10 Things I have learnt (so far)
by becoming a member of a Gym.
Now I need to preface this rant by the fact that I have not, of late, been very active (in an exercise sense) and had become increasingly aware that my sedentary lifestyle was not ideal but was where I was in life. I had come to an understanding with gravity - I do not move about too fast and it does not make large slabs of me wobble alarmingly ... all was good until ...
A new gym opened in my neighborhood (not inconveniently far away from us, not exorbitantly overpriced and not so exclusive that they would baulk at having me as a member). The better half and I decided "damn the torpedoes, let's join" because little else had gotten us up off our botties and the thought of paying a membership might do the trick. Read on.
- Bike pants are not a fashion statement.
Lycra and me are not the best of friends, I do not like the clingy, stretchy trip at all - I am a "boxers man" - read no further if you are squeamish. The first exercise session was enough to convince me that certain goods need to be packaged securely during vigorous activity to avoid damage. I now own a couple of pairs of bike pants, and whilst I resemble a beach-stranded cetacean, in serious danger of some deranged greenpeace activist rolling me back into the ocean while wearing them, they are comfortable during exercise (under a pair of shorts, so as not to frighten the natives). I draw the line at figure hugging exercise thongs, designer singlets and the like, yet recognize that kitting out properly makes the exercising comfortable. This is very important as much of the actual exercising is not comfortable at all - it is bloody hard work. All is ok so long as you can get back into 'normal' gear before anyone you know sees you.
- Gravity is not constant.
Newton was wrong, I am sorry to say all I learnt in Physics is utter crap. I have much personal and anecdotal evidence to suggest that the amount of gravity that is wreaking havoc on your body is directly proportional to the activity you are engaged in and how buggered you are at the time. Whilst trying to keep any part of your body suspended by muscular power alone, gravity increases the longer you persist - I have observed this many times as my limbs shudder and shake then finally give way under the increasing strain. Gravity increases to keep any weights you are trying to shift in whatever contraption you are strapped into firmly planted on terra-firma. Gravity ravages an older body more than a younger one, making bits droop that were once pert, parts sag where they were once taut (you get the mental picture, counseling will be available to purge these images should they haunt you for too long) - gravity increases with age (again, in direct proportion). This is known as wOnKo's third law of gravity. Exercising against gravity has brought this point home to me clearly. Watching kids on skateboards, roller blades and bikes makes me curse the age-centric gravitational pull. When a munchkin falls over, they bounce and a band aid later they are at it again. When I fall over, I stay over until the ambulance arrives.
- Yoga is a four letter word.
When I was younger, I used to do yoga and meditation, but fell out of the habit. Returning to it has been interesting and has shown me just how far it is possible to fall out of a habit. Yoga uses muscles I didn't know I had, and poses that at first seem anatomically impossible, demonstrated by impossibly limber instructors. My "downward-facing dog" is superb, as is my "frog" and "mountain" poses, my "plank" is passable and my "half bridge" is decidedly wobbly - now before you google on these, you might add "+yoga" to the search string else you result in millions of pages that contain exercises completely unrelated to yoga (and more to do with the karma-sutra). Interestingly yoga is really relaxing - the classes finish with guided relaxation (in layman's terms, how to go completely limp). I have discovered my balance is really bad - balancing on one leg, whilst bending the other to rest above the knee of the supporting leg, whilst intertwining your arms in the reverse direction whilst the lady inserts the melon whilst standing on the bicycle (melon and the bike optional extras sold separately, sorry, it was sounding a little karma-sutra-esque) is really challenging for me. Doing it with the eyes closed is hilarious but one does ones best. Interestingly I have felt good after each Yoga class (we have attended a few now) and have yet to wake up the day after unable to move. Interestingly over 6 years ago now I slipped a lumbar vertebrae whilst bending down to put on my boxers actually (yes, i know, another mental image that will take time, therapy and probably very expensive drugs to purge from your mind) and in doing so discovered the real meaning of agony. I was unable to move for nearly a week - I am now very wary of damaging myself again in that way (having developed a strange allergy to pain), so have had to learn to listen to bits of my body that give me subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) reminders that it might just about be enough of that for the moment.
- Giggling in Pilates is not allowed.
Pilates is interesting, and exercises bits not got at by the programmed workouts we now also do. It is a combination of breathing and controlled movement that I find counter-intuitive. To breathe out while exerting yourself seems weird, and keeping your "t-zone" (pilates geek for inner abdominals = tummy muscles) taut, whilst maintaining a neutral spine (shoulders above hips above ankles) is flooping difficult. My favorite pilates instructor has a thick mexican accent and is one of the fittest looking bundles of energy I have ever seen - "now class, cchhhwhen cchhyou get your tummmie tight, like so..." gets my attention. It is useful to have instructor who know their stuff because they can adjust nongs like me who think they have got a posture right (in my mind's eye, the rippling athlete that is me has his legs at 90° to the floor with arms perpendicular whilst in neutral spine even though to everyone else the posture is off alignment and all over the place). It is important to have a sense of humor, right, particularly when trying to come to grips with the intricacies of pelvic floor exercises? I need to remember to listen to my back and knees during Pilates (having had 2 sets of reconstruction surgery on both knees when younger - damned joint cartilage, why does sport damage it so easily?) but it is an interesting challenge to breathe out, bringing the navel closer to the spine whilst contorting gently.
- You need a degree in engineering to use the equipment.
The gym is new, all the machinery is new, and there is a lot of it. I have been reliably informed (because I listened in as someone was being given the grand tour) that one row is for upper body, another is for lower body, there are weights and a corner for newbies (that's us). Thank goodness that most machines have illustrations with humanoid figures places amongst the cogs, levers, stirrups and cables because this is serious stuff. The first thought that crossed my mind was "what was designer thinking when they assembled this contraption?" The person-machine interface is interesting and in some cases almost irrelevant (the ab-cruncher4003 looks like it has it's own perfectly good time without pesky humans bothering it). Walking machines with TVs in them - yay (this gym caters to the dedicated couch potato, with video walls, Channel V and doof music pumping to get your body rocking). I want a gym that will cater to the mouse potato - a PC-enabled exercise machine, there is an un-tapped market. Bikes that go nowhere fast, but are obliging enough to tell you how long it took you to get there and the "goodies patented walking machine" (sorry, an old brit comedy tv reference there to a thing you stand in and it walks with/for you - surprisingly challenging as it turns out). There are machines that I have yet to get close to for fear of losing a limb or worse, looking like an incompetent noob because I do not know where to put my bits whilst using it. It presents interesting challenges to one day have a go on them.
- Coordination is not natural.
Some people can coordinate their hands, legs, eyes whilst following a beat and a set of instructions - they make me sick as I cannot. I think that is why I am not good at certain sorts of computer games also, but I have studiously avoided "step" and "body crunch" classes as they involve a peculiar form of choreography incorporating muscular workout and perspiration to a disco beat. When first hooking a set of headphones into my treadmill, and focusing on a screen whilst walking, i found myself walking off the end of the machine - I have gotten better at that and having something to focus on while exercising seems to make the actual exercise whiz by. I am hoping coordination is something that can be improved by practice.. we shall see.
- I am not fit, fabulous and do not have a sleek physique.
'nuff said, really, but am resolved to work at what bits can be worked at. I did, however, thing I was fitter than I am. I walk considerable distances each day (to and from the bus station in the city, up and down stairs at work) but the calorie/exercise balance has long been tipped towards the calories for me.
- If it don't fit, don't force it.
Now there is a life's lesson in this for all of us, isn't there boys and girls. I have been in a situation (remembering back to a DIY gym available to guests on South Molle Island) where, not knowing what i was doing, I loaded up machines until it was 'hard' enough according to my reckoning. This ill-fated workout resulted in such muscle pain the next few days that walking was an effort (thank goodness we were at a resort, looking for reasons to blob around a pool with cocktails in hand). Little steps I have learned are good, and now I am a little more used to exercising, I do not pay so painfully afterwards.
- There is no instant fix, improvement takes time.
Again, 'nuff said really. The long haul is what matters I think and if I can end up being a little less unfit, then it is all good. I am, after all, combating years of neglect and using a body that feels like a discontinued line. The real challenge will be to continue this (or some sustainable variation) regime during term time.
- Self abuse can be rewarding.
Exercise is hard work, it takes time and it can be boring. Exercising with a partner, using trainers and proper equipment makes it workable. There is a weird sense of satisfaction completing a workout (or surviving a class) and, although I am not becoming an exercise junkie, I find it rewarding enough to give it a go.
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