A Detailed Account of my Comeback to Hardpressed

Once upon a time (that time being February 2015), I walked into the strength training gym Hardpressed for the very first time and learned what it felt like to turn my muscles into a pile of mush in thirty minutes.

Over the next few months, I saw results very quickly: my legs were stronger (and subsequently, my miles were faster), I gained muscle, and I even did a real pull-up (THREE! Not to brag, BUT THREE, maybe even THREE AND A HALF). I started to understand the perpetual hunger that growing teenage boys must feel, and when I watched movies starring the Rock I would think to myself, “yeah, I could probably do that*.”

… And then I got really busy with marathon training and #summertimeChi life that I stopped going by July. I told myself that it was a financial decision – personal training sessions can add up quick. In reality, when I stopped going I wasn’t necessarily saving any more money (I deviously reallocated that portion of my budget) and I had stopped investing as much in myself.

So here I find myself, heading back to Hardpressed with my tail between my legs, hoping my trainer forgives me (hey, it wasn’t you, it was me).

March 3

9 pm: Oh, pre-Hardpressed Anxiety, you’re back! Hi! No, no, I didn’t miss you. Please go away.

10 pm: Try not to think about Hardpressed, try not to think about Hardpressed, try not to think about Hardpressed… 

10:30 pm: Seriously, just go to bed.

March 4

6 am: Ughhhhhhhhhh nooooooo… Is it too late to cancel? (yes)

6:10 am: I suddenly remember how strict Hardpressed is about time. Motivated by fear, I hop out of bed to get ready.


6:15 am: Stare at myself in the mirror and contemplate why I decided to do this in the first place. My bed is so warm, so safe. Try not to think about my bed. Focus on the goal. What is the goal again? To get strong and feel like a badass.

6:20 am: Mental pep talk time. You are great. You deserve all the peps. It’s okay that you took a break. You are awesome. Your bed looks so warm. Wait, no. Lifting heavy things is cool. Ok that will do.

6:24 am: Text Hardpressed cult friends for reassurance.


6:25 am: Realize Hardpressed cult friends are probably all sleeping because they are smart and value rest.

6:30 am: Freak out because I need to eat something. The energy my body has on its own will not be enough. This isn’t my first rodeo. Surely a Luna bar and a banana will help?

6:40 am: Reluctantly leave the apartment and hear the door lock behind me. Alright, headphones, time to work your magic. I’m looking at you, Eminem.

7:00 am: Arrive at Hardpressed. Why am I so early? Why am I here? I hear the familiar grunts and sighs of exasperation – the sounds of an internal combat zone. Reluctantly understand that I drafted myself into this war.

7:10 am: I sit at the bench awaiting my fate. Time passes slowly at Hardpressed.

As far as I can tell, here’s the order of how long minutes last. First, there’s regular minutes (these last 60 seconds). Then, we have microwave minutes (depending on the food you are waiting for, these minutes last anywhere from 75 seconds to 100 seconds). Next are treadmill minutes (these last at least 120 seconds a piece). Lastly, there are Hardpressed minutes, which continue into infinite perpetuity; each minute a tiny microcosm of time without end, just short of eternity.

7:13 am (or, put another way, three-ish eternities later): Trainer makes eye contact with me and asks, “are you scared?” I black out and don’t remember my response.

7:15 am: Trainer approaches me with my profile up on his phone. He points to a number. 260. “It’s been 260 days. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR 260 DAYS?”

7:15:30 am: Start to remember why I was afraid of coming back for those 260 days.

7:16 am: Feelings of fear are replaced with nostalgia. Start to remember that I absolutely adore Hardpressed and why my friends and I have developed a cult-like following and fondness of the gym. Ugh, okay, I’m back.

7:16:30 am: Try to make small talk with Trainer in order to distract him from making me lift heavy things. Quickly recognize that it is hard to put together sentences before 8 am so I probably need a new game plan.

7:17 am – 7:45 am:

  1. Look at various weight lifting machines/torture devices and remember why they are evil.
  2. Receive no sympathy from Trainer.
  3. I used to try to look cool while getting ready to attempt lifting/pushing/pulling weight towards or away from my body. Now I know I look ridiculous, but appreciate that Trainer will never blackmail me with this intimate knowledge.
  4. 6-7 reps in: Focus all effort on form and survival.
  5. 8-9 reps in: Survival takes priority over form (sorry Trainer). Trainer reminds me (again) to breathe because getting oxygen is necessary to function as a human being. After all this time, I still have yet to figure this out.
  6. Last rep: [content contains too many cuss words and is not suitable for the Internet]
  7. Brief moment of extreme pride and happiness.
  8. Look at Trainer in hopes that he is also proud of me. Ponder if Trainer is my best friend or my nemesis.

Repeat steps 1-8.

7:45 am: Celebrate being alive with high-five from Trainer. Feel the immediate soreness from the effort required to lift up my arm for said high-five.

7:46 am: Walk into locker room exhausted, breathless, empowered.

7:47 am: I wasn’t joking about the breathless part. Find solace in the bench. Lay on the bench for 5+ minutes until breathing becomes normal(ish) again.

7:50 am: Take a moment to be thankful for my Hardpressed cult friends. They get it.


7:53 am – ?: Take way too long to get ready for work because trying to put on eyeliner after Hardpressed is a deeply humbling experience. Leave, wave to friend/nemesis Trainer, and feel the excitement (terror?) building for my session next week.

Move Studio Fitness

About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.

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