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Bear Crawls and Burpies — a Reporter's Notebook 

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Frequently when reporters leave their little rabbit warrens to report stories, we end up coming back with way more information than could possibly be used in a story. This is a good thing. The last thing you want is to not have enough information about a topic. Then you're forced to make stuff up and that's just no good at all. So a handy rule is collect more information than you need. 

But what becomes of the material that doesn't make it into the final draft of the story? Does it get left on the proverbial cutting-room floor? Is it resigned to a life of mustiness at the back of a desk drawer? No, it gets resurrected right here on this electronic reporter's notebook thanks to this little thing called the Internet. 

Last night I trekked to St. Albans to watch an up-and-coming mixed martial artist from Burlington named Noah Weisman work out. I'm planning on writing about his ascendancy to the professional ranks and he invited me to his gym for one of his training sessions. He said I could participate if I wanted, and never wanting to pass up an opportunity to embarrass myself in public, I agreed.

The gym where Weisman trains is called the Fitness Zone and it's owned by a guy named Tom Murphy who is a mixed martial artist of some renown. A few years back, he participated in a reality TV show called "The Ultimate Fighter," which led to his career as a pro fighter and coach.

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That's Weisman in the black trunks kneeing some dude in the junk.

The Fitness Zone is a labyrinth of speed bags and free weights, with mirrors on every wall. Luckily, I met Murphy at the front desk or I would have been lost for hours trying to find my way to the boxing/wrestling/ass-kicking area.

Now would be a good time to note that Murphy is a giant compared to me, though no doubt I terrified him with my steely bespectacled gaze and size 12 feet. Murphy's pecs are the size of dinner plates and his hands might as well be bear paws. Without a doubt, he is the Alpha Male of the gym and all other men quiver in his wake. I was quaking somewhat after I made a joke about cauliflower ear and Murphy, a former collegiate wrestler, didn't laugh.

Murphy introduced me to his protege Weisman, a sinewy lightweight who looks more like a soccer star than a brutish fighter. The guys asked if I was ready for class, which I clearly was not unless I wanted to jump rope and do squats in my jeans. I ran downstairs to the locker rooms, and like Clark Kent, spun into my superhero workout clothes. When I returned Murphy applauded me for "really getting into the reporting." We'll see.

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That's Murphy roundhouse-kicking the crap out of somebody.

The mixed martial arts class (MMA) began with jump-roping. In front of a mirror. Great. Not only do I feel my paunch bounce up and down, but I can see it, too. The class — all men except for me and a cheery, tattooed powerhouse named Lynn — were all different levels. Some, like Weisman and local amateur fighter Eric Bruno, danced over the rope like it wasn't there. Others, like me, had to stop and regroup every six seconds after tripping over the cord. Because we were doing the exercise barefoot, I have about a million welts on my feet from my sucky technique.

After three sets of jump-roping, Murphy brought the class of about a dozen into a room full of punching bags. In the corner of the room was a chain-link fence, meant to simulate cage fighting. I hoped this wasn't part of the work out.

Murphy then outlined the next drill — a series of plyometrics that gave me flashbacks to my days as a college athlete. Incidentally, I have done little, if any, physical fitness since those hellish 7 a.m. year-round practices, unless you count walking to get a creemee. The plyos consisted of five bear crawls (hands and feet on the ground, running forwards and backwards), 15 burpies (push-up/jumping jack hybrids), 15 push-ups, 15 body blasters (burpies with a half backward somersault) and 25 air squats (squatting so your hands touch the ground).

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This is a burpie, courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps.

We had to do five sets of these. So that's 25 bear crawls (or hamstring shredders, as I now call them), 75 burpies, 75 push-ups, 75 body blasters and 125 air squats. That was topped off with 100 partner sit-ups.

Let's just say I didn't exactly finish. I had to do some reporting, you know. See how well Noah did the routine and all that. Plus, there was no way I could keep up with Lynn, who is a human machine. Literally, I think I saw gears and dials under her hair. Granted, she's only 5 feet tall and lower to the ground than I, so the bear crawls weren't nearly so onerous. But she hammered through her push-ups like she was running on jet fuel. If there was a word that meant emasculated for women (efemolated?), that's how I felt.

But Murphy reminded the class that it's not about comparing ourselves to others. "It's about how good we are compared to how good we could be," he bellowed. I nearly started to believe him.

When Lynn finished the set of five (before any of the men, I might add), it was time for the sit-ups. I figured I could do 100 of those with her and call it a day. To do partner sit-ups, we had to link legs and sit facing one another. Sit-ups in this fashion are the main reason why you do not wear baggy mesh shorts. All I could think about was that Lynn was getting the most hideous shot up my shorts. Who knows what was going on up there, but I knew it wasn't pretty.

After 50, we were supposed to switch which legs were on the outside and which were on the inside. Lynn asked if I wanted a break. I said yes, only because I couldn't bear the thought of flashing her my skivvies any longer. So Lynn moved over to the side of the gym and hooked her feet under a punching bag that was lying on the ground. I joined her after her first couple sit-ups because I didn't want to look like a wimp.

Once the hurricane of pain was over, it was time for the menfolk to grope and grab and push each other around. One young man offered to demonstrate some moves on me. I politely refused, saying I didn't want to ruin my dental work.

I watched the rest of the session, in awe that people, including Weisman, who looked like he could have trained for another four hours, willingly put themselves through this. For fun. Isn't it just easier to beat someone up in a bar and call it a night? 


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Lauren Ober

Lauren Ober

Lauren Ober was a Seven Days staff writer from 2009-2011.

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