to the mat, springs into push-up position and does forty.

But I couldn’t help but recall the months and years after I had my heart attacks. The pills, and an oppressive weariness that hung over me like cloud, transformed me into a creature of chairs who interupted his relative motionlessness to walk the dog. Occasionally I’d seek youthful glories by doing my karate katas, or going for a short run that left me feeling worse than I was before I began. So I’d do nothing much for a while and run out of breath climbing the stairs.

I also put on weight.

Not good.

Three months ago I decided to do go back to the gym and, on alternate days (or when I succumbed to the inertia that everyone with a gym membership has), go for a run.

I felt terrible exercising, and was a weary mess for hours after. At the gym I’d become tired and strangely nauseous, as if all those abdominal machines were mashing up my innards.

Soon I had runs that didn’t feel so bad. The old runner’s high occasionally returned. I got ideas for novels, stories–blog posts!

The activity was giving me better posture. The gut became slightly less profound. Some clothes fit better.

But the gym was still an uphill crawl. Until today. For about twenty seconds, I felt The Pump.

And in that instant, all that awful struggle vanished.

It felt good.



2 thoughts on “The Return of the Pump

  1. The pump comes and goes and comes back again, but the experience remains unforgetable. Thank you for saying such nice things. I just discovered the conversations feature. Please forgive me for such a late response.–BK


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