Giving a lift to a prized washboard midsection

September 27, 1997|By Rob Kasper

ONCE THE barbell appeared in the basement it was only a matter of time before there was a chin-up bar wedged in an upstairs doorway. That is the way things can go in a household when fitness strikes. One piece of muscle-building equipment tends to attract another. You know members of your household are in this stage of life when their conversations begin to be sprinkled with words like "pecs," "lats," "quads" and "abs."

These, I am told, are muscles that, if worked sufficiently, will become strong and firm and prominent. For some of us, the thought of making our midsection resemble a washboard is, at best, a distant dream. But for some kids in their preteen and teen-ager years, the idea of "building" -- rather than merely maintaining -- your body is a core belief. They are devoted to enlarging and improving their muscles. This requires equipment.

The first piece of muscle-building equipment arrived in our home several months ago. It was a weight set, consisting of a barbell, about 120 pounds of weights, a bench and a rack.

It came from somebody else's basement, which, I am convinced, is the route traveled by most of the nation's fitness equipment. This stuff moves from basement to basement. In this case, I got the weight set from the Boston-area basement of my older brother. His two sons had grown up, leaving their weights behind them. During a long-distance telephone call, the Boston cousins had bequeathed the weight set to their Baltimore relatives. All we in Baltimore had to do was drive the 380 miles to Boston to get the apparatus. When our teen-ager heard this, he wanted me to make the drive to Boston right away. He figured we could make the round trip during a free afternoon.

Instead of saying "No" to the weight-fetching scheme, I said "later." I stalled, hoping this interest in "getting big" would get small. It didn't. A promise of "later" has a way of coming due, and last December after Christmas I drove my tribe to Boston to freeload off my brother's family for a few days and relieve them of their weight set.

In a feat of what I regard as pure packing genius -- an opinion not shared by anyone else in my clan -- I was able to get both the weight set and the family luggage into the trunk of the family sedan.

Back in Baltimore, I assembled the bench and the rack that held the barbell. While I did not plan to use this equipment, I didn't want it to fall apart and come crashing down. The weights might damage the basement floor or, worse yet, do damage to the kids' orthodontics.

Much to my amazement, the teen-ager used the weights. Watching him pump that iron gave me a feeling of satisfaction, the kind I used to get when he and his brother were smaller and they played with toys I had spent hours assembling.

Over the course of several weeks, the teen-ager lifted, groaned and hollered in the basement. He then declared the meager weight set inadequate for his needs. He wanted more, heavier weights. I told him I knew of a place that had a tremendous supply of such stuff; it was called the school gym. That is where the kid now goes for serious weightlifting endeavors. The weights in the basement are used only for recreational lifting, a few "reps" before supper.

I was proud of myself for having fended off the attempt to put more fitness equipment in my house. But then last weekend, the younger kid, 12, started badgering to get a chin-up bar. This is a simple, pipe-like piece of metal that fits tightly in a doorway. Once the bar is secured, a kid, or maybe even an adult, can hoist himself over the bar. This exercise is said to strengthen the "lats," which are said to be back muscles.

I got on the phone and called sporting-goods stores. For a moment I thought the American sporting-goods industry might bail me out. None of the half-dozen area stores I called had any chin-up bars. I would be willing to bet they sold sneakers that you are supposed to wear while doing chin-ups. But none of the stores had the bar itself.

I was enjoying a chore-free afternoon when my wife returned home from a shopping trip with a chin-up bar she had found in a department store (Caldor's on York Road). The bar had to be installed right away, the kid said. This rush to fitness was foreign to me. I had been dodging fitness and all its props for years. Nevertheless I got my tools and went to work.

Installing the chin-up bar was a little tricky. I wanted to put the bar high in a doorway leading to the kid's bedroom. That way I wouldn't bump my head on the bar every time I walked into the room. But if I installed the bar at that height, the kid couldn't reach it. The kid and I reached a compromise. I ended up putting the bar about 5 1/2 feet above the floor, in the doorway of a nearby storage room. I have to duck when I enter the room. But I rarely go in the room. Since I installed the chin-up bar it has been used regularly by our two sons as well as by a handful of neighborhood kids. Despite the bar's heavy use, my installation of it has been criticized. I have been told that the bar is not high enough. That I did it all wrong. That the bar needs to be moved.

The truth is, I can't wait for the day I get to move this chin-up bar, and the weight set, into somebody else's house.

Pub Date: 9/27/97

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