I have started deflating. Or at least my body has. Not that I was ever a teenage centrefold or anything. In fact, I had the dubious honour of a free fifteen minute training session a few months ago, because, as the trainer so astutely pointed out before offering his charity, I had been going to gym every week day for nearly two years and was exactly the same size.
My arms were no bigger, and therefore I must have been doing something wrong. I didn’t mind his pity; I had made peace with that plateaux ages ago. It’s all about how you brand your look, after all. If you can’t get your biceps any bigger, you’re going for “athletic” rather than “muscled”. There’s a MeetMarket box to check for that, I think.
Recently I noticed that even my moderate and humble definition was disappearing. I was starting to develop what one of my best friends terms the ‘toothpaste tube torso’- and something would have to be done about that.
The first item on the agenda, of course, was to bitch about work.
Work has been encroaching, ever so stealthily, into my evenings and exercise time. What started off as one late night a week eventually became the norm. Leaving at 5, or even 5:30, feels like a half day now. And I certainly wasn’t going to be one to go gently into that good night.
I pontificated and ranted to anyone who would listen about the evils of the Capitalist Machine, how it strips us of free time to the point that it starts to compromise our health. I was being barred from staying fit by our stylised knowledge economy in just the same way as generations of industrial revolution workers had coughed themselves to death in grimy factories.
“Staying fit isn’t about convenience. Staying fit is about fury and angst and the burning ambition to prove yourself…”
And what was worse, people presented the solution to me as if it were no compromise at all, as if it didn’t limit my ability to drink: stop whining, and go in the morning. Being forced to make the transition to early morning gymming didn’t last more than a week or so. Even now, months after trying to make the switch, I’m stubborn and Aries enough to refuse to admit defeat. But who am I kidding? I set my alarm for 6am every morning in the full knowledge that I won’t get out of bed until 7:30.
And to compound matters, my efforts to find smaller chunks of time for quick bursts of exercise by switching to a gym much closer to where I live also backfired. Instead of going more often, I never felt like it. And when I did go, I got bored and tired and left after 20 minutes.
So I decided to make a nostalgic trip back to my previous gym, to say goodbye to a forgotten life of health and glory, in the way that sad old men hang out at university bars to remember the good times.
And it was then that the penny dropped. Staying fit isn’t about convenience. Staying fit is about fury and angst and the burning ambition to prove yourself (and some Rihanna on the ipod, obviously).
The reason I had lost the energy it takes to maintain magnificently ‘athletic’ arms was precisely because I had switched to a gym closer to home: I had switched to a gym in which I knew no one. And not just no one, but no exes. It was a gym in which I felt perfectly happy, confident, and didn’t care what people thought of me. My therapist would be thrilled, no doubt. But it’s no recipe for being buff.
I ran further and lifted more in that nostalgic session than I have in all the sessions at the closer gym combined. I couldn’t believe the energy reserves I found, awash in a torrent of insecurity, anger and endorphins. Proving that you’re okay, and happy, and on top of it all, is what motivates people to make the time for gym. All it takes is a wave and a smile from an ex. Or a friend of theirs. Or even just the knowledge that they could be there will suffice. It’s a flexible system.
And so the answer to living a healthy life seems to be, paradoxically, driving out of your way, across town, in peak hour traffic for a chance to be in the same room as people who broke your heart. I just wonder why trainers who can see you struggling with a dumbbell never think to tell you that.