I find that I tend to succeed pretty regularly. I run at a decent pace. My bills are paid. My cat tolerates me. I only have to cheat a little bit to solve a crossword puzzle. And yet, I am only human.
Turn back the clock three months and you would find a guy ready for a new challenge. I was turning 41. I had a rather tame Covid-induced existence. When I downloaded an application for mental health, the suggested programs section offered something about doing the splits in 30 days. I thought to myself, “Why not?” If I can touch my toes, surely this new skill was not a great stretch.
The program was inviting enough. As the screen loaded, I was met by a high-resolution picture of a toned woman in fancy colored lighting stretching out with her legs at her sides in a 180-degree angle. Next up was a little on-screen character. She had a pink sports bra, pink scrunchie holding her brown hair back, and pink shoes. Surely, I could achieve this goal in all my manliness if this two-toned chippie could do it without sweating. (All she had to do was cycle back and forth between resting-image and stretching-image. Slacker!) I bet I could do it between scratching myself and bumping chests with my closest dude-bro as we watched NASCAR.
Day 1. Too easy. I barely broke a sweat. There were three difficulty settings and I had chosen to start with Beginner. Never again. If I was going to roll out of bed at 4 in the morning, I would need something more than this to wake me up.
I was introduced to the first of the absurd poses that I would be asked to perform to prepare for the splits. Dynamic Frog Pose? Was this really a thing? I felt like I was reenacting a controversial comic book cover. But if the pixelated heroine could pull it off, I had to follow suit.
Day 2. Intermediate, I came to party with you. As I tapped the instructions, I found that I was supposed to hug the ground more with the Frog Pose. Okay. (Shrug) Why not? Really open up that pelvis…
Day 3. Runner’s Pose. The newest in the line of, “What the ???” Do a plank and then bring a leg up to your knee? Madness. I did my best impression of a Transformer caught halfway between Autobot and vehicle. An hour later I lifted weights. Grrr.
Day 5. A Sunday. I go for runs on Sundays. After 24 minutes of stretching unused muscles, I spent an hour or so doing what was familiar to me. Except that morning my legs were extra talkative. “We want to hurt!” “Us too!” “Hey, how come it takes more work for you to move this body part today? Get it together.”
Day 6. I could not –ow– believe –ow– that I had not –ow– worked out –ow– at all –ow– that day. Ow.
Day 7. My skepticism kicked in. My understanding was that this was a 30-day program. I was 1/5th of the way there and my body was quite resistant. I decided to trust the pony-tailed construct and do as I was told.
The effort continued. I continued my stretches at the end of the month when I visited my parents for the first time in two years. While they slept blissfully upstairs, I was on the ground floor trying to kick my foot out to my side. I stuck to the schedule. Five days of this and that, a day of rest, and then five more days of that and this.
This was me on day 24. As you can see, the splits were far from achieved. I was going to finish the schedule in five days. Were my hips supposed to dislodge themselves miraculously? However, as Nala the Annihilator will attest to, the whole thing was becoming routine.
I did see some improvement in flexibility. Instead of reaching for my toes, I was reaching for the bottom of my feet. As far as the splits were going, I was taking baby steps. I was getting there. But. Oh. So. Slowly.
30 days went by. I started the cycle again as I cranked the effort up to Difficult. Day 45 came along. I tweaked my back lifting at work and spent seven or so days recovering. Then I returned to the fray. Day 60. I started the cycle a third time. Day 75.
I started this endeavor on April 1st. Yesterday was July 5th. Surely, after 90+ days of stretching, I should have been at splits-level.
Perhaps I am too long in the limb. Maybe my bones are firmly set, what with me being a middle-aged man and all. It could be that I was never meant for the ballerina life. (As my former jogging partner claimed, “Oh, I bet I could do it in a month. I did it in ballet.”) Yes, I made progress. I will agree that I got better. But success? I think that benchmark remains out of reach.
The application claims that most anyone can do the splits. They simply have to keep at it. My ego agrees, adding that giving up is unacceptable. “C’mon! You can’t give up! We had a goal! We can do this! If you give up now, all your progress will be lost! How are you going to hang with your boys, chug beers with them, and burp in their faces if you know that you are a loser!”
Happily, I am not a tank-top wearing member of the Fast and Furious crew. I am okay failing at a thing or two. Time is the key factor in my decision. I only have so many hours before I have to get myself to work in the morning. If I am going to stretch that much, it has to be around dawn when I have the most energy. However, I also do my best writing in the morning. Before the world gets noisy, before the distractions start, and before life starts calling; I write.
It comes down to priorities. When I shuffle off, would I rather be known as someone who spent time writing, or as a guy whose legs hugged the carpet flawlessly? I choose writing.
I will still stretch. Maybe I will use the program once or twice a week and get there one day. I dunno. I can live without the splits. I still feel healthy. When it comes to failing at one exercise, I can be flexible.