Monday, December 13, 2010

Much Overdue About Nothing

A belated and overly long wrap up.

There’s a certain irony, given the overwhelming themes in this blog, that I had enough motivation to finish the 12 week gym program but not enough to finish writing the blog.

But finish the gym I did. And so finish the blog I shall.

When I posted last , I had four weeks of gym to go, and had just had something of an epiphany which came in the form of a phone call from Andrea. I think there may have been more to that conversation, that day and that blog post than I first suspected. It became clear to me that I just wasn’t on the same level as Andrea. We weren’t talking the same language. I pondered this for a bit.

Also, at some point during this whole process I had discussed the blog with my wife. She told me that she didn’t read it, because it was too negative. She felt that I wasn’t trying to find any positivity from my experience, and that the blog was only helping me to wallow in the negativity. This is not something I could deny. I began to wonder about whether I could somehow twist things around and think more positively about the whole thing. At around this time I cleaned my car out and found the booklet we had been given on the first day (which had, as I predicted, stayed in the car the whole time). I idly flicked through it and found it had a section on positive thinking. “This is surely a sign” I thought. So I started reading. It was full of the usual bollocks about the power of positive thinking. Nothing new, but nothing terrible. And then I came to the recommended reading section. This booklet, written (or at least studiously copied from various bits of the internet) by the person responsible for my health at this time, recommended that I read “The Secret”.

Something inside me broke. “The Secret” is, to me, akin to the power balance bracelet. (I would go so far as to suggest it is that way for everyone. There will be those who believe in both and those who believe in neither, but you’re unlikely to come across someone who would say “Oh The Secret is clearly a load of pseudo-mystical/psychological hogwash, but I haven’t fallen over anywhere near as much as I used to since I got this bracelet!”.) Between reading this (the booklet, not “The Secret”) and the phone call I knew that not only were we not speaking the same language, but that Andrea and I would never be able to speak the same language. And more importantly, I knew that I didn’t care anymore. No longer was I unsure if I was looking at this the wrong way. No longer was I concerned that I was somehow “wrong” in the way that I thought. I understood that I am me, and they are them, and it’s perfectly OK for me to think differently to them. And no longer was I going to over analyse things.

Hence the death of the blog. Basically, I had decided I would turn up, do my thing, and go home. It didn’t feel wrong, and it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel “a bit prostitutey” (as one of my commenters suggested) nor did it feel like it was doing me any good (lets face it, it never felt like it was doing me good). It simply was.

Which is not to say there weren’t some highlights worth a quick mention.

  • Phil came back with his resistance bands, and was as paradoxical as ever. We did pretty much the same thing we had done the first time, and to be honest I noticed some improvement in my performance with him second time round.
  • Breakfasts remained excellent. One week, somewhere towards the end, we were given pancakes, with golden syrup and bananas. Andrea came down and was visibly unimpressed. I thought it was quite funny (and excellently yummy) but when she sincerely apologised to us, and ensured us it wouldn’t happen again, I almost laughed out loud.
  • I also missed one week, thanks to a doctor’s appointment. I say this because it meant that I had to attend the very last session. I kept saying at the time that, even if I hadn’t used up all my “free passes” then I would still have attended the last session. I’m not sure I really believe that, but we’ll never know if it’s true now.
  • We had the follow up to the bullshit science test. This showed that, over the 12 weeks, I had gained a small amount of weight, not changed my body/fat ratio at all, had not altered my physical age at all and had not hydrated my cells in the least. Or it showed that attaching electrodes to ones hands and feet does not in any way tell you anything in the least about your physical age, body.fat ratio or cell hydration. Who knows?

So, what DID I learn out of all of this?

Sadly, not much that I didn’t already know. But having said that, I have now proven things I only previously suspected.

The biggest (and most obvious) one is: The gym is not for me. “But” I hear you cry “you didn’t give it a chance! You didn’t even try to enjoy it!” This is, I admit, true. Well, 10 out of 12 weeks is giving it more of a chance than I think it deserved, but it’s true that I did not even try to enjoy it or make the most out of it. But the point is that I never would. I dislike it, its atmosphere and its people. I dislike the way I feel when doing it, and I dislike the way I feel after having done it. I think most importantly, I dislike the way I felt about myself while I was doing it. These are all things that I now know, that I only previously suspected. Even if it was a self fulfilling prophesy, that prophesy has been fulfilled, and I am comfortable and confident in my aversion to the gym. I should add, though, that I don’t think the gym, or the program we were on, is entirely bullshit. One guy I work with not only went to the gym almost every day, but he followed the eating plan (lifestyle change) as laid out in the book, and he lost, I believe, around 30kg. He is still going, and is still eating well, and looks absolutely great (it’s OK, in this context, to say another guy looks great, isn’t it? I swear the only other time I would say that about another guy is if it was Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Jr. Or maybe if I was drunk. Or if the guy in question was wearing some particularly fetching trousers).

Not even  slightly gay

Anyways, the beginning was every bit as difficult for him as it was for me. In fact, because he was genuinely trying, and starting a diet at the same time, it was no doubt 12 million times harder for him. But he stuck with it, put me to shame, and is in every way better for it.

Another thing I have learnt is that the more I think about something, the more complex it becomes. Again this is nothing new to me, and in my very first post I said “I thought and thought about it a lot, and then one day cleared my mind and just signed up.” I have always over-thought things. So while I hated the exercise from the get go, it wasn’t until I started analysing, and then blogging, that I really started to try and work out what was wrong with me, or what was going on. I think this came to a head in the last post. My over thinking sent me into a spiral of second-guessing absolutely every decision I made, and that made this so much more of an effort than it should have been.

One more thing is how important music is. I love music. All my life I have sung songs to myself, played an instrument, and generally filled my world with music. So there is no surprise that the music in this program played such an important part. I expect you could go back and read every post with the label “Music” and see that how much I enjoyed the session had a direct correlation with how much I enjoyed the music.

Something that did come as a surprise is how much I have enjoyed blogging. This is my first ever personal blog. I enjoy writing, but have never until now written about myself. I have dabbled here and here with comedic articles, and have received fairly warm feedback from them. But the value I have gained out of doing this (despite the over-analysis) and the feedback I have received from the blog has been a source of great joy for me. Having said that, I don’t think it’s something I could do regularly. The gym adventure gave me a focus. It was something to write about, and something that was continually happening to me, that was a source of new material. I think without that focus I would not be able to maintain a diary of any kind, and in fact even with that focus the blog still withered. But I may well be on the lookout for other short-term projects that will allow me to blog again.

One thing I have not worked out, though, is what actually does motivate me. I have thought about this a lot. (Too much, perhaps.)

Being motivated to change something about yourself means crossing the line between feeling good about who you are and feeling a compulsion to improve yourself. To want to change, you need to either have some level of dissatisfaction with the current, or a fear of the future. If you don’t, then you won’t feel the need to change. But if you are too dissatisfied with who you are now, you run the risk of creating a low self esteem that can mean you have even less motivation to do anything. So the line between feeling good and wanting to improve is not a thin one. It is wide enough that you can stay on the line and neither feel good about yourself, or do anything about it. I think I’m currently living on that line. For a bit, perhaps, I need to stop thinking, and stop feeling shitty about who I am, and start to be at the very least happy with myself.

Regardless, though, of the mental space that I inhabit, I will still be faced with what I am now certain is an absolute truth. To lose weight I am faced with the prospect of exercising and eating well every single day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Call me – call me now.

Friday 4th September – a phone call

So I was at home on Friday afternoon and I get a call on the mobile from Andrea. She told me that she had noticed that I hadn’t been spending a great deal of time at the gym, and wanted to know if there is anything she could do to get me in there.

Before I go over what I said, I think it’s important to know what kind of a week, and in particular what kind of day, I was having.

Earlier in the week I got an anonymous comment on the blog (here) which started something of a comments discussion, which continued “offline” with some co-workers, about motivation in general, but specifically my motivations. It also put my mind, which is quite introspective about this whole gym thing anyway, into full-on introspection mode. I started second, third and fourth guessing myself and my motivations.

When I say I am motivated by “x” am I really motivated by that, or is that something I just tell myself? Or do I just want to think that it’s just  something I tell myself? When I put on the blog that I think “x” do I really think that, or am I just saying it for entertainment value? What do I really think? When I said I was considering doing a non-mandatory gym activity just because I was curious about it, was that really the reason? Is curiosity enough of a reason? Didn’t that go against everything I had said in the blog? Or did it go along with everything this blog was about? Most importantly, who am I to judge?

That kind of thing. I think I need Leonardo DiCaprio to go in there and sort some shit out for me. If you've seen Inception you should click on the pic. It's funny.

So by the end of the week I had no idea what I was doing, or why. But I knew that I felt tired. Then on Friday my son had to go under anaesthetic for a tooth extraction. I watched him go under, and it was a very very odd experience. On reflection, I think it put me in a strange mood for the rest of the day, even after he came out fine.

It was the afternoon of that operation, while I was home with him, that Andrea rang. It was quite an uncomfortable conversation on both sides up until she asked that question:

“I’m just wondering if there’s anything I can do to get you down there?” Then it suddenly became clear to me what I needed to say.

“Not really,” I said. “Because I hate it.”

As you might expect, this threw her a bit. She told me that it can be difficult, and that she understood (although I seriously doubt that she truly understands what I mean when I say I hate exercise) but wanted to make sure I am getting my money’s worth, and didn’t want to see my efforts wasted. “There’s still three weeks to go” (there are four) “and there’s a lot we can accomplish in that time” but basically she wanted to end the call quickly, and she did.

I wasn’t trying to be difficult as such. I knew that it was a “being difficult”, and somewhat smartarsey, thing to say, but it is the truth. When it all comes down to it, I really don’t like exercising. And I know, pretty much for certain now, that doing stuff at the gym is not for me. So I don’t mind telling her that.

Having said that, this week has given me is pause to think about some of the positives that have come out of this experience. I was planning to go over this at the end of the 12 weeks, in a kind of wrapup, but it might be an idea to do this sooner. Not now, but soon.

A few days after the phone call Andrea sent an email to my work group all about motivation. The advice in the email is quite sensible, and obviously applies to anyone, but I don’t think it’s too conceited to think that the catalyst for her sending it out was our phone conversation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Heart’s on fire

Monday 30th August – Monday Session Week 8 – Kettlebells and Sandbags

“There are about 60,000 thoughts that go through your head every single day.”

As soon as this guy opened his mouth I thought ‘this session is getting the "Bullshit" tag on my blog’.

“And 40,000 of those thoughts are about the past. Now, who here can control the past?” There were the usual non-commital mumbles of agreement. “Crazy isn’t it?”

This week’s session was advertised to us to be about kettlebells and sandbags. But our instructor, an ex-army Lieutenant Colonel whom I shall call LT, informed us that what he does with his sessions is actually train the mind. Because, after all, we’re the only ones who can control what happens to ourselves, and the way we do that is through the mind. And we have so many negative thoughts (40,000 is a lot!) that the we need to keep the mind in tip-top condition to fight these thoughts.

And apparently the way to do that is to move shit around.

This was weight training with a slight difference. I think the basic idea of this training, army instructor and all, was to make us feel like Rocky in Rocky IV. If you remember Rocky IV, Rocky was sent off to Soviet Russia to fight Ivan Drago. Drago, played by Dolph Lungdren, was training in a high tech facility, getting all the best science, equipment, training and performance enhancing Brigitte Nielsens that the commies had to offer. In the meantime Rocky was outside in the snow dragging around trees:

I've got to admit, that thing he does at 3:00 is pretty impressive

I think hauling sandbags and converted cannonballs around was supposed to put us in mind of a simpler time: a time before spandex, dance remixes of AC/DC and spin classes. A time when people would bake their own bread, tell each other stories and haul sandbags and converted cannonballs around.

LT told us that we should picture our mind like a news ticker which displays all our thoughts, and when a positive one comes along we should pause the ticker, grab onto it, and keep it for as long as we can before the next negative thought came along. “And they will come,” he said. I reckon he must have been on to something cos I was certainly noticing a lot of negative thoughts coming along.

The exercises themselves were arranged in various stations. We lifted things, swung things, and moved shit around. We also did pushups and step ups. Like I say, real old school stuff. He told us to start at the station we would hate the most, so that we could get it out of the way. That was a simple choice for me, and I headed straight to the pushups station. I was quite surprised there wasn’t a queue. We went around to all 8 stations with a few minutes at each (I’m honestly not sure how many, maybe two minutes, maybe three). Then we had a break where he gave us a pep talk, and we did some “fun” activity which involved dragging someone, as if they were a wounded soldier, up and down the square. Then we went back for a second, but very abbreviated cycle of the stations again (40 seconds per cycle). During the actual workout he was saying things like “push out those negative thoughts” but he also said “get angry, if that’s what helps you get the job done!” I wanted to ask him if he thought anger was negative, but decided that that in itself might be considered negative, and besides, it involved talking, which I find hard when I’m hauling shit around.

In the pep talk, LT told us that the Buddhists call the mind the “mad monkey”. (I was happy to see him pull out some pseudo eastern crap. I am surprised it’s taken this long into the 12 week program, to be honest.) In the middle of the workout he asked us who here had thought about a past event, replayed it in our minds, but played it out with a different ending. People put up their hand. He then asked, presumably rhetorically, “how crazy is that? We can’t change the past, and yet we always think about the past, and try to make it different.”

Now maybe it’s just my fancy university edumacation, but I happen to think that the past has a lot of valuable information in it. We call it learning. When we replay a past event, and fiddle with the particulars of it, we are playing a big game of “what if”. And games of “what if” feed directly into games of “next time I will”. But no, it’s the Mad Monkey in us, trying to mess with our heads, or at least fling poo at us.


Needless to say I’ve created a second bullshit tag just for LT.

Catch up

It’s only been a week since my last post, but it feels like it’s been quite a while (I was already behind on my last post, so I do have some catching up to do).

So I have a couple of posts on the go. I will stick them up over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shooting myself in the foot to spite my face

Sunday 29th August - Reflections before week 8 begins

Well we’re almost there. After tomorrow’s session there’s only be four more to go. I haven’t been re-weighed, but I suspect I haven’t changed (dodgy calibration aside). This is no surprise, as, let’s face it, I haven’t really tried.

As I said right at the start of this thing, losing weight takes two things: diet and exercise. I haven’t been dieting at all, and you can’t really call what I do exercise. It’s a weekly torture session, but it’s not exercise.

The reason for this is simply that I haven’t been able to drag myself back up there during the week. Here’s how my week works:

  • Monday: I do one horrible horrible “mandatory” class. What this does is make me tired and resentful all day. I can’t concentrate on my work, and it often hurts to move.
  • Tuesday: The stuff that I really worked the day before hurts even more.
  • Wednesday: The hurty bits have subsided to a dull, but quite noticeable ache.
  • Thursday and Friday: I’m generally OK, but have no enthusiasm for it, because of how I feel on Mondays and Tuesdays.

So after after the weekend, I’m back to where I was the previous week, and the cycle starts all over again. If I maintained a regular, but low impact, schedule of movement during the week, then it might actually have some benefit. But I don’t because I hate it so much. And I hate it so much because I don’t.

I still remember how I felt on the Sunday night after the first week. In that week I had been three times including the Monday session. All doing rather intense, trainer-led sessions. It was an all in approach that left me knackered and disenchanted with the whole thing. It also made me wary about going back. I think the next week I went once, on my own, and have hardly been up since other than the Monday sessions.

If I want this to make a difference I know I need to work harder at it. But I honestly don’t know if I want it to make a difference. I never went into this with any kind of solid goal. The challenge for me isn’t to lose weight, or even to “be healthier”. The challenge for me right now is just to finish it, and to make sure I don’t have to pay the money. It seemed like such a simple idea at the start of it all: if I did 12 weeks of gym, then I wouldn’t have to pay anything. And that’s got to be good for you right?

Turns out that no, it doesn’t. It just makes you inordinately grumpy for 12 weeks. (Well, seven so far).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

When you don’t really need it

Monday 27th August – Monday Session Week 7 – Pump/Bar class

This is the start of the second half of this hellish program. Apparently we are going to be measured again. I have no feelings about this at all, as I believe that the measuring is at best slapdash and at worst rigged.

Let me explain. When bullshit science woman stuck electrodes on us, she also weighed us. The next day, when we went up to the gym, Andrea also weighed us. The difference? 4kg. I had apparently gained 4kg in those 24 hours. She also measured us with a tape measure. The tape measure was, I must say, extremely loose.

The cynic in me explains this by saying that at the end of the program she can re-weigh us, with correctly calibrated scales, and remeasure us, with a stricter measuring regime, and lo and behold look at the difference these 12 weeks has made and did you know we have a discount on a full year membership? I’m not sure this is actually the case, but nonetheless, any measuring done holds little meaning for me. Oh and also, I know that I’ve lost absolutely no weight, and don’t need, and certainly don’t want, to be told that.

Today we did Pump class. This is where you do things while holding a barbell with a few kilos on each end. Squats, lunges, bicep curls. All manner of things, hitting all manner of muscles. Following that was some ab stuff.

The whole idea of pump is interesting. It’s taking an “old school” exercise – lifting weights – and jazzing it up to make it “fun” and new. It’s neither, of course. It’s lifting weights. While moving around. It’s actually quite dangerous in its own way. At one stage we did one where we lay on our back on a Reebok® step thingummy (see the pic here) while curling the bar towards our face. She laughingly called it the “skull crusher” but given this was somewhat towards the end, and given I have no strength or stamina, my arms were shaking uncontrollably, and I was worried I was going to drop it on my face. So I didn’t do too many of them.

Highlight of the day was, as usual for me, the music. It was your usual selection of shitty dance music. Then she said “how about some rock? Who wants to hear AC/DC?” Now, I hate AC/DC. It’s a Long Way To The Top is a fun song, and I think Bon Scott was every bit as camp and fun as Shirley Strauchan, but musically they are kinda shit. Nonetheless the idea of Highway to Hell in the middle of all this dancey crap was refreshing. Then she put on this. I assumed she couldn’t find the accadacca track, and so just skipped to the next one. But no.

(Actually I suspect this wasn't the exact one. There seems to be lots of shitty dance remixes of shitty AC/DC songs on the web. Who knew?)

It made me laugh. Out loud.

So anyway, after that she said “let’s keep up with the rock theme” and then she put on Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” which made me laugh all the more.

It meant that when my boss asked me again if I enjoyed, after I said “no of course not” (and again she was surprised, cos she finds pump fun) I had to follow it up with “but it did make me laugh”.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

…and don’t call me Shirley

Sunday 22nd August – Reflections before Week 7 begins

I am now, officially, halfway through this thing, whatever it is. What started as a reasonably well intentioned but poorly thought out “I should do something” whim, has turned into some bizarre self-testing blogging experiment. Kind of like “Supersize Me”, only where.

Nonetheless it is twelve weeks long, and we’ve done six. I entirely skipped the fifth week, and in doing so my hatred for the whole thing came back with a vengeance on week six. During my one week off I contemplated going to the gym and was moaning to someone at work (the very person whose idea his blog was, in fact) that I really didn’t want to and wasn’t even trying very hard to find excuses not to. He asked me “what about the treadmill? Why don’t you just go up and go on the treadmill, that’s not so bad is it?” I looked at him incredulously and asked “don’t you read my blog?” Likewise my brother, with whom I shared a bedroom for many years, in the comments of my previous post suggested that doing an ab workout while bound to a piece of metal was not only fun, but the best fun I could have had so far.

This blog is many things, but I wouldn’t have thought “too subtle” is one of them.

Let me be clear. The TV remote control was invented for me. For the kind of person who, when walking the two meters across the room to change channels whined “there’s got to be a better way”. If I have a choice between moving and not moving, I will take the stationary option every time. Now I’ll quite happily walk across town to go to lunch, or to go computer part shopping. I live a very pleasant 15 minute walk to my local supermarket, and I know this, because I have done it on a number of occasions. But I will usually drive to the supermarket, because it’s quicker, simpler and (have I mentioned already?) I really really hate exercise.

In the 19 posts I have made for this blog I have used the word hate or hating 23 times. I’m serious about this. I really don’t like it. And the thing about the gym is, it takes all the unpleasantness of moving about, and combines it with absolutely no immediate benefit whatsoever. There is no burger, no new video card, and no bag of groceries at the end of it. There is just sweatiness, tiredness, distractedness and irritability.

But having done five sessions I am now financially committed. As much as I hate it, I’ve done enough sessions for it to cost me significantly if I don’t go “all the way”. So here I am, going all the way.

Tomorrow we are doing a 15-20 minute ab workout followed by “bar class”. I assume the more common term “lifting weights” is a registered trademark, which is why they can’t use it. And based on advice received during the week I have already packed my bag. I am sure I will still forget something, but it should save me at least some time tomorrow morning.

Bet I still turn up late, though.


Cos I really hate it..

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hit me with your Gythmystick

Monday 16th August – Gymstick®

I quite like lasagne. But I don’t love it. I think dogs that are always happy regardless of how poorly you treat them are kind of annoying. But I don’t punt them. Teddy bears are great, but I don’t have an unhealthy attraction to one.

One point, however, on which Garfield and I completely agree, is our attitude to Mondays. Mondays are hard enough for many people. They involve getting up after two days of not having to get up, and going to work after two days of not having to go to work. On top of this, though, I add getting up an hour early to prepare for the gym.

On a normal day, getting ready for work is very much a trial and error process for me. I will put some clothes on, assess myself, and work out what needs to be done. Then I will put some more on, and see what remains. For example, something may not feel quite right, and I’ll realise I haven’t put a belt on. Or shoes. I’ll sometimes go out to the car three times before I remember my phone, wallet, keys and puffer. (It will come as no surprise that I have gone to work with my shirt inside out, and “mirror free” days are the norm for me. Getting to work and realising I left my phone, my glasses or even my laptop at home is not that unusual.)

This staged approach to dressing, however, does not work on Mondays. On Mondays I put my gym clothes on, and then have to pack my work stuff. This means I need to be together enough to know what I need to pack before I am fully awake. I need to be a really together guy. In fact, I need to be a really amazingly together guy. So it’s no co-incidence that I also need to know where my towel is.

I don’t think I have ever turned up exactly on time for a gym session.

Regardless, I got there this morning, and found I hadn’t missed anything. Today’s session was all about the Gymstick®. This is a device that is a stick, with a big elastic band on either end, that you hook over your feet. Now the Gymstick®, as anyone who wants to sell you one will tell you, can be used for any part of your exercise routine. If you are doing a warmup, you can jog around, while holding the Gymstick®. If you are doing a post exercise stretch you can use the Gymstick® to lean on. It’s really that versatile. (Of course you can do those things without the Gymstick®, but at $135 a pop, you really need to justify the purchase.)

But where it comes into its own, of course, is while actually exercising. Now for all my snark and sarcasm, I must admit that it certainly felt like a workout. In my last post I mentioned that with Gym Buddy M’s encouragement we had, on the previous Friday, concentrated our efforts on working our shoulder muscles. Needless to say my shoulders were still quite stiff this morning. Well can you guess what muscles many of the Gymstick® exercises worked? Exactly. Not very long into the routine, as we were stretching our Gymstick®s over our heads, I was shooting daggers at Gym Buddy M. I wanted to say something to him, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have heard over the sound of my shoulder muscles screaming “please, for the love of all things holy, make it stop!”.

You know that thing where something is so terrible that when you do something even only slightly less terrible that it feels like a holiday?

Well eventually we stopped doing shouldery things and started do ab things, and it was a sweet sweet relief.

At one point before the abs, though, we were doing squats, and I noticed that my left knee was quite sore. So when the instructor said “We’re going to do some lunges now. Does anyone have any knee problems?” I, of course, said “Yes.”

Many, I would guess at least half, of the people in the room laughed. Of course, I know why they laughed. It’s all about perceptions. I am “wacky Rob”. The class clown. The guy who always has a zany comment about something. So when I say “yes, actually I am in pain” then that’s obviously funny. Right? Still. It cut me deep. I, quite snappishly, said “thanks for your support, guys”. Oddly enough the lunges didn’t hurt my knee anywhere near as much as the squats did.

I should talk, at least briefly, about the music. Gymstick® is not just about a stick with wobbly bits on it. It also has a CD that the guy plays with really dramatic 80s style music. There was something that sounded like an outtake from Europe’s Final Countdown, we had Technotronic (ftg Felly) with Pump Up The Jam and, surprisingly, we had Cameo’s Word Up. Over the top of this odd assortment of tunes, though, were various beeps, buzzes and sound effects to let us know when to switch routines. The highlight, though, was the dramatic American voiced countdown at the start of each routine. It really felt like the Matterhorn at the show.

At the end of the session the instructor, to my huge surprise, informed us that if we wanted to buy a Gymstick® we could buy one off him, or come to his Gymstick® training session. I think any time someone extols the virtue of something and then offers to sell it to you, it creates an immediate conflict of interest that destroys any trust you may have had in that person as a reliable source of information. Thankfully, this guy immediately came off as someone who was selling something, so it didn’t really disappoint.

Then we went down to breakfast which was, this week, slightly different. We had muesli with our yoghurt and fruit, and instead of scrambled eggs and tomato, we had poached eggs and mushroom. It was quite nice, and breakfast remains a definite highlight of the day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Completely Mental

Friday 13th August – Self paced treadmill and nautilus

At the end of our last episode, I was feeling a bit sniffly and coughy and had decided not to go to Zumba on Monday morning. This had, as far as I can tell, three consequences.

Firstly it meant that I missed out on some sizzling latin rhythms, and some booty shaking saucier than a big-arse bucket of Shakira salsa with a side-order of Jimmy Smits guacamole.

It's lucky that Shakira's breasts are small and humble, otherwise Jimmy Smits might confuse them with mountains.Secondly it meant that I used up one of my “free passes”. This program runs for 12 weeks, and for me to get it all for free, I need to attend 10 of the 12 Monday classes. I can now only miss one more class.

Thirdly It meant that, if I kept up with my pattern of doing bugger all during the week, then there would be two whole weeks between Monday morning classes. I have been told many times that the more you do exercise, the easier it becomes, and whatever you do, don’t lose the rhythm of it, cos it’s so much harder to get back into it. For the record, most things are easier the more you do them. I expect that if you had to get up every single day and get punched in the face, then after a while you would get used to it. (You wouldn’t love it, by any means, but you would know what to expect, and your face would be ready for it.) Take a two week break, though, and that first punch on the first day back is going to sting. Note that I do not advocate getting regularly punched in the face. Nor, for that matter, do I advocate going to the gym.

So anyway, I knew that at some stage during the week, I would need to step back into that gym. I don’t know about where you live, but here in Geelong it felt like it rained all week. Which is great, given our water restrictions, but kinda shitty if you want to motivate yourself to do anything. I brought my gym stuff in on Wednesday, but didn’t do anything because it was raining. It was still there Thursday, but I had a very busy work day Thursday. Along came Friday and I found myself with no excuses. I had no lunch buddies (bastards), I had nothing else to do, and I had three people who were going up at lunchtime and being friendly and encouraging towards me so I would go with them (bastards).

At 9am I was all “we’ll see how it goes”. At 11 or so I was “OK I’ll go up”. At 12, our time to go, I went up to my gym buddies and said “I’m not doing it”

“How come?”

“Cos I hate it. Haven’t you read my blog?”

We chatted for a bit and I eventually grudgingly said I might go. Then, in the 20 or so meters between their desk and mine I piked yet again. I said “Nope, I’m not coming” and walked back to my desk. Gym Buddy M, as he shall be known, just came and stood silently at my desk until I said “OK then”, picked up my bag and walked towards the door.

The thing is, I really really really didn’t want to go. I’m not 100% sure what was going through my head all morning, but I had been thinking about it a lot, and had got myself into this weird mental state where I had thought about it so much that it became this huge thing. In the end I had to turn all that off to get myself to pick up my gear and go. (Then, of course, someone at work saw me with the gear and said “hey what are you doing?” to which I, quite seriously said “I don’t want to talk about it”. And he said “You off to the gym? I’m shocked. Good for you.” And I said “Seriously, I don’t want to talk about it.” “How come?” says he. I mean really.)

We got to the gym, and went up to the treadmill. It was much the same as before only I lasted about 5 minutes before my back hurt. In the end I did about 10 minutes (80 seconds bursts alternating between 6 and 9 kph) and was quite shagged. Then we went down to use the Nautilus machines.

Like from 20,000 leagues under the sea, you see.

Gym Buddy M had suggested that the three of us rotate on three machines which all work a similar area, in this case the shoulders. So we did. The weights were set to light, and we only did 12 or so reps (oooh, hark at me with my fancy gym talk) on each machine before swapping. It went reasonably well, and I had decided to keep going until I felt I had pushed myself, but not go too much harder. This meant that I finished before the other two, but that was OK by me and, I assume, OK by them.

To be honest, I didn’t really like working with other people. The guys were great, though. Encouraging and positive and all that, without having any of that fake veneer that trainers have. But if I am going to do “freestyle” stuff, I think I would rather do it on my own. Even though I know friends don’t really judge friends, I just feel like there’s some kind of external pressure that I don’t feel at all comfortable with when others are involved. Much the same reason I never really got into team sports as a kid.

So I showered and I went back to work. It was only afterwards that I could really reflect on how fucked up my head is over this. I’m not sure what it means. I would like to say that I felt some sense of achievement in pushing past all of that to actually get to the gym, but I don’t think I did. I only know that now I have to fight not just my natural antipathy towards exercise, but also some kind of weird psychological game that my brain has decided to start playing. Exciting times indeed.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Zumba-ya m’lord

Sunday 8th of August – Reflections before Week 5 begins

Holy crap I just saw the time. I have to be up in a few hours so we can Zumba.

I don’t think this one is even trying to be anything other than a flash in the pan DVD-selling fad, and so I’m expecting it to have laugh out loud moments. Having said that, of course, there will be Latin music and that will make it hard enough. I wonder if we’ll hear this:

I don’t really know what to expect, though. In the end it’s all jumping up and down, running around and feeling knackered. That’s pretty much all it ever is. Sometimes with props.

But there’s a spanner in the ointment, here. After last Monday’s session I felt quite tired, to the point where I went to bed rather early, and spent all of Tuesday in bed. I went to work Wednesday, but went home after only a couple of hours (it’s called “doing a Blocky” in honour of a guy in the office who did it once). I have spent the remaining days coughing a lot.

I’m still coughing right now. Last night I was pale and shaky and went to bed early as well. So not only have I not done any exercise over the week, I am still feeling somewhat crap. Which of course makes me wonder if I should go at all. In fact on reflection (that is the name of the post, after all) I may not. Which is sad in a way, cos there’s a hope that someone might be dressed like this guy (who is, I think, the now-multimillionaire behind this fad), and really, couldn’t we all do with some of this in our lives?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Balance of Power

Monday 2nd August - Monday session week 4 - Tabata

Before I get into the session itself, I just want to talk again about music. Today we had yet another trainer, who had yet another selection of music. And what do you suppose got played today? Were you thinking a punk cover of Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl?

Well this time you’d be right. This guy also played Sabotage by the Beastie Boys and a few other songs that I not only have in my music collection but that I don’t skip over when they come up on shuffle.

So that was a good start.

Today we did Tabata. I won’t say “we did Tabata again” because, after reading the wiki article and looking at what we did today I can confidently say that it was genuine Tabata, and what we did last week was something else. So this guy had the room set out in four stations, and we did 2 sets of exercise at each station, 20 seconds on 10 seconds off, for a total of 20 minutes.

As usual, after the warm up I was tired and wanted to go home and was disappointed that we hadn’t actually started yet. But start we did and it was hard. Really hard. You would think that only 20 minutes would be easy, but with no discernable break, and with us being pushed hard (e.g. no pushups on knees) it really was amazingly difficult. Once we had got exactly halfway through the routine, he told us we were halfway, and again when we had four minutes to go, he told us again that we “only” had four minutes to go. This was hard to know (because all you want to hear is that it’s over), but also good to know, as it felt like there was definite progress.

Then when it all finished, he got us to lie down in a circle, and said that we would now do a kind of Mexican wave pushup. We would all get up into the pushup position, and hold that position (on toes) as each person in turn did 1 pushup, and it would go around the circle twice. At this point I put up my hand and said “what about ‘four minutes to go’? You told us we had four minutes to go, and we have done those four minutes. You’re a liar.” He admitted that he was, and then we did the thing. Oh, did I mention he wanted us to “woo” as we did our pushup? He did. I didn’t woo at all on the first one and, because there was a danger he would make us all do it again, I wooed - albeit sarcastically - on the second.

In all it was an incredibly disappointing end to an otherwise OK session. I could have, and indeed would have, been fine with the session. It’s exercise, and I hate it, and I would rather be doing almost anything else, but it was tolerable, the music was good, and felt like it was doing good (and there wasn’t a great deal of running). But the circle jerk, the lying and the woo-ing at the end of it threw it all on its head. I ended the session angrier than the previous week, and possibly angrier than I had been yet.

It also meant that I couldn’t let go of something that I had noticed earlier. At one stage I thought the guy was wearing two watches. Then I looked a bit closer and noticed it wasn’t a watch, but it was, in fact a Power Balance Bracelet:

For those who don’t know, a power balance bracelet has a hologram that is supposedly embedded with a frequency that… no look, if I describe it I’ll probably use biased words that make it sound like bullshit and skew your impression of it. I think the best way to describe this device is to take the text directly from the website:

Power Balance is based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.

See? Not bullshit at all. So the wanker who is into the lying and the wooing (and the cool music) is also into magical holograms. I can’t say I’m surprised.

Those of you who know me will know my feelings on shows like Today Tonight, but nonetheless here is what they have to say on the matter (although I get from the intro that this is one of their “last week we told you how good something is, so here is the follow up to tell you how bad it is” stories. I suppose it’s one kind of balanced reporting.)

Now go wash your eyes out.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Sunday 1st August – Reflections before Week 4 begins

When I started this blog I had the idea that I would do a post for every day I went to the gym, and others when the mood took me. As you can see, I have not done a post since last week’s Monday morning session. This is not because I have been too busy to blog (although I have) but because I have not actually been to the gym (or done any other kind of exercise) since last Monday.

If you remember we did Tabata last week. We did a lot of leggy things, and punchy things, but I noticed the leggy things the most. My legs were wobbly from the start and got worse. I had trouble walking for the next 2 days, and on Tuesday night I checked my legs and had visible bruising on my thighs.

Visible bruising.

On Wednesday I started what would be a 3 day stay in Melbourne, and it began with me walking 1.5km to the train station in the dark and cold. I then ran around a room with a microphone for a couple of days, which wasn’t really a substitute for actual exercise, but it certainly loosened my very stiff legs. Then I stayed up reasonably late both nights and woke early, which meant that by the time I got home I was absolutely knackered, and spent the weekend reasonably sedentarily (although I did walk into Lara yesterday, which I normally don’t do).

Tomorrow, according the most depressing email in my inbox, we will be doing Tabata again. Also according to the email “this type of training is usually performed by the very fit…”. I have received some comments, both on the blog and in real life about whether this training is too intense for a noob like me. I am beginning to think perhaps it is. The email then goes on to say “…but can still cater for those of you that are less fit” by toning down the intensity of the 20 second blocks of exercise. Well that’s OK then.

“So if you are new to exercise,” the email continues, “make sure that you rest if necessary, as this type of training can bring you to a whole new level of intensity.” The thing is, though, I am in their hands. The whole idea of trainer based training is that they tell me what to do, and how much to push myself. Sure they can leave it up to me, but if it was up to me I would more than likely just walk, or hobble, out.

The email signs off by saying “Train smarter, not harder”. I do wonder if the smart thing would be to not go at all.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hakuna Tabata

Monday 26th July – Monday session Week 3 - Tabata/Boxing

Today’s trainer told us that she mixed Boxing with Tabata because “it can get a bit boring otherwise”. Needless to say at no point in the morning was I bored. We did some boxing stuff to start off, which was similar to the punchfit I have previously described. Only I noticed today that, almost straight into the running bits, my legs were starting to wobble. While I didn’t actually collapse during the session, I was definitely unstable on my feet for the whole time.

Today I came the closest yet to leaving mid session. I seriously thought about it at least three times. Just getting up and walking out. The hatred, which I normally cover with a thin veneer of cynicism and snappy remarks, was more evident than ever. I was swearing under, and over, my breath and I scowled constantly. I even said to my boss “no point even asking me today”.

The last exercise was sitting up and punching, while your partner satup and blocked with the boxing mitt things. I struggled big time, but was rescued in the end by a coughing fit that I was genuinely concerned would turn into something a tad more gastric. It didn’t but it provided an unceremonious end to a really shitty session.

Then we went down to breakfast which was identical to the last 2 (except that the yoghurt had berries, rather than passionfruit in it). Still yummy, although a kick in the balls would have been looked upon favourably in comparison to what I had just gone through. Andrea told us that you get a twitchy eye when you don’t have enough potassium, which is presumably why you don’t see a lot of monkeys with eye twitches. She has an amazing ability to tell us things which, just because of the way she says them, makes me not want to believe her. Today she told us to drink water while exercising, but gave it as much credibility as a homeopathic website (who would probably tell you the same thing, as long as that water had some essence of “fatigue” diluted in it).

Now a quick word on Tabata. According to wiki, Tabata “uses 20 seconds of ultra-intense exercise (at 170% of VO2max) followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for 4 minutes (8 cycles).” Can’t argue with the “ultra intense” bit, and I’ll take her word that it was 20 seconds. However, apparently “10 seconds of rest” means “the amount of time it takes to get from a standing position into a position on the floor” or vice versa. So it was pretty much the same as any other exercise thing we’ve done, only it didn’t stop. Oh, and it also involved squats, or squat jumps, and burpees. So it sometimes took a whole bunch of effort to use those 10 seconds of rest to get back up from a burpee into a position where I could stand with a weight held at arms length, ready to start squatting.

In my last post I said “I’ll be well shitty if all I can think is ‘Bloody hell I’m tired’.” I have not been able to walk properly all day. I have been well shitty.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A now a look at the week ahead…

Sunday 25th July – Reflections before Week 3 begins

The theme of Week 1 was “I really don’t want to do this, but I’ll do whatever everyone else is doing, so I won’t have to make a decision”. The theme of week 2 was “I’m a big boy now, and I can do this all by myself”. Needless to say I did a lot more in Week 1 than I did in Week 2. I did actually intend to go up on Friday, but forgot my gym bag (no really, I did – it’s still packed ready for tomorrow). So I had a curry with friends instead. It was yummy, there was naan, and the paper in the pappadam basket had that all too familiar “window to weight gain”. In all, I wasn’t that disappointed to have forgotten my gear.

I have been stiff all week, particularly across the chest. Not sore as such, but I can feel it when I move. When I put pressure on my arms, or if I twist my body, I can feel an ache in my shoulders, chest and those-muscles-that-go-down-the-back-of-your-arms that’s just a bit odd. An ache like I haven’t felt before. I don’t know how this will affect tomorrow’s workout, but we will see.

Tomorrow we are doing “Tabata”, with boxing. Surprisingly, I’m not looking forward to it. The boxing thing is going to hit the parts of me that are still sore, and the whole “exercising at 7am” thing is going to hit the parts of me that really don’t want to get up and exercise at 7am. The Tabata thing just seems like a great way to tire me out very quickly.

The rest of the week will probably follow more the theme of Week 2 than Week 1. After Monday, I’m working in Melbourne all week and staying there Wednesday and Thursday nights. The hotel I’m staying at doesn’t appear to have a gym, so I don’t think I’ll get much of a workout. (I could of course do situps and pushups and suchlike, but I doubt I will be up for it.)

I’m quite stressed about work this week. The thought of starting the week by putting my body through cycles of 20 seconds of intense boxing workout followed by a whole 10 seconds of rest, for an entire hour, doesn’t really help. I have thoughts that need to be thunk tomorrow, and I’ll be well shitty if all I can think is “Bloody hell I’m tired”.

So right now, at 10:47 on Sunday night, I am thinking “if ever there was a week to skip it, it could be this week.” But I probably won’t. For the whole deal to be free I need to attend 10 out of the 12 sessions. So I could skip tomorrow’s and I would still have a one session buffer. But I think it’s better to have those sessions for accidental sleep ins and illness, rather than a deliberate piking.

Here’s hoping I accidentally sleep in tomorrow, then.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Different kind of training

Friday 23rd July – Equipment overview

This morning, at what should be an unlikely - but which is becoming increasingly likely - hour of 7am, Andrea had organised a session to to show us through all of the equipment at the gym.

No one had thought to bring a notepad, as we didn’t think it would be necessary, but it soon became clear that she had a lot to say. I quickly started taking notes on my phone as she was throwing lots of numbers at us in quick succession. For example:

  • Leg Press machine: set weight to 46kg, 20 repetitions each leg
  • Leg Curl machine: set weight to minimum, 20 repetitions each leg
  • Leg Extension machine, set weight to 16kg, 15 repetitions each leg
  • Squat machine, set height to number 3, weight to minimum and do 2 sets of 20.

These were the first 4 machines she showed us. My notes stop there, because she started being less specific after that. There were, however, a lot of machines and a lot to take in. There are machines, or settings on the machines, for pretty much every kind of muscle you want to hit (although apparently the squat machine will get a lot of the leg ones at once – bonus). They also have your basic barbells and assorted weights for those who like to kick it old school.

They also have a Roman Chair, which she demonstrated to us:

This is not Andrea

She then assured us that it wasn’t as easy as it looked. We told her it didn’t look at all easy. This was, I felt, a bit of a theme of the session. The idea was that she would show us how to do stuff, and while she did indeed do that, the specific nature of the demonstration quickly waned. After the first couple of machines, she would quickly show us things, sometimes 3 or 4 different exercises on the one machine, and then move on. She made it all look easy, of course, but it also felt like she assumed we already knew what we were doing. Between that and the fact that we could hardly hear her over the dance music, I didn’t really get a lot out of it (which is a bit of a worry, as it looks like some of this stuff could kill you).

The assumption of knowledge seems to be a very important part of the gym world. It’s pretty much expected that I know what a quad or a tricep or a hamstring are, where they are, and which ones I need to work, which exercises will work them, and which ones I need to stretch after doing a particular exercise. It’s one of the intimidating things about gym that, in many ways, is a reflection of real life. We all spend so much of our time pretending that we know what we are doing, when really we are faking it, or just fumbling our way through. So often it seems that the worst thing you can do is let people know that you don’t know something.

(Interestingly, my spell checker also doesn’t know what a tricep is. Maybe it doesn’t actually exist.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What do Eric Carmen and Billy Idol have in common?

Wednesday 21st July – Self paced training

Wednesday. This is the day that the gym has its scheduled lunchtime Spin class. I knew that some people were going up, and I was asked if I was going. I said “no”.

Aside from the “hating spin” factor, my reflections on last week made me wonder if I am perhaps taking things too hard and too quickly. I am extremely out of shape, and I know that if I want to get even a bit in shape then I need to exert myself. And I am concerned that if I don’t have an overly enthusiastic person going woo at me, or at least the simultaneous suffering of my peers, then I won’t actually push myself to do anything, and it will be too easy to just stop.

But having never done this before, it’s entirely possible that three really intense trainer-driven sessions in a single week is too much. Also the Wednesday and Friday session I went to last week were open to any gym member, not just the corporate group, which means they aren’t necessarily tailored to a potentially out of shape group just starting a 12 week program.

Besides, I really do hate spin, so if there’s any class I’m going to ditch in favour of some self paced training it’s that one.

So today I decided I would try the treadmill (we haven’t yet been shown how to use the big equipment, but I figured I could probably work out the treadmill). The idea was that I would still go up with the guys doing spin, but they left before me, so you know, whatever.

The treadmills are in the same room as the spin bikes, so it was vital that I brought my music and headphones, in case Jackie got played again. I had decided earlier in the day that, with such uplifting tracks as “I hope you die” and “Magna Cum Nada” (translated as “most likely to suck”), the Bloodhound Gang would make an appropriate soundtrack (one song even has the line “Luciano Pavarotti on a treadmill, not going nowhere slim chance we will”).

My plan was to do 30 minutes. I started out at a fast walking pace (6 on the screen, I assume that’s kph) and then after a while took it up to just fast enough to need to jog (8). Then I alternated between the two every minute or two. It was work and I was sweating, so I felt I was challenging myself and not slacking off, but it was manageable. But then around 12 minutes in my back started hurting. For many many years now I have had, especially when I’ve been standing “too long”, a sharp pain in my lower back, on one side. I’ve been to a chiro, who can make it feel good until I stop going. Usually it doesn’t bother me. Today it did. At first it only really hurt while running, so I did a couple of cycles of “run til it hurts/walk til it stops” but had to cut the whole thing short at the 20 minute mark.

I can’t help but wonder what I would have done had my back not hurt. I’d like to think I would have made the half hour. But also, I can’t help wondering what I would have done had it happened while a trainer was telling me what to do. Either way I stopped before my arbitrarily set goal. I don’t think I’m disappointed, though, as I did something.

Exercising without a trainer was definitely a different experience, and was, comparatively, good. I could listen to my own music and go at my own pace, and I could still manage to push myself a bit, but not to the point where I feel, as the Bloodhound Gang say, deader than the parents on Party of Five.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Such a lonely word

Tuesday’s reflections on honesty

One conceit that I have, and I’m sure I have many, is that I usually think that I am being honest with myself, whereas I am quick to accuse others of kidding themselves. This crops up quite a bit at the gym.

I see people who are red in the face, sweating like a drug smuggler on the set of border patrol, and looking very close to death, but when asked how they are going, or what they thought of that session will immediately (or as soon as they have caught their breath) say “good, good”. I can’t help but think these people are either lying, or at the very least being dishonest with themselves.

But if, while I am gasping for air and blood bursting through my fat lined veins, you ask me how I’m going, I am likely to be honest,

and simply say “shit” or “shithouse” or “shitty” or maybe even “cocking arse”. So when trainer Phil from yesterday asked, I wasn’t really sure what purpose it was supposed to serve. Presumably it’s some form of encouragement, but I responded pretty grumpily and, in my opinion, honestly. I expect he’s used to surly fat bastards, and I’m not going to lose sleep over it. No more sleep than I’m currently losing, anyway.

Likewise when my boss at breakfast (same breakfast as last week - and just as nice – but this time with serving spoons) again asked “Did you enjoy it this time, Robbie J?” I still said no, because I didn’t. She told me she was going to ask every week. This didn’t, as some of you might expect, annoy me. I’ll actually be intrigued to see how I answer.

A few people have assured me, both today and yesterday, that once I get used to it – once it stops hurting and causing me to be constantly tired – then I will start to enjoy it. Personally I don’t think that is likely. I can easily see myself saying “hey, it’s not as bad as when it was hurting and causing me to be constantly tired, but I’d still rather play Grand Theft Auto”. What I can’t see myself saying is “let’s do that again!”

Resistance is futile

Monday 19th July – Monday session Week 2 - Resistance training

It was indeed cold (just under 5 degrees when I stepped off the train which, thanks to the marvels of VLine was 5 minutes late, and which in turn made me 5 minutes late for the session). It was also dark. This is a very depressing time of year, where many people leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark, with the only sunshine they see being through the window of their office.

Good thing for me, then, that not long after I got there we all went outside.

But not before a little bit of public humiliation. I suppose it’s to be expected when you turn up late. I remember back in the early 90s I went to the toilet in the middle of a Doug Anthony All Stars set and was incredibly impressed with the verbal abuse I received from Tim, Paul and Richard. This was not like that, but I (along with another person who turned up late) were nonetheless asked to do some exercise in the middle of the room while the trainer (different guy again… Seemed like a bit of a Phil to me) pointed and laughed and said don’t we look silly. Great way to get me on side. (A few other times throughout the session he pointed and laughed at a other people. And yet the guy wasn’t a complete prick. Other than his enjoyment at putting people on the spot, he seemed like an OK guy.)

Anyway, after that we did some stuff with resistance bands. These are big elastic bands with Resistance-bandshandles on them. They can be used for wrapping around things (feet, bars, stoic animals), and stretching with them. They are also apparently quite an effective torture device. Here’s the thing. I was sore. My body had not yet recovered from Friday’s session, and here I was hitting the exact same muscles that, when I got out of bed just an hour earlier, complained in a loud voice that this was simply not on. My tiredness and grumpiness from the night before had not waned. And now I was 5 minutes into this workout and it felt like the last 5 minutes of Friday.

Gyms go to a bit of trouble to make sure that you understand the risks involved in exercising, and if you have a heart attack well, then, suffer in your jocks. But this is one risk they don’t tell you about. They should put a warning on the door: Exercise makes you forget all the good stuff that has happened to you since you last exercised.

So having wiped my memory of my excellent (if not sore) weekend entirely, we then went for a bit of a run outside and into a multi story carpark. We did squats and lunges, the kinds of exercises you might expect, but up and down the slopes and stairs of the carpark. We also did some fast walking (it seems that “stereotypical fat man at the back of the pack” may well be a running theme over this course) and Phil was quite encouraging and understanding, if a little hi fivey.

When we got back to the gym, Andrea (whose name has changed to something a bit more anonymous since my first post) took us through some obviously made up statistics on bone density and life expectancy. I’m not sure exactly what she said, as my brain is quite good at filtering that sort of thing out. But she did say that it was important that we damage our bones so that they can get stronger. An excellent piece of advice for a bunch of amateurs, I must say.

Bottle gone

Sunday 18th July - Reflections before Week 2 begins.

It’s currently 5:40 on Sunday evening (although you won’t see this post until after I finish catchup from last week). I am still very sore from Friday’s session. I am tired. Very tired. This is no doubt due to the fact that the last 2 nights I haven’t gone to bed until 1. But both times I was awake the next morning way before 8am, feeling like I needed a rest.

I think perhaps my expectations of deep sleep were a little premature, but I did hope that after 3 fairly intense (for me at least) workout sessions in five days I would sleep like a baby. But I haven’t slept well all week. I’m tired when I go to bed, which is fine, but I’m also achy, and that can’t be good for my sleep patterns (which are easily disturbed at the best of times).

It has also been cold. Over the last couple of nights, the low has been 5 or so degrees, with a high of around 13.

So right now I am looking forward to a night of fitful sleep, followed by an early morning start, in the cold, so that I can do what? Something I have solidly established I fucking hate. Followed by a day of work.

No nice breakfast in the middle of all that is going to make me feel better about the whole thing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Spiking the Punch

Wednesday 16th July - Lunchtime Punchfit

After the shock of finding out I was about to die, I had mixed feelings about the Friday “punchfit” class, and was being less than committal about the whole thing. I had agreed to do something, and had brought my gear in, but had not actually made specific plans with anyone to do anything in particular. But I had made the decision to do something “upper body”, to give my legs a rest, so in the end three of us went up at lunchtime for a punchfit class. A full session of boxing and suchlike.

It was during this class that I confirmed my suspicion that both trainer and music make a huge difference to my attitude towards the exercise. Instead of BZ featuring Joanna we had the kinds of things that people actually buy on CD. There was U2, John Cougar and other stuff which, if it came on my car radio would probably inspire me to change channels, but which in the context of this gym had me actually thankful.

Likewise, I am beginning to get the impression that there are different kinds of trainers and I may respond well to one kind, and poorly to another. One thing that separates them for me is that there are trainers who lie, and trainers who don’t. The spin trainer (let’s give her the entirely appropriate name of Jackie) was, basically, a liar. She was telling us how great it was, she was shouting “woooo” as if it was all fun, and when she said we had 10 minutes to go she meant 15. But the final straw for me was when we had ten seconds to go: “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, it’s stuck on 2!, 2, 1”. I have seen this kind of thing on Biggest Loser, and I honestly don’t understand how these people think it is in any way motivational. To me it destroys any trust, and causes an antipathy that can’t be repaired.

But punchfit guy (he did introduce himself, but his name has been lost in the haze of muscle fatigue. Let’s call him Punchfit Pete) was not like that at all. He was acknowledging that it was hard, seemed appreciative of the effort we were putting in and his 10 seconds lasted for about 10 seconds, maybe less. Which is not to say he didn’t push us. Hard.

The exercises were incredibly full on. Punching, running, jumping, sitting up and oh so many pushups. I calculated afterward that he had asked us to do approximately 150. I was doing them on my knees at the start, and against a wall by the end of it, and I still didn’t get in as many as I was supposed to. It killed me. I was absolutely destroyed. I had difficulty taking my shirt of to have a shower afterwards as it involved putting my hand above my head and lifting it. While talking on the phone to someone that afternoon, my arm started shaking with the effort of lifting the receiver. I managed to drive home, but my hands had to be in specific places on the steering wheel. As it turned out, I would be sore all weekend.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Look at me still talking when there’s science to do.

Thursday 15th July – Cellular Health Analysis

I’m not sure if it’s part of the gym program, or something organised by work, but a naturopath (or possibly nutritionist, or perhaps both) came to the office to analyse us. After measuring my height and weight, She attached two electrodes to my right hand, and two to my right foot. Then, without me having felt anything, she removed them.

What she was doing was a Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis, which supposedly measures the conductivity of the body and, in doing so, can give you an accurate reading of your bodyfat percentage, muscle mass, cellular health, physical age and hydration levels. I say “supposedly” because it felt quite a bit like bullshit science to me. Needless to say, it told me I am a physical wreck. While my actual age is 36, my physical age is 50. I have 20kg more bodyfat than I should. I theoretically have more muscle mass than I should too, but she said that because of my enormous belly that measurement is inaccurate. My cells are dry (at the sultana, rather than the grape, end of the spectrum).

The cure? Drink more water, have fish oil, eat more protein, eat less fat. Do cardio work (like spin!) with a little bit of weights.

So basically eat well and exercise. I am truly shocked.

Coda: I asked Doctor Karl Kruszelnicki the following question over Twitter: “A woman came into our office, and gave us a Cellular Health Analysis (with electrodes). Any validity to it?” I got a response. He said, quite simply, “Nope.”

Like a record, baby

Wednesday 14th July – Lunchtime Spin Class

I have been unsure how much of this “get to use the gym for the rest of the week, for free” thing I really planned to do. Actually that’s a lie. I know exactly how much I planned to do and that is “none”. But I know that I am not going to be proactive about this at all (given I can’t motivate myself by any traditional methods), so one decision I did make was to go along with what other people suggested, within reason.

I didn’t bring my gear into work on Tuesday. I had no plans to go to the gym. Others did, and bully for them. But I did get cajoled into bringing my gear in on Wednesday. “There’s really not much point in doing it for just one session a week,” I was told. “And a free breakfast” I thought to myself, but no. So we rang up and booked ourselves in… for another spin class. If you’ve read what I’ve written so far you will know what I think of spin. But I had in some way removed any decision making on my part, so I went along with it.

Any hopes that it would be a different person taking the class were dashed when it turned out that it wasn’t. So we adjusted our bikes, jumped on, and then got told that it would be a full 45 minute session. Great. So we started. Something I discovered with the last spin class is that I have no strength in my knees. So when she said “stand up” I tried, I really did. But I couldn’t keep it up for very long.

It’s very very hard to continue to do something that a) you don’t want to and b) you aren’t very good at. The only way to get a sense of achievement is to set yourself arbitrary goals, because you’re not good enough to achieve the goals set for you. Once I knew I couldn’t do the things she was asking, I set myself the arbitrary goal of not stopping. So I didn’t get when she said, and although I fiddled with the resistance knob, I didn’t do it as much as she said to. I didn’t stop pedalling, but I sat in my seat for pretty much the whole time. Until, that is, about 15 minutes before the end. You see I hadn’t really set my seat up very well and by then my balls ached. A lot. So my nuts and my knees were constantly begging for relief, and so I was up and down like a dunny door.

Oh, and guess which song got played? Go on. Were you thinking a punk cover of Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello”?

Well you were wrong. It was Jack Jack frigging Jackie. I’m pretty sure there are more than 4 shitty dance songs in the world, but this woman obviously has little routines timed to the “verses” and “choruses” of this “song”.

So it finished, and for some reason we actually talked to her, even though I now know for sure that I won’t be going back for spin. She was very nice, and encouraging and all that, but will take more than a few nice words to get me back on those castration machines.

Again the stairs, again the jelly legs. “Next time,” I said to myself, “give the legs a rest. Do something concentrating on the upper body.”

Time for something positive

Monday 12th July – Breakfast

After the gym session we all headed down, as one sweaty mass, to the cafe which is in the same building as the gym. Thankfully there was an escalator. I have seen this picture before and have, as everyone else has, laughed at the stupid Americans. It’s easy to do.

But having been to the gym, and turned my legs into two quivering blobs, I now understand that there is a safety issue at play here. I can make no case for the up escalator, but I would suggest that people’s lives would depend on that down one.

Anyway, I digress.

I was intrigued by the idea of the gym organising breakfast. I wasn’t sure what to expect. We sat down and Andrea said “OK, so now you’re going to learn how to eat.” I made some joke about “I think I know how to eat, ho ho ho” and then felt like a tool as soon as saying it. She then gave us a book, which I briefly looked at. (Enough to see a well oiled muscly man with a shiny “soul glo” kind of perm. Presumably one day I could look like him, if I eat well, exercise and use a Flux Capacitor to go back to 1985.) Andrea then talked a bit of pseudo-science about lean muscle mass and suchlike that I didn’t really take in.

An important part of any diet program is to pooh-pooh all other diet programs. These days, though, people have cottoned on to that, so now it’s important to assure people that what you are about to embark on is not a diet (because we all know diets don’t work, see?). Some programs will use words like “lifestyle change” and others, like this one, won’t classify it at all. So we need to reduce fat and pasta, and increase protein. But it’s not a diet. Cos in diets you stop eating those fatty foods you like, and those evil carbs, and you eat more meat. See how this is completely different from a diet?

Anyway, first thing to come out was some big bowls of yoghurt, plonked in the middle of the table. Then came a big plate of fresh fruit.

Put fruit and yoghurt in bowl, eat.

Now I don’t mind yoghurt, and I don’t mind fruit. Putting them together is also good. I actually enjoyed this breakfast (400 words in before we get to the positivity promised in the title, sorry about that folks). Of course fruit and yoghurt would never be enough for me, but hey this is a diet after all. Or a lifestyle change. Or whatever. Sacrifices would be made (at least on the days where I was being given free food).

But then, after that (and after seconds of that which, given they didn’t provide serving spoons for either the yoghurt or the fruit, was basically an exercise in discreet double dipping) came out more food. Namely cooked tomatoes (enough for 1 each), toast (buckets of it) and scrambled eggs (even bigger buckets).

It was, I must say, awesome. I really enjoyed eating it. I could easily eat this every day, assuming someone else was taking the time to prepare it. (After all, if we’re talking about a lifestyle change why not include a few wait staff and kitchen hands?). I don’t know how much the breakfast, and the talking that we get while at breakfast, will change my perception of food, or of gymming in general - and I am also not sure if brekky will be this great every time - but I am happy to turn up each week for it to find out.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Monday Session Week 1

Monday 12th July: Intro – punchfit – spin

One thing that I didn’t make exactly clear in my previous posts: this is the first time I have ever been to a gym. Ever. Sometime in the early 90s I went into a gym, with a mind to join, but then they started asking difficult questions like “What do you want to improve?” and “How heavy are you?” and “Do you have a heart condition?” I didn’t know if I had a heart condition, and I wasn’t keen to use the gym as a diagnostic tool, so I never signed up and never went back.

So all weekend I have been stressing, really stressing, about doing this. Last week we got given a sheet of questions which was very difficult to fill out. (Have I had any trouble breathing in the last 12 months? Well yes, actually. I have asthma - is that going to be a problem? Oh I see. This is a form, not a dialogue. OK I’ll just worry about it in my head.) I’ve done fitness training before (work has previously hired a personal trainer who came into the office and got us to do stuff) but there’s something about going into a gym. It’s like crossing a line. There are people who’ve had sex, and people who haven’t, and you’re pretty much one or the other. You’ve either killed someone or you haven’t. You’ve either been to a gym or you haven’t. I was about to take a one way trip.

So I turn up, about 1 minute late, and everyone’s there. There are around 15 people from work doing it, and I expect some of them are surprised I have arrived. The trainer (let's call her Andrea) reminds us how important water is, and also tells us that they have this powder stuff, called ENDURO, that you should really put in your water, especially given we haven’t had breakfast. I, of course, have forgotten to bring water, so I borrow a water bottle from the gym, and put this powder into it. And that’s it for the intro: then we’re into it. She splits the group into 2 halves, one to do a boxing thing, and the other to do “spin”. We will switch halfway through the hour.

I start with the boxing. We pick gloves, pads and a partner. Then she takes us outside. By this time it’s about 7:15 on a Geelong mid-winter morning and it’s very cold. Why, I wondered, do they pay for real-estate, when they do things outside? Anyway, boxing is pretty straight forward. You punch into the pads, and then you swap the pads over, and then stand there while the guy with the gloves punches you. Except this isn’t boxing, it’s “punchfit”. So you punch, and then you jump and then you punch and then duck. It’s gets very tiring very quickly.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned how much I hate this.

And then she says “OK let’s run around this bit here, twice.” No one had mentioned running. It’s maybe a 20 metre circuit. We punch we run. I’m not sure how many laps we did, but it may have been 3. However, I’m losing it. I drop behind the others, I cut corners. I become the stereotypical fat man at the back of the pack. But then it’s over: our time is up. I’m actually feeling reasonably positive about all this, that wasn’t so bad. I go grab a drink (it tasted foul with the powder in it, and leaves a sticky residue on the inside of my mouth) and we head upstairs (stairs!) for the spin class.

For those that don’t know, spin is fancy modern talk for exercise bikes. I had been told that spin is great cos you can go your own pace and it’s a really good workout. I think people define  “great” and “really good” differently to how I do. So we pick a bike and a different woman, whose name I don’t know, takes us on a guided tour through hell.

This class had absolutely everything I had been dreading about coming to the gym. I didn’t realise that I had so much hatred to confirm until I sat on that bike for 20 minutes. Everything was artificial. The colours and the lights, the trainer, the enthusiasm, the godawful crap they made me put in the water (which meant that, no matter how thirsty I was I couldn’t take another drink) and oh my giddy aunt, the music. I love music, and I love almost all forms of music. It’s a very powerful force. It can reinforce a good mood, or help change a bad one. I even like a little bit of dance music. But music can also invoke feelings of rage. Especially if you’re a fat man on an exercise bike being enthused at by a woman with a fake tan. This is only one of the songs that was played, but it was stuck in my head for the rest of the day. I hated it when it came out, and I hate it now:

I notice it only goes for 3:59. I wonder if the trainer had a remix, or if she just managed to cram that much loathsomeness into 4 minutes. Regardless the song was in every way the perfect soundtrack for the session.

It finished and I thought “right, I’ve done that. I’m never doing spin again. It’s cut.” I am actually hoping that there are 12 distinct exercises each week that I can cut, so that by the end of the 12 weeks I will have cut everything. If they have less than 12 different exercises, I could be in trouble.

I almost fell down the stairs. My legs were shaking. “OH&S!” I thought. Of course I didn’t say it, because I couldn’t talk.

As we headed to the cafĂ© my boss, whose idea this whole thing was, said “See, that was a bit of fun, wasn’t it?”. I managed to squeeze out a very incredulous “No, no it wasn’t” and she seemed genuinely surprised. I think she thought that once I did it, I would see that it was something I could enjoy. Maybe deep down I thought that too. It’s not.


Using hatred as a motivator

I hate physical exercise. Genuinely hate it. I know hate is a strong word. But it’s not strong enough for my feelings towards exercise.

So why, I hear you cry, are you doing this? To be honest, I don’t know. Obviously I want to be healthy, and I really don’t think I am at all.

But why now?

The only way to lose weight is to eat healthily and to exercise. This is not a new revelation, and regardless of the fad, if you boil any weight loss program down to its bare essentials, this is what it means. For someone like me, who is quite large, and quite unfit, this means I need to do both of these things to an extreme level. I realised a little while ago that what this means is that for me to get healthy I need to do something that I hate.

Every day.

I am reminded of this scene from Office Space:

Other people thrive on exercise. They love it. A friend from work recently injured himself and the worst part about it, for him, was that he couldn’t go for his regular run. He was getting antsy. He needed to get out there and run. To him it was like chocolate, and to take it away was stressing him to the point where he was having difficulty concentrating. I look at people like this and, when I’m feeling particularly negative, I think “either there is something wrong with them, or something wrong with me.” Other times, of course, I accept that there are differences in people, but that’s not as fun.

So I know it is possible to like exercise. And so perhaps the answer is to change my mindset and enjoy it. Perhaps. But I really don’t think that’s possible. It’s called a mindset because it is just that: set. (Note: that I have no idea if that’s the “set” that is used, and according to QI, “set” is the word with the most definitions in the dictionary). So if I can’t change my attitude, then I am back to the Office Space mentality of hating every single one of my days. Which is not a good way to live.

Having said that, I have found a curious enjoyment in the negativity I have displayed towards this whole process. I signed up for this program almost casually. I thought and thought about it a lot, and then one day cleared my mind and just signed up. So I have resigned myself to the full 12 weeks, and I am dreading every one, but having done it, I find I am taking some kind of pleasure in actually testing how much I really do hate it. And I actually think my genuine and heartfelt hatred of it is, in some way, motivating me more than any artificial positive attitude could do.

The downside of this is that my negativity is never internal. I am talking to friends at work (some of whom are also participating and who are no doubt motivating themselves in much more traditional and positive ways) and being, basically, a real prick about it all. So today, one colleague suggested that I blog to get my negativity into a space and also to provide an extra layer of motivation. If I get nothing else out of an exercise session I will at least get something to write about.

So here it is. A blog of loathsome motivation.