Return to the gym brings elliptical confusion

My daughter is getting married soon, so I thought it would be a good idea to get in better shape. After all, when the pastor asks, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” I don’t want to be doubled over trying to catch my breath after walking her down the aisle.

I joined a little neighborhood gym offering month-to-month memberships, which seemed like a good idea. It had been a long time since I had been in a gym with the purpose of actually using it, so I had my doubts about lasting even the first month. The other good thing was that this gym is real close to a Cuban bakery, so I would be able to reward myself with a guava pastry after my vigorous workouts.

Like most gyms, there is a row of treadmills the size of Mini Coopers perfectly positioned so if one person falls off to the side, he or she will knock everyone else in the row over like giant dominoes. I stepped up to the console built by NASA and began pushing buttons waiting for something to happen. After 15 minutes, my treadmill was still motionless, but I had given my index finger a hearty workout. I wondered if that constituted a sufficient workout deserving of a pastry.

While I was mulling this over, I noticed a lonely elliptical machine that seemed to have a minimal array of buttons and blinking lights and I thought I could manage it.

I casually walked off the treadmill and sucked in my belly as I walked past some nicely shaped leotards about half my age and strolled over to the lonely machine

I really had no idea what “elliptical” meant and made a mental note to look it up when I got home. Remembering that I constantly misplace my mental notes, I used my cell phone and called myself and left a message. “Hello Ed, this is Ed. What’s up?

Listen, I’m at the gym and was wondering if you could find out what “elliptical” means when you get home. Thanks. I hope you’re having a good day. Talk to you later.” I also left my cell number so I could call myself back.

I figured out the elliptical machine console and spent the next half hour or so working up a legitimate and healthy sweat. I was so pleased with my work out, in fact, I decided to bypass my well deserved Cuban pastry reward. I made a mental note to have an extra stack of pancakes for breakfast.

When I got home, I checked my messages and was surprised to see I had missed a call from myself. The message was to find out what “elliptical” meant so I could have a better understanding of what I was subjecting my body to during those long, rhythmic, circular, oval shaped motions on that machine. explained that elliptical means, “pertaining to or having the form of an ellipse,” which of course was no help at all. A secondary definition says it means “tending to be ambiguous, cryptic or obscure” of which I certainly agreed.

Obviously, a look at the word, “ellipse” would clear up the matter. Here then, is the actual definition of “ellipse” from “a plane curve such that the sums of the distances of each point in its periphery from two fixed points, the foci, are equal. It is a conic section formed by the intersection of a right circular cone by a plane that cuts the axis and the surface of the cone. Typical equation: (x2/a2)+(y2/b2)=1. If a=b the ellipse is a circle.” After reading the definition, I had to take a nap.

The next day at the gym, I stopped at the front desk as I glanced over at the elliptical machine with a wary eye. I was certain the nice young man could help, so I asked him if he could verify that “a = b” on that machine or if, at least, the foci were equal. He looked up at me with a blank stare and pleasant smile and after a long pause said, “Hola, puedo ayudarle?”

I called myself and left a message to learn more Spanish.

Ed Thompson is president of LOGOI Ministries and a frequent contributor to this newspaper. Follow his blog at

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