First trip to the gym

Until three weeks ago, I’d never set foot in a gym. In fact, I hadn’t been regularly active for over a decade. But with my first personal training session booked, I got on the bus, adorned in my carefully selected gym attire. The cheapest pair of trainers I could find in the first sports shop I could find. A pair of tracksuit bottoms. And a brand new t-shirt I’d selected to be unnecessarily large so as to attempt in vain to hide my ever growing belly. I chose an Adidas t-shirt – with a vague memory that they had something to do with sport – so everyone would know I was super serious about my new fitness regime.

I arrive intentionally 15 minutes early, to scout things out and for a compulsory pre-workout cigarette. As I’m rolling my cigarette I look into the gym windows. Good Christ. Windows should be banned on gyms. They should be like sex shops, with blacked out windows and a seedy entrance round the back where people shadily shuffle in. That way the general public’s idea of the gym wouldn’t be just rows and rows of unbelievably huge men with strained faces lifting large weights that should be well beyond human capacity. It might make the whole first impression be just a little less intimidating.

I stub my cigarette out and walk inside. After fumbling for a while with the entrance keypad and nearly getting stuck in the strange door mechanism, I sit down in the foyer and await my fate with my new personal trainer.

She takes me into a small room and takes my height and weight. Sadly, my attempts to hide my physical anxieties were foiled at the first hurdle – my carefully selected t-shirt that would hide my body can’t deceive the scales. Worse still, apparently these aren’t your ordinary scales. These are somehow imbued with witchcraft, as my new trainer kindly tells me that actually my biggest problem isn’t my body fat – reassuring at first – but rather the substantial fat surrounding my organs. Who knows how the magic scales can tell this, and who knew I’d be coming out of my first session with a brand new thing to be paranoid about? Life’s just a roller coaster of treat after treat.

After my new terrifying medical diagnosis (presumably having layers of fat around your organs is not a good thing) she throws me onto a cross trainer to start off. Two minutes we’re doing. Easy. I can do that. No problem. Once I feel like I’ve got into the rhythm, my trainer politely tells me that I should be pedalling forwards, not backwards.

Having nailed going in the right direction, we move onto other things – starting with squats. We run through a few sets (I’m learning all the lingo), and I start to think that this isn’t so bad after all. I can do this fitness lark. There’s nothing to worry about.

Then we walk over to a different area, and I realise my legs have turned entirely to jelly, and I’m on the verge of keeling over. Luckily my trainer is walking in front of me, so she can’t see that I’m teetering on collapse. I steel myself as we move onto something else.

The rest of the session continues much in the same vein. And with each exercise, it becomes more and more painful, and I’m more and more breathless. At various points, my trainer helps me finish a set by basically doing all the work for me. But we make it through in the end, finishing first with some planks – which I’m convinced have no fitness benefit whatsoever and are solely designed as a modern form of torture (I managed 30 seconds, 21 seconds and 11 seconds – an achievement I assume is fairly pathetic). And then three long, arduous minutes on a rowing machine. Three minutes sounds like nothing of course. But after 50 minutes of more exercise than I’ve done in at least the last year combined, it’s the equivalent of dousing your thighs in paraffin and throwing a lit match on them.

We’re through. We’re done – I’m thinking. Oh boy, was I wrong. I’m then told that I have to do some stretches. I’ve always thought the whole ‘you need to stretch after exercise’ thing was basically nonsense. But now I realised that it can also be total agony.

It got even worse after that. My trainer said two words I’d been dreading: “food diary”. Images flicker in my mind. The three take-aways a week. The 150 gram bags of Kettle Chips I eat as a pre-dinner snack (or the similarly sized bags of Walkers lime and coriander chutney poppadoms – which are divine). The two cans of soup with three white bread rolls for lunch. The thought of writing all of that down and sending it to someone who’s Instagram feed is filled with early morning smoothies made my whole soul cringe.

And with that, we really are done in the gym. But as I leave to walk to the bus stop, my whole body feels like it’s imploding in on itself. So much for that good feeling you get from exercise. Maybe the second week will be better?

Image credit: Snehalkanodia — WikiMedia Commons

Choosing a personal trainer

Once I’d made the decision to give losing weight a try, it was clear I needed help. I wasn’t going to become an early morning jogger overnight. I’d never been to a gym before – and the idea was daunting to say the least. Crucially, I knew that there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance that I’d keep anything up without someone else holding me to account.

So, I decided I needed a personal trainer.

Making that decision only took me part of the way. I had some probably overly prescriptive criteria for picking one. I’m sure all personal trainers are wonderful people, and that any one is as good as any other. But if I was going to do this, I wanted to make sure that I got the right one for me.

My first criteria was pretty straightforward. They had to charge less than £40 a session. Anything above that was well beyond me. That narrowed the field a little.

My second criteria was that they had to run sessions in a gym. Nothing outdoors thank you very much – running round in public in the cold of December and January wasn’t top of my Christmas list. There was no way I was having them see the absolute state of my house, so it couldn’t be someone who wanted to run home sessions. And there was even less chance I would be going to their own weird personal fitness dungeon. Again, the options shrunk.

My third criteria was I wanted to avoid anything sickly-positive or hippyish. That ruled out anyone who’s website referenced “mindfulness”, talked about how incredible exercise is because of all the endorphins that it will give you, or spouted pseudo-scientific nonsense about superfoods. This might be some people’s cup of tea, but if I was going to spend more time with this person than I do with some of my family and friends, I wanted to do without any fads and conversations that would drive me up the wall. The list of possibilities got a lot smaller with this.

My final criteria was that it couldn’t be a man. If there was one thing that would stop this experiment in its tracks, it would be a six foot tall muscle bound man shouting military style “encouragement” at me. Worse still, my only cultural reference for personal trainers comes from Peep Show. A man with all of his shit inexplicably together, intimidatingly attractive but with an objectively irritating personality is all I had in my mind. As someone with none of their shit together, and who’s intimidatingly unattractive, being riled up and patronised by someone five years younger than me was a write off. I kept playing round in my mind all of the scenarios where I would scream at them to fuck off, just like Mark Corrigan.

So in the end, after spending several evenings pouring through websites and recommendations in Facebook groups. I found the right one, fired off an email at 2:27am on December 23, and took the first steps on my fitness journey.

A fat bastard starts the fitness journey

I’m 27 years old and I’m a fat bastard. 

I’ve always had a non-existent relationship with personal health. 

I’m an asthmatic, but for over a decade I’ve been a relatively heavy smoker. By “relatively”, read very. 

Most weeks, the only exercise I get is the short walk to work, the pub or the bus stop, and the walk up and down stairs to go for a cigarette.

And I’ve always been a big eater. The kind of big eater who’s favourite thing about Tuesday is that major pizza retailers run by one get one free deals — and whose favourite thing about Wednesday is that you only managed to get through one and a half large pizzas on Tuesday but have half a pizza greeting you for breakfast. The kind of big eater who ambitiously batch cooks for three days worth of meals but after finishing a plate on the first night, goes back for seconds and eats the next two days’ meals too. The kind of big eater who doesn’t understand why anyone would buy a six inch Subway instead of a foot long, and why anybody would choose not to double on cheese.

But sadly my disregard for my own personal health has caught up on me, and I came to the realisation that I am a fat bastard. I peaked at just shy of 14 stone, having put on 3 stone is as many years. At 5 foot 6, the NHS BMI calculator helpfully informed me that this officially makes me obese. 

Coming to the realisation that I am a fat bastard led me to firing off an awkwardly worded email at 2.37am two days before Christmas to a personal trainer. 

This felt like a sudden, gigantic leap. After spending my life ignoring the impact of my lifestyle on my body and my health, I’d taken the plunge into a brave new world of food plans and workout routines. 

In reality, it was a much longer journey. And over the coming months, I’ll be using this blog to explain how I came to the realisation that I am a fat bastard, detail why I decided to make a change, and chronicle my experiences trying to get fit and lose weight. 

At the time of writing, I’ve done just two gym sessions with my new personal trainer. And already it has been far, far harder than I’d anticipated.

Image credit: Snehalkanodia — WikiMedia Commons