[Written in Jan 2017]
who hasn’t has enough of stories about going to the gym?
So Back in December 2016 I was worried about my weight and the associated health risks, especially an article about diabetes which really scared me. I would start every day with a nice healthy breakfast before work, and bring in a sensible packed lunch. But then I would eat the packed lunch as soon as I got to work as a second breakfast, and go out at lunchtime and buy another lunch, and then maybe snack in the afternoon, and then go home for a big dinner too. This was a lot of extra food! And money! I thought of the perfect solution – going to the gym. This would cost less than the amount I was spending on food each month and help me lose instead of gain weight, brilliant! Problem was that I totally lacked the confidence to go on my own. In fact I was terrified of the idea. Have you ever looked through the window of a gym? Everyone looks so serious, and like they know what they are doing? How on earth could I walk into that? I was just far too scary, and that is why I had never been. I worked out the only way to get around this was to sign up with someone else, then we could be new and laugh at each other without worrying what anyone else thought! So when one of my friends mentioned he was thinking of signing up, I jumped at the chance for us to become **GYM BUDDIES!** This worked perfectly, with all the intimidation vanishing instantly. Initially we went Mon-Wed-Fri lunchtime. The moment the clock ticked to 12:00 we would both grab our gym kit and run from the building. He was actually based on the 6th floor and I’d have to spend ages waiting for him to come down in the lift, and hope he hadn’t forgotten his trainers, or his headphones, or a pound coin for the lockers, and then we’d walk super-fast over to the gym, quickly get changed, grab a 20-25 minute workout then quickly get changed and leg it back again.
There is a wide variety of people who go to the gym, but generally people can be categorised into two groups. Those who just want to get on with it, and those who want to SHOW OFF. If you want to show off then you need to ditch the t-shirt and shorts and wear something either as small or as tight as possible. Also never put your head down and concentrate, instead spend the entire time either looking at yourself in the mirrors, or at other people to check that they are all looking at you.
When my GYM BUDDY and I started, we both went with Cardio. The Great thing about Cardio is that it is really easy to monitor your progress. The treadmill or whatever you are using will have a big screen with a million numbers on, but the only one you will look at is your current pace. This number will be everything you will pick a number, let’s say… 9. What does 9 mean? Nine laps a minute? an hour? Miles? Kilometres? Nobody, knows, all that matters is that you make it say 9 all the time. If it says 8 then PICK UP THE PACE and if it says 10 then WHOA THERE, BACK OFF. Not only does this gives you a clear target to focus on but you can even track your progress in a log for extra motivation points! Combining working out with creating complicated spreadsheets in excel is lush.
I checked the times the Olympic rowers set in the 1896 Paris Olympics. I saw their times were all actually pretty quick… but then I saw they all had to have several goes, and the second attempts were much slower, so they were probably doing it twice on the same day, and also probably against the flow of the river on the second go. If I could match the times they set when exhausted then I would be as fast as an Olympic rower. Another great thing about cardio is also a pretty “natural” way to exercise. Walking, running that’s just what creatures do naturally. I doubt any creature will ever go and lift weights to the point of exhaustion, leaving it vulnerable to a predator. I do admit to having never actually having fact-checked this in case I am wrong, but according to my own logic cardio is just what we would all be doing if we were cavemen. Finally, cardio does also make you feel quite good, giving a nice all-over workout. If you just do a bit of cardio for 20 minutes three times a week you will indeed feel less stiff, achy and lethargic generally.
As I stated in my very first blog, I do have a history of mental health issues, and while I signed up to the gym purely for physical health it has often been said how regular exercise can help with mental health too. With regards to this I can report that my own experience is a bit… mixed. On the one hand, having a GYM BUDDY is a great to have some social time, and going regularly and having performance targets to work to is good for motivation... unless of course you then get obsessed with beating each target each time, and then get really upset when you don’t do that, and I can’t really claim that the “endorphin kick” exists at all, as I have sometimes just lost all motivation half-way through a workout and gone home. Finally, if I push myself to my absolute limit, it is far too much stress for me to cope with and so I have to make sure I never go above a certain level.
After six months of cardio three times a week I also came to another conclusion. Cardio can become incredibly boring.
So after six months I switched to the weight machines. I’d been looking at all the people showing off and wanted to give that a try myself. I planned to just work on the same muscles I was using for rowing, and then after a week or two go back and see if this had helped me improve. What actually happened though was that I instantly fell in love with the weight machines and have never done any rowing since! I went from three times a week to five times a week, and then from lunchtimes to after work so I could stay for longer. So much for my Gym Buddy, and so much for having something to do at lunchtime too!
I actually managed to ask a member of staff at the gym to give me a guide on the machines, and he showed me three to begin with. The first was the one-you-pull-the-weights-down, I really love this one because you can put the weights up to almost twice they are on anything else and therefore makes you feel like you are amazing. He also showed me the-one-where-you-sit-and-push-the-weights which is remarkably unremarkable followed by the-one-where-you-lift-them-up which is much harder than it has any right to be. He finished with the-one-I-have-heard-horror-stories-about. This involves you sitting like you are on a bus – squashed up in a tiny seat with no room for your legs. Then you stretch your legs out pushing the weights away. I figured as I weigh more than the weights I was using, I was actually doing better exercise just standing still next to the machine, and didn’t need to do that one at all. Over time I have gone and added more machines into my routine, such as the-one-that-just-really-hurts, which involves standing a pulling on a rope which just really hurts. Also the arminator, which is one where you put both arms in and it breaks both your arms. Finally there is the tendon-snapper which is a huge weird machine with big metals arms that you do some weird swimming motion with your arms. I have no idea what you are really supposed to be doing on any of these things. Should I do a few heavy weights or a lot of lighter weights? I have no idea, What is a heavy or light weight? I have no idea. How many is few or lot of repeats? I have no idea. Am I supposed to sit and move in a way that makes it easier for me, because if I am exercising, shouldn’t be making it as difficult as possible? I have no idea. Weights are nothing like cardio though. You don’t have a simple number to focus on, and it is pretty much impossible to do a little bit more – you either can, or can’t do it.
There is another machine at the gym though, one that I did not feel ready for when I started, one that took weeks of building myself up for. That machine is the ego-maxer. A huge frame right in the middle of the gym. You stand in the middle of the frame, grab a handle in each hand and with your arms outstretched and make everyone look at you. The handles can be moved so that you can lift them up, down, or across but none of this matters because all that counts is you do it in the way that shows yourself off the most. I have no idea if this does my arms any good, but it has definitely done wonders for the size of my ego
So, would I recommend going to the gym? I think we all know the answer to that question!
You have to really want to go to the gym. If you don’t have that motivation, it’s never going to work. Going with someone else is great if you can always go at the same time. If you are completely relying on the other person to motivate you, it won’t work if they can’t always be there. If you do go, don’t worry about anyone else there. Yes, they can seem incredibly intimidating, but those who just want to get on with will just get on with it, and those who want to show off won’t be looking at you, they want you to look at them. Finally, make sure you have a lot of good music on your player, although the gyms play their own music you can barely hear it over the machines and everyone grunting away, and who wants to listen to that anyway. Plus, if you are feeling especially knackered, and the right song comes on at the right time, you can have you own Rocky Moment, and have a sudden comeback and lift that weight one more time!