I see them everywhere. Flat abs (for those who have been living in outer space, that’s abdomen in gym talk), buffed arms, broad shoulders. If you cannot tell them by their bodies, their conversations are dead give-aways. They liberally use these 4 key phrases /words – carbs, fat content, diet & workout. These are the new generation gym bodies. Chest puffed out (no, not just the guys), stomach sucked in, 36”-24”-36” has a new meaning all together.
I start to panic. I am definitely slim, but I can’t really say I am perfectly toned. And I downright refuse to be the only un-toned body around. I re-think my health mantra, which when simply put, is to eat absolutely everything, drink almost everything and walk like a manic. Only it now seems terribly inadequate. Oh, what abuse I have been subjecting my body to. In a desperate attempt to set things right (and also in my quest to aim for higher things, like a JLo body) I join a top gym. I pay for 6 months (to be fair, they have a deal going on that gets me a great membership at 50% of the cost).
Joining the gym is like getting into a special club. I all of a sudden develop a paraphernalia of things that did not exist earlier – clothes of 100% spandex or lycra that cling and make me look horrendous, special gym shoes that I’m promised is different from shoes for tennis or shoes for sprinting, a water bottle from which I can squirt water into my mouth from a distance, a napkin to wipe away that bucket of sweat that comes with losing 1500 calories an hour, a change of clothes, a deodorant and a gym bag to hold all this.
Day 1: I walk in, terrified. Everyone looks at the new girl and I keep my eyes firmly on the floor. I spy the trainer and head straight towards him.
What do I need to do? I ask.
Let’s start with measuring your fat content, he says.
Please note: I personally think that it is much better to hear someone say let’s start a root canal, compared to let’s measure your fat content…but hey, it could just be me.
He gets a strange vernier caliper like gadget and then asks me to hold out various parts of my body, which he then proceeds to pinch and measure. Finally after doing great mathematical calculations, he looks at me and clears his throat.
21, he says.
What’s that, I ask, wondering if he is really asking me for my age.
That’s your fat content, he says.
21% of my body is fat? I am thoroughly disgusted. 1/5 of my body is FAT? I would have pinned the figure closer to 10%, but then again I am an optimist by nature….
It’s actually not too bad, he says, quickly adding – for a girl.
I ask him some questions, get no real answer and come to the conclusion that most people are so shocked at hearing their fat content, they lose their power of speech. This gives the trainers time to pop you on a machine and start your workout, after which you cannot talk even if your life depends on it.
I am started on the basic treadmill.
Don’t touch the red button, don’t touch the yellow switch, don’t touch the keys on your left side, he says.
I keep my hands firmly on the handle and don’t touch anything. I am walking at a happy pace and am thinking this gym thing is not so bad. No wonder everyone is doing it.
He comes back 2 minutes later.
You have not increased speed, he barks.
This, from the man, who told me not to touch anything.
He increases my speed intermittently and after quite a while (er, 7 mins exactly) I begin to feel weak limbed and light headed. I touch the only button he has actually given me permission to – STOP. The treadmill comes to a blissful stop and I tumble off, so glad to be on non-moving ground. Just as my eyes are beginning to focus again, he puts me on the cross trainer. Now this is the mother of all torture in my humble and very limited experience. It requires extreme coordination, great stamina and lots of courage. I lack all of the above, but step on it nonetheless. He starts it up, again after giving me a list of technical instructions that I do not understand. 45 seconds is all it took for me to jump off in a state of extreme agony – my throat is so dry I cannot swallow, my legs are burning, my stomach is paining and as for my lungs – well, they have just collapsed. I lie on the floor (now everyone is really looking at the new girl sprawled on the floor between the cross trainers and the exercise bikes) and I wonder for the 100th time – WHY???
He gives me a squirt of water. I can catch only half of it in my mouth, my eyes are not focusing too well, you see. I am just wondering how I could slink away without being noticed when he says that I should do 15 minutes on the exercise bike and then stop for the day. I pedal at 0 resistance and at 1.5 km per hour – it is all I could do without fainting.
Day 2: My body aches a bit, but my self-appointed personal trainer calls to tell me that I have to come in today. I try to tell him I have a serious life- threatening disease, but I can already hear him scream at someone – another 10 reps - before he hangs up on me.
I show up. I survive 8 minutes on the treadmill, steer clear of the cross trainer, and do 20 minutes on the cycle. He is not amused to see the resistance level and tells me I need to be more sincere. I tell him I just need to be able to breathe right now.
Day 3 – 10: Things get better, but only by a bit. I am no longer on the verge of death, but I still look it as I step off the cross trainer, wet hair plastered across my forehead, sweat dripping off my chin, T-shirt clinging to me in the worst way possible. But I think it can only get better from here.
Day 15: I am wrong. Without warning, he introduces me to resistance training. I am shown a series of exercises on some very scary looking machines. I nod and try to look enthusiastic, all the while hoping those weights don’t do serious body damage.
I’ll start you on the lightest weight, he says.
Ok, I say. It’s what I say when I have no option.
And so I start. 1 rep, 2 reps and the arms just won’t lift it for a 3rd rep. The mind is willing, I am pushing myself, but the body is flatly refusing, non negotiable. He sees me struggling and for the first time I see humanity in him….or maybe it is just pity. Either way, I am grateful and frankly, beyond caring.
I’ll take off all weights and you do these exercises with only the base ok, he says.
Have you any idea how strange it is to see someone do weights with no weights on? 3 people stopped to ask me if I knew the machine had no weights. One sweet boy offered to put 10 kgs on. NO, I screamed and he backed away slowly.
Day 16: My muscles ache so bad, I lie in bed and take a painkiller. Someone tells me that I need to move, because otherwise the muscles will tighten and hurt more. So I take a slow walk to the fridge and get a tub of ice cream. Except for the pain, it is a great gym-free day.
Day 17 – 40: I have gotten better at this, albeit slightly. My trainer and I no longer look at each other with dread. He is actually quite sweet when he isn’t trying to get me to do 3 sets of 30 reps each. Right now I can proudly do 1 set of 10 reps. He spends a lot of time these days telling me all about his dental problems. I even sneak a peek at his molars, all the while holding a 10 kg dumbbell in one hand. He is a brave man, I’m thinking.
Have I lost weight with all this exercise? No.
Have I lost fat? Probably not, though I have not asked him to measure my fat again. I am probably down to 20% but then again, I did say that I am an optimist!
Day 55: I am playing tennis after 2 years. After being in a closed, airconditioned gym for 2 months, this feels like heaven. I can feel the breeze on my face. I can smell only my sweat and no one else’s…ah, what bliss. And then it happens. A bad backhand and I feel a sharp pull and a radiating burning pain in my back. The Doctor says I’ve pulled a very large muscle, could be a sprain, no lifting heavy weights, no excessive pressure on the legs, no aggressive twisting at the waist. In other words, no gym for a significant duration. I could have kissed him!
When I tell my trainer this, I could see the look of pure liberation on his face. He is trying to hold his joy in when he tells me that I should take a couple of months off and then re-start all the way from the beginning again. I say no, I am not that masochistic by nature. I don’t know who is happier at this news, him or me. Either way, I say goodbye to him, kiss my 4 months of membership goodbye (no, they would not let me transfer it to anyone, much as I begged) and am back to happily walking in the fresh air.
As for that perfectly toned body? I’ll get it someday, just not today.
"To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable." - Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891