How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 07 – Meat on the Brain

With the gym closed, the girls decide to take Gina out for a welcome party. Hibiki recommends her brother’s yakiniku (BBQ) restaurant where she works part time. As they chow down, Machio and Satomi hover between them and us, explaining that while beef is a good source of protein for bodybuilders, the cut of meat and even its source determines how much you should eat.

When there’s a slowdown in work, Hibiki takes a load off and tucks into a multi-thousand-calorie meal. Gina believes this is Hibiki’s secret to, among other things, beating her at arm-wrestling: the same ability to consume huge amounts of muscle-building protein as a pro wrestler, only she enjoys doing so! Of course, it’s just Hibiki’s “cheat day,” but she won’t be able to slack off on the other days.

When the others ask why Hibiki has to work five days a week in addition to school and the gym, she says it’s to pay her monthly membership fees and for all the food she eats. Akemi informs her that thanks to her older sister, chairman of the board of their school, gym fees and other training-related expenses are covered by the school! That said, Hibiki still needs to pay for her own food.

While sitting in class and half-paying attention, Gina notices that Satomi has a beauty mark beneath her eye that she’s sure she’s seen before. Sure enough, a quick check of her phone confirms that Satomi is “Yulia Riko”, cosplay sensation. When she tells Satomi that she knows, Satomi assumes Gina wants something in exchange for her silence, as, in Gina’s words, she’s “suspicious of altruism.”

So Gina comes up with a worthy payment: she gets to spend the day with Satomi/Yulia, including a one-on-one photoshoot and sightseeing tour. When Satomi complains of soreness after a nice workout, Gina introduces her to the concept of active rest, which actually helps you recover from fatigue faster than the passive kind (i.e. sitting on your bum and swilling beer). It’s all about aiding circulation of blood (and thus oxygen) throughout the body.

Their active rest for the day takes the form of a brisk but comfortable jog that isn’t overdoing it and enables them to carry on a conversation, all the way to Akihabara. When Satomi hilariously asks the tourist if she’s going there to buy electronics, Gina responds that due to her love of all things Japanese (and a few things that aren’t like Hong Kong and yoga), she’s determined to become an idol…and she’s taking Satomi and her new friends along for the ride.

The public idol audition they end up competing in is judged by a director voiced by Yoshino Hiroyuki (nice cameo!) who is tired of normal-looking girls with a normal level of talent performing normally. That is, until the bikini-clad “Muscle Girls” arrive on stage, riding on the shoulders their burlier fellow gym members. All of a sudden, things are a bit too abnormal for the director…with emphasis on the ab!

Rather than sing, Gina and Ayaka deliver an impressive sparring demonstration, while Hibiki does bench presses with Akemi spotting. Their final act is Satomi, hiding her face behind a kendo mask, performing a perfect deadlift, the toughest and riskiest of the three major barbell exercises.

Despite enthusiastic applause by the crowd, they fail to make the cut…partially because they didn’t sing anything, but also because they were just way too weird. Normal, the director concludes, is fine after all. Too bad; I would have loved to see these guys on tour!

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How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 06 – Russian to Conclusions

Movie buff Hibiki wants a new home theater system. The only problem is, due in part to her gym fees, she lacks the funds to buy one. Enter the Silverman Gym Arm Wrestling Tournament, which has both men’s and women’s divisions and a grand prize of 100,000 yen for each.

Machio explains the proper setup and form for official arm wrestling, then matches Hibiki up with Ayaka to give it a go. As with boxing, Hibiki reveals she’s a superhuman beast, dispatching Ayaka with ease (and turning the proceedings into a battle manga, with requisite intense faces). Even Machio has to get a bit serious to beat Hibiki.

With Akemi sick and neither Ayaka or Satomi interested in participating, the women’s division’s first round is also the final round, because there are only two combatants! Hibiki, and the short silver-haired foreign lass who up until now we’d only seen the OP and ED: the Russian Nina Void (voiced by Touyama Nao).

Nina is a seasoned veteran in the arm wrestling world, and Russia is a power in that particular sport. She’s also never been beaten by someone her own age, so it’s a huge shock when Hibiki defeats her almost as quickly as she beat Ayaka. It also changes Nina’s plans dramatically: instead of heading back home (which she needed the prize money to do), she decides to enroll at Hibiki’s school as a transfer student.

After going over the three main stereotypes of Russian anime characters (Intellectual with Icy Smile, Emotionless/Cold-Blooded, and Zealous Patriot Type), voicing her desire not to stray too far from any of them, and declaring her love for her dear shirtless bear-wrestling leader Putin, Nina explains how she’s never done that much weight training with equipment.

Instead, she’s a strong proponent of “kipping”, i.e. rhythmic pull-ups and chin-ups that use your momentum. Proper form and consistency mean that the more you kip, the more your nerves know what to do and when in martial arts like sambo. 

Hibiki demonstrates that she’s terrible at kipping, but Nina (wrongly) assumes her rival is simply holding her cards close. Speaking of close, it isn’t until after Hibiki returns home from the gym that she learns that Nina is going to be living with her for the foreseeable future. There will be no escape from the rivalry that has been thrust upon her.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 05 – Relay Chase, Sauna Race

Summer is over, and with the Fall comes Sports Day, a day Hibiki has been dreading. Worse still, students are appointed for events based on lottery, not skill, so she finds herself the anchor of the final event: the 400m relay.

Hibiki is not a skilled runner (nor is Satomi), but Machio has pointers for them both: leg curls work the hamstrings (the “accelerator” muscles) without working the quads (the “brake” muscles).

Leg curls also tone your bottom, which fires Hibiki up; she may have missed the chance to have a hot summer bod but she’d still working towards a hot winter bod. Unfortunately, her overzealouness leads to her pants splitting.

When the day of the relay arrives, Hibiki finds herself competing directly against Akemi, who doesn’t know that Hibiki has been secretly working her lesser-known iliopsoas muscles located in the back, crucial for sprinting. Akemi may be cleaning up for her Class A team, but Hibiki aims to make a race of it.

Unfortunately, the baton transfer fails and Hibiki ends up way behind, but still rallies to finish second behind Akemi, impressing both of them. It’s just too bad her second-place finish is wiped out by the fact the runner who dropped the baton didn’t pick it up, leading to her disqualification.

The loss really eats at Hibiki, but she finds an opportunity to exact her revenge when after a day of training, the four girls decide to hit the sauna after the showers and have a little competition: whoever lasts longest in the sauna will get all of the four raffle tickets Machio gave them (the show makes sure to warn viewers not to try this at home).

Ayaka is the first to hit her limit and leave, followed, rather surprisingly, by Akemi. Hibiki is flagging, but Satomi looks cool as a cucumber…until Hibiki realizes she’s so burnt out she’s basically stuck in place. That makes Hibiki the winner! Too bad she doesn’t win a trip to America with her tickets, but four T-shirts she doesn’t really want, and gives to Akemi anyway. So ends another entertaining and informative Dumbbells.

P.S. This show is also super strong with the twisted reactions, critical asides, and of course, fourth-wall breaks:

…Though characters seem to have stopped commenting on the eroticism inherent in Machio’s training lessons. Like Machio himself, I guess they just got used to them!

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 04 – No Gym? No Ocean? No Problem!

Due to a large volume of summer casual trainers at the gym, Hibiki and Akemi aren’t able to access the “free weights” like the bench press and dumbbells, so on Machio’s advice they train instead on machines like the chest press machine, which are a good way to diversify the way one exercises a muscle group.

Ayaka also joins the gym to give boxing classes, and is as immediately smitten with (a fully clothed) Machio as Hibiki and Satomi were…before he struck his signature “Side Chest!”, that is.

The first day Hibiki, Akemi and Ayaka meet up to go to the gym as a trio, Silverman is unexpectedly closed for the day. While they lacked their primary training equipment at the gym, not having access to a gym at all means getting more resourceful.

Akemi invites the other two to her palacial house, and shows them a beefcake-packed video by Ozu Toshio, apparently Machio’s sensei. They learn reverse sit-ups and dips using chairs, but unfortunately when Hibiki ups the difficulty by attempting dips with a backpack full of books, she breaks two antique chairs she later learns could sell at auction for hundreds of millions of yen. Oops!

Finally, the three girls (plus Satomi, in another case of pure coincidence) hit the beach to show off their tight new bods, only to learn the summer swimming season is closed due to hammerhead sharks in the water.

Not one to be discouraged by a setback, Akemi shows the others how to do burpees, which exercise the entire body (which she proceeds to expose in the instructional video), followed by sprints along the beach. While everyone gets properly worn out by day’s end, everyone rightly feels a great sense of accomplishment. Who needs gyms, or even the sea, when you have a nice stretch of sand?

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 03 – Cheat Day, Cosplay

Dumbbell keeps up the good work with a well-organized, well-paced, funny, charming, and informative episode. Sadly we don’t learn any more about Hibiki’s progress with boxing training (if any), but then that was to be expected; this is not a boxing anime! Still, that was a hell of a punch. I wonder if we’ll see another down the line…

Instead we’re introduced to Tachibana Satomi (Horie Yui!), a history teacher who wants to lose a bit of weight. When she checks out Silverman Gym she’s a little disconcerted to find two of her students there (and even more cheesed off when one of Hibiki indirectly refers to her as “old”—she’s 29) but when she meets Machio (and is instantly smitten) she sticks with it.

Machio introduces her to dumbbell curls, which help build one’s biceps as part of balanced training with push-ups (which help build triceps). When Satomi gets hot and rolls up her shirt, Hibiki and Akemi notice a strange tan spot on her stomach, and she manages to conceal the true cause: her secret cosplay hobby.

The middle segment involves Akemi joining Ayaka and Hibiki for lunch, and Hibiki learns that far from being ideal for getting a nice bikini body, her diet is actually far better suited for a sumo thong. Akemi explains that suddenly gorging on an empty stomach boosts blood sugar and insulin production, resulting in weight gain, not loss.

But not all is lost: she suggests Hibiki shift to the diet of bodybuilder, most of whom seek a limit of 3% body fat before a contest, essentially making them dieting pros. It’s all about eating smaller meals high in protein but low in fat, which means boiling or steaming foods that normally sauteed or fried. Snacks like protein bars and shakes prevent hunger without adding fat.

When Hibiki laments that such a radical shift in her diet is miserably untenable, Akemi gives her some relief: the occasional “cheat day”, typically once a week, prevents a dieter’s body from going into energy conservation mode in addition to the psychological boost that comes from eating tasty stuff. Unfortunately, Hibiki still doesn’t grasp that she’ll have to start actually dieting for a while before having her cheat day!

We finish with another Satomi-POV segment, as she’s sufficiently slimmed down to wear a revealing sailor suit (KanColle?) to an event at Tokyo Big Sight, where she’s an instant sensation. That’s when she notices Hibiki and Akemi are there, but not for her; for Machio, who agreed to cosplay as the “Muscle King” in an anime apparently everyone in the world except Satomi has heard of.

The horde of cameramen circling her quickly shift to Machio, who is all too happy to destroy his costume with an iconic front press, then proceeds to explain the front press’ proper form. At day’s end, Satomi is just happy her students didn’t discover her cosplay hobby, but they do spot her as she’s slinking away with her suitcase, and lets Hibiki think she’s a doujinshi fan. Better than the alternative!

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 02 – Protein Punch

Hibiki is mortified to learn that even after getting into a routine of training, she’s actually gained weight, but she makes a common fitness rookie mistake: weight is not always a good indicator of health. What percentage of your weight is muscle as opposed to fat is far more useful, and muscle is denser and weighs more than fat.

After some lat pulldowns that work her back (she’s still too green for deadlifting), Hibiki heads to the gym’s fully-equipped protein bar, where a dickie-sporting Machio serves up delicious shakes during the 30-minute “golden time” after a workout. Still, that’s not enough for Hibiki, who wants more protein and so drags a weary Akemi to a steakhouse. Old habits die hard!

That said, Hibiki seems to be making mostly good decisions about her body, including taking a rest day when her body is telling her (through soreness) that she should. But she doesn’t want to just laze around the house either, so she and Akemi head to the pool. Hibiki stares with envy at Akemi’s figure, while Detective Akemi points out all the muscular people’s sports by the muscle groups they’ve defined.

Hibiki starts static stretching before activity, but Akemi stops her, citing a University of Zagreb study that indicates such stretching actually decreases performance, not to mention is bad for joints and tendons that haven’t warmed up. She suggests a series of dynamic stretching exercises instead, not too dissimilar from radio calisthenics. Unfortunately, an overeager Hibiki rips her too-tight swimsuit.

Hibiki spends the next day by visiting her best friend Uehara Ayaka’s house for the first time—the two became friends through mutual love of film, and only ever hung out in theaters up to now. Suddenly, Ayaka’s sister needs her help, and Hibiki learns the Uehara family business: an elite boxing gym!

The sisters’ dad was a champion boxer, and trained his daughters; Ayaka has the abs and muscle memory to show for it, but she still prefers movies. After successfully holding a planking pose for 30 seconds, Ayaka’s sister suggests Hibiki have a go at the heavy bag. Hibiki gingerly approaches it, then delivers a devastating right hook that breaks the bag, shocking everyone assembled. Looks like she had a hidden talent!

Dumbbell remains zanily good fun with some useful advice about weight training mixed in. Hibiki remains an utterly charming protagonist. It even eased off the ecchi fanservice this week. Guilty pleasure or no, the show just works—much like Hibiki’s punch. And then there’s that infinitely catchy OP. Keep it up!

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 01 (First Impressions) – Feel the Burn

Sakura Hibiki eats too much of the wrong food and doesn’t exercise enough. That’s what brings us to her initial motivations: to slim down so she can snag a hot guy. Of course, this is not a finger-snapping affair, but a brutal, exhausting odyssey that will challenge every aspect of who Hibiki thinks she is and of what she’s capable.

Of course, Hibiki doesn’t have the willpower to undertake such a quest alone, which is why it’s surreptitious that another girl at her school, the rich, beautiful, and 16% body fat class president Souryuuin Akemi joins the newly-built Silverman Gym the same day she does. She soon learns that not only is Akemi a health and fitness fanatic, but cultivates a strong muscle fetish.

Thus we have our comedic duo for this edu-taining aspirational slice-of-life: Akemi as the wilder comic, Hibiki as the straight man who reacts similarly to how most of us would in the midst of all the intense musclery on display. Their coach at the gym is Machio Naruzou, who is always wearing a bright smile and whose Prince Charming good looks immediately persuade Hibiki to join despite seeming way out of her element.

But that’s the thing about trying any new thing: you can easily come to feel like you have so much to learn and catch up on that you put far too much pressure on yourself from the start, rather than trusting in a healthie, more incremental process. You’re so afraid of failure, and success feels impossible. In something like weight training, the body will follow the mind’s lead and you’ll get nowhere.

Where How Heavy excels is on how carefully and gradually Machio eases Hibiki into the basics of lifting weights, all while maintaining a supportive demeanor that never comes off as patronizing. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but Machio makes it easy.

Heavy is also fully aware that some of the explanations of the routines look and sound pretty…erotic, but hey, we’re dealing with sculpting the human body here, and the production values are more than up to the task, so the ecchi element is not just unforced, it’s executed splendidly. You’re not mean to leer at the bodies on display, you’re supposed to regard them with awe.

That’s exactly what happens when training wraps for the day, and when Machio says the word “besides” he suddenly becomes compelled to bust out of his tracksuit and strike a classic “side chest” pose, presenting his Arnold Schwarzenegger Mister Universe physique. Hibiki fell in love with his face, but is somewhat put off by the excessive muscles, while Akemi, she of the fetish, almost has a crisis.

After her first real workout probably ever, Hibiki feels ruined, and can barely stand in class the next day. As she and Akemi walk home and she continues to voice her reservations about continuing at Silverman Gym, Akemi tells her how happy she is to be able to train with a friend from school. That convinces Hibiki to stick with it. After all, this is already more about getting a hotter bod, or gaining joy and confidence in one’s increased strength and stamina…it’s about making a lovely new friend. Akemi certainly challenges her preconceptions about her “rich girl” status.

The next day, his “secret” revealed, Machio doesn’t bother hiding his tank of a body, and gets right into introducing Hibiki to squats, which are much tougher than the bench presses Hibiki thought were already plenty tough.

Hibiki is such a relatable protagonist because she approaches things realistically within her established modus operandi: try a bit, and quickly give up. As we all would if we were in her shoes! But with multiple motivating vectors including not wanting to let Akemi or Machio down, and yes, wanting to look hotter for the beach, she perseveres and blows past those old boundaries. That’s what the slogan “becoming a new you” is all about.

While walking home after another grueling workout, Akemi notices Akemi snacking and asks her how many times she eats a day. When Hibiki honestly replies “around six or seven, sometimes more,” she fully expects a stern scolding, like she normally gets from her best friend Ayaka. But instead, Akemi is duly impressed that Hibiki has been blessed with such a powerful appetite. After all, building muscle requires fuel.

Where the critical Ayaka sees the expanding Hibiki as a bomb ready to go off, Akemi sees great potential, not a threat—a diamond to be cut and polished from rough stone. While Ayaka’s concerns are legitimate and her heart’s in the right place, the tone is wrong. If Hibiki is going to make progress, she’s going to need positive voices, including her own. I look forward to her and Akemi’s iron-pumping journey!