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Some Shape Up by Surfing the Internet


For various reasons, including a busy schedule and two herniated discs in my neck, I got out of shape. Or, more specifically, I got into another shape altogether.

Then, last fall, while doing Internet research for an article about women's bodybuilding, I stumbled onto a site named trulyhuge.com. What this site was selling seemed highly unlikely: on-line training.

A diet, a training regimen and coaching resulted in a 17-pound weight loss.

Sure, you can get anything on the Internet.

But fit? I didn't think so.

These are the words of a changed woman. Seventeen pounds lighter, sleeping through the night for the first time in my life, energetic, fit and strong, I am the worst kind of proselytizer -- worse, by far, than the reformed smoker, recovering carbo-loader or even politician. I know on-line fitness when I see it. And I've seen it.

TrulyHuge had a questionnaire that required measuring my height and the size of my body everywhere from my ankles to my wrists. It asked about injuries, access to a gym, pool, weights or any other athletic equipment. I started filling in the boxes on the screen and noticed that I hadn't been tempted to lie. Not for my weight, height, bad habits or goals.

There was something about not being seen by the recipient of these statistics that allowed me to tell the full-sized truth. I think that's when I became intrigued. Already this was a step up from my last personal training experience: No pep talks, no pitches for products I wouldn't feed my septic system and, especially, no welterweight endomorph lashing my middleweight self with tape measures. That means no on-site humiliation. As for on-line humiliation, who cares?

I wrote that my goals were to lose 15 pounds, increase my aerobic stamina, get back into my clothes (that is, get smaller, not bulk up with muscle), feel better and get a little more energy. I didn't ask about sleep. As a lifelong insomniac, it never occurred to me to include it in my goals.

I wrote that my dream workout would be portable, allowing me to keep up my routine at the gym, at my home in the country (where I have nothing but a few hand weights) and on the road. Being a writer, wife and mother, I have a haphazard schedule, one prone to constant interruption. This had helped me to fail with personal trainers before: keeping those appointments was hard, though paying for them when I canceled was even harder. After I moved upstate, I discovered that the going rate for a personal trainer was only $20 an hour, much less than what I had been paying in Manhattan. But that's still hefty enough if you train three times a week for the length of time it takes to get in shape, which I figured in my case would be a minimum of eight weeks.

So I signed up for Trulyhuge for 12 weeks, hoping that at the end of it I might be truly small. The total cost was $80, for a 3 month for a diet plan, a training regimen and coaching on line. This includes unlimited questions from client.

The man on the other side of TrulyHuge is Paul Becker, who trains bodybuilders in Los Angeles along with running the Web site, which also features products, promotes his training and sells his book, "Truly Huge."

Within two days of my returning the questionnaire, my complete diet and exercise routine arrived by E-mail. It was portable. It accommodated gym, home and hotel room workouts. The dietary recommendations were for a higher protein-lower carbohydrate routine and included sample menus.

The advice: drink more water and less juice, and cut back on bread -- not hard moves to make.

His eating regimen was sensible and understandable, calling, for example, for an egg-white omelet in the morning. I don't eat eggs, so now I have a fruit shake with tofu, soy powder or skim milk every morning.

Wanting to track my progress efficiently, I waited until the first day of a new month to go back to the gym. And when it came, I went, armed with nothing more than three pieces of paper from Trulyhuge and my workout clothes.

My program required five days of 30-minute aerobic workouts each week plus three strength sessions.

The aerobic exercise recommended was power walking, which I did on a treadmill at the gym. All the exercises, I was instructed, were to be done in sets of 15 repetitions unless otherwise stated.

The three strength days, each separated by a day or two of rest, broke down as follows:

Day One: two sets of leg presses, one set of leg extensions, two sets each of leg curls and seated calf raises, and as many reverse crunches as possible.

Day Two: two sets of bench presses, one set of incline bench presses, one set of flies, two sets of lateral raises, one set of bent-over lateral raises, one set of french presses, one set of triceps pulldowns and as many reverse crunches as possible.

Day Three: two sets of rows and one set each of lat pulldowns, standing barbell curls, incline dumbbell curls, wrist curls, reverse wrist curls and reverse crunches.

The freehand program, or what I call the at-home/on-the-road workout, included push-ups, deep knee bends, calf raises, side leg raises and reverse crunches.

By the night of day four I had the sensation that my legs were humming. Lying in bed (not sleeping, of course), I could feel my legs vibrating.

Paul replied to my on-line query about this within hours. My legs, he said, were burning fat. I was hopeful. By the end of the second week, I had lost three pounds. Was I naïve to have hoped for more?

Two and a half weeks into the program, I had dropped four pounds. I E-mailed this progress to Trulyhuge, and Paul wrote me an encouraging note saying I was doing great. I requested a more thorough explanation of the free weight routines. By the end of the day, I had received a completely understandable breakdown of the exercises.

I came to appreciate the reminder that someone out there was keeping track of my progress. Weight loss and training, I found out, is not something most friends and relations find terribly interesting.

After 30 days, I cut out all alcohol. Two weeks after that, I started sleeping.

No, more than that: I did eight straight hours asleep, for the first time in my life. And every night since I have simply gone right to sleep -- face down, face up, it makes no difference. My husband swears that once he thought I was dead. He managed to wake me, but, no matter, I went right back to sleep.

That month I lost five more pounds. But I was frustrated. I had hoped for two pounds a week. So, I tried that time-honored, weight loss motivator: I got an expensive haircut. Eight more pounds were gone by the end of the next month.

I E-mailed Paul Becker and told him how pleased I was: 17 pounds gone in less than three months. I am very pleased to be going into June without that weight. But I had to ask one more question: Why was I sleeping?

In his answer, he used an old English measure, and it was so comforting to see it in this digital age that I've kept his note tacked on my wall: "Lose a stone (14 pounds)," it said, "Sleep like a rock." He's right!

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