It’s anniversary time. A biggy: one year of gym membership. One year of three – four times a week (most weeks) pumping iron and sweating it out on the bike or the cross trainer. For those of you who are long-term gym attendees you might wonder why I’m making such a fuss.
For me, signing up at the gym involved the breaking of an oft-repeated vow:
Not in my lifetime
I’m not the gym bunny type (still true)
That sort of exercise is for everyone else, not me
But a sedentary job, the love of good food, nice wine, books, and music, were beginning to take their toll. I was worried about what lay ahead if I didn’t start to move my old body a bit more. And I’d discovered, during a trip to Thailand a few months before, keeping up with my kids wasn’t as easy as it once was. And we were planning to go back. So, you see, it was fear that made me do it, laced with a smidgen of ambition – a heady mix for someone like me. What could go wrong? Millions of people all over the world go to the gym. Just because I’d laughed at them all my life didn’t mean I couldn’t swallow my pride.
It’s been a year of lowlights and highlights. The lowlights began at the beginning. Yes, on sign-up day. I shared my-oh-so-lofty goal: losing an entire three kilos. There was no mistaking the look of unmitigated shock on the young trainer’s face. (I’ve lost seven or so now, but just not that last three.)
Picture me: short, grey haired, in an old pair of sneakers, the baggiest pants and tee-shirt ever seen, stepping on to the treadmill for the first time, attempting valiantly to retain my poise. Picture the nice boy/trainer, who has lots of qualifications in personal training and a body that won’t feel the ache of old bones on a cold morning for another couple of decades, explaining the settings. He kindly suggested I attach the safety trip – in case I fell over, or worse. I still use it. (I have no problem imagining the things that could happen to my anatomy on an apparatus operated by electricity.) He showed me where to place my hands to record my heart rate. I was outed then and there. If I had succeeded in appearing poised, and I like to think I had thank-you very much, my heart-rate gave it all away. Yep, I was so terrified it was actually lower five minutes after starting on the treadmill. Nothing has gone wrong on it yet apart from the time I tripped the emergency cord by accident and then fell off. I’ve also fallen off the swiss ball – quite a few times. Less often recently. Maybe that’s progress right there.
Six months after sign-up day, as a reward for all that hard work and to celebrate some obvious signs of progress, I bought brand new gym gear. It’s designed for ease of movement. I felt very self-conscious the first time I wore my new outfit – I thought everyone would stare. They didn’t. That only happens when you do something spectacular (see below). I positioned myself on the mat and attempted a reverse lift. This involves lying on your back and lifting your legs and buttocks into the air. Take it from me, it’s not as easy as my trainer made it look and it hurts! My swish new pants were uncomfortable, that reverse lift was every bit as difficult as it had been in my old gear. I knew the clothes would not make me an athlete but I was holding on to the hope, just like I always do, until I heard the unmistakable sound of fabric splitting. It turns out the right clothes don’t make me any more sensible or practically minded, either. Yep, I’d put them on back to front. At least they weren’t on inside out.
It hasn’t been all lowlights. One day when I was using the Smith Squat Machine, a young man, all dread locks and muscles, was sitting nearby staring absently at the wall mirror. By the way, those mirrors aren’t there because gym goers are a vain lot. Oh no! Not at all. They are there to help people maintain good form, or posture, when lifting weights. It’s a serious business – good form reduces injuries. The young man was resting, I thought, between his sets. Picture me at the end of my repetitions, face bright red, legs shaking with the effort, shoulders complaining they were much too old to go through all this, as I replaced the bar. (I’ll own up, right now, the bar without weights is ten kilos. That’s what I was lifting – the bar – no added weights. Hey, it’s ten kilos more than I used to lift!) The young man caught my eye in the mirror. He said nothing, simply held my gaze for a moment and then he applauded. That still makes me smile.
- Fitting easily into my togs
- Hacking the pace more readily when we went back to Thailand
- More energy and believe it, or not, fewer aches and pains
The lowest of all lowlights has to do with the assisted chin-up machine. Part of what drove me to the gym was my fear of bat wings: those dangly bits that droop from the arms of old women, that are prone to flapping in the breeze. After several months of hard work there had been some progress but not nearly enough and so I spoke to a trainer – a woman this time. She understood my plight. “I have just the thing for you,” she said, pointing to the machine. My mind flashed-back to Phys-Ed classes at school. I’ll just say it wasn’t pretty and leave it at that. I told myself that was then and this is now. I am a grown-up, an old one and a short one, but still a grown-up. I listened carefully and watched closely while my trainer showed me what to do. And I discovered I could do it. I could use that machine. But as with all great achievements ridding oneself of bat wings takes perseverance.
I went back to the gym to practice. It was busier that usual. There were people on the treadmills, on the cross trainers, on the bikes, people using the Smith Squat Machine, the bench press, the leg press, the chest press, the rowing machine. I was, I noticed, the oldest there, but that is not important I told myself. What is important is focus, determination, perseverance. I clambered up on to the stool. I grabbed hold of the bar, and somehow, amazingly, scrambled on to the padded platform, kneeling on it like I’d been shown. I reached up to the handles and pulled. Up I went. I was looking down on everyone else, down on the man with the hugest muscles you’ve ever seen, down on the other people lifting weights, down on the people on the treadmill, the cross trainer, the bikes. Being vertically challenged, this had a certain appeal. I did it again, and again and again. My arms, the ones with bat wings instead of triceps, began to shake. But, oh, just for the chance to be up there looking down one last time, sweat running down the sides of my face and down my back, my arms protesting, I pulled and I huffed and I puffed and I made it one last time.
And. Then. I. Let.Go.
The padded platform, with me kneeling on it, fell to the floor with the loudest crash you’ve ever heard. The gym went quiet. Even the music stopped, or so it seemed. All those people doing their exercises, they stared. “Are you okay?” someone asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I just forgot how to get off.” Which is the truth.
Defeated? No way! I’ve got that machine sussed now. Although these days I call it quits before the shakes set in.
What are your gym survival stories?
Categories: On Life