Before I joined the gym, I thought I was reasonably fit. Turns out, this was an extremely incorrect assumption. I had not been exercising and been making a lot of excuses. I hadn’t run for a few months because it was “too cold,” “I was injured” or I “had too much on” but the fact was, I was bored. I had been running the same route for three years, I had done it backwards, forwards, done my own version of interval training, which meant if I saw someone coming, I ran, until they were gone, then I walked again. It was just getting all too familiar, dull and I needed a change of scenery.
When I suggested the possibility of selling the house and moving to a new location, to have a new place to run, this didn’t go down too well. In fact, I think that was the end of the discussion. I needed to think of some other ideas. I had a few weeks of meeting friends near water and good coffee shops and taking a walk around the bay. That was okay, but because of everyone’s availability, not regular enough. I realised I might need to join a gym. At least that way I had no excuse when it rained, when it was too cold or too hot and I could mix it up a bit with the classes and equipment.
I decided to become a member of the local female only gym, as I had joined this gym years ago, plus it removed the pervy factor. I had been a member of the Pitt St Fernwood gym in all its jade green 80s glory, free gel and mouse in the bathrooms and large workout studio. I used to go a few times a week after work, stick my leg in one of the stretchy rubber band things tied to a weights machine and move my leg back and forth, while catching up on gossip with a girlfriend. We sometimes did a pump class with light weights and more often than not, evened out any calories lost by winding up in a small cafe eating antipasto and drinking the house red.
There have been some big changes since 1997. For one, the gym had a makeover, out with the jade Formica fittings and in with the hot pink branding and streamlined font. I was introduced to the concept of Virtual classes (if you can’t be motivated to turn the TV/DVD on at home you can get in the car, drive to the gym and on turn their TV/DVD) in this studio, one lonely lady sat on a fixed bike watching the big screen. I don’t think virtual is for me. I was shown the members lounge, fitness magazines and the coffee machine. The change rooms, still with the free products, I noticed hairspray, cotton buds and some cheery pink tampons in a jar. Also new were the mini TV monitors on all of the exercise machines. Like I said, I had not stepped into a gym since last century.
My perky, size 0 triple marathon runner in training showed me the machines, where to press which buttons, how to change the weights up or down and adjust the seats forward and back. She showed me how to position and strap my feet into the stationary bike, what my posture should look like and how to plug my headphones into the TV. I plugged these in and listened to Karl and Lisa banter about the wild winds in Sydney. I raised my eyebrows. “ HOW DO YOU FEEL?” squealed my gym instructor, all wide eyes and teeth. “ Lazy, ” was my reply. If someone handed me a bowl of Doritos or some caramel covered popcorn I could settle in for the afternoon.
She had filled out my program to include some light arm weights, leg weights as well as cardio and some leany stretches on some ropes as well as lunges and crunches. I was excused from heavy weights or the overhead pull things. She recommended I do 5 – 10 minutes on the runner machine but I had seen so many YouTube videos of catastrophic falls, so I decided to start slowly and work my way up to running. Like in a year.
“You might find you like the classes better.” She said taking me off to show me where to file my fitness program and to look at the class schedule. I took a copy home and highlighted the ones I liked, steering clear of Virtual classes and anything with the word High Impact.
I knew, I had to just knock over my first class and the nerves of being somewhere new. I hate new, unless they come in a pair, and are expensive heels. I hate being the new girl, not knowing where to put my stuff, or what to do or expect. Thankfully, my boxing instructor was the same lady who had inducted me and I was paired up with a helpful partner around the same age. I felt comfortable, but still slightly afraid. Our instructor was like a blonde Duracell bunny with rock hard abs encased in pink Lycra. Anyone who can run 42.2 kilometres, back up and do it the next year and the next must be part cyborg. I knew it was not going to be an easy class.
We ran, we punched, we squatted, we kicked, we lunged, we did uppercuts, jabs and hooks. We counted, lost count, laughed and one lady had to sit down on the stairs because she thought she was going to vomit. I told her to make room for me.
My punching partner told me not to give 100% on my first go. I didn’t quite follow. How can you not punch hard, or slack off in the run, or not do as many squats as everyone else when we were all together? I realised what she meant a few days later, when it was too late. When the class was over, they all stayed for some kind of TTT class ( Thighs, Tummy, Tail) I scooted off as I had to get ready for a Saturday morning client.
My husband asked me how I went. I turned around to show him my back sweat. I barely break into a sweat unless it is really hot. “Oooh,” he said impressed. “Well done!” I started to pour the milk into my coffee but my hands were shaking. The milk wobbled from side to side as I tried to stabilise all 2 kilos of it with my pathetic useless right hand. Within an hour, my forearms were tight and painful and even the muscles between my fingers were aching. When I was taking my client’s details, it was hard for me even to grip the pen.
By Sunday, getting up from a seated position and sitting down again were agony. I made grunting noises like an old man and thought about hiring a walking frame just to lean into, to help me up. Gradually this passed.
The following week I did a few gentle gym sessions using the equipment. I learned the back story of the Barcelona terrorist attackers while looking out over traffic, heading in and out of the fabric shop, infant swimming lessons and the Pole dancing studio. I tried new things, I watched what everyone else did, I towelled down my seat after use, put my drink bottle beside me at the rower, returned my locker key to its hook and I started to settle in. The next Saturday I decided I was ready for the double header, boxing followed by TTT.
It started out hard and I felt weaker than the first time, but I managed to get through the second boxing class, a run around the block ( a lady after my own heart squawked “Shit – too much traffic to walk, we better run.”) I managed my way through a few push ups which collapsed into laughing belly flops because of the shoulder. Then it was time for TTT.
There was no easing in, she started with 100 squats. Sometimes I do ten squats thinking I’m quite impressive, before I get a bit puffed. There were no low numbers in this class, everything was 80 this, 70 that, 90 lunges. Weird jumping things, a lot of them. Maybe burpies? Torturous and timed wall squats, leg raises, ab crunches, there were a few moments where I had hallucinations of me running to the car and leaving, these thoughts were halted by the fact that I knew I couldn’t run. I kept looking at the time willing the big hand to move to the 12. Make it stop! She then told us to lie down on the mat for ankle taps, whatever they are, I went into corpse pose. What ankles? They were too far down my body. I collapsed, exhausted, spent, depleted.
It’s Monday, I’m considering going back for a gentle session on the machines. I’m also thinking about a second breakfast, a cup of tea and scrolling through my emails. Right now, it is a chore to go to the loo and I have to ease my way to a seated position by holding onto the window sill. Last night at 3 am my daughter called out to me “Mummy – I can’t sleep,” and I lay there willing myself to roll over but not able to engage any muscles into action. I forgot you need your stomach muscles to roll. Mine were traumatised and on strike. I had to call back “Darling, I’m lying down and I can’t get up, come in and wake up Daddy.” Unless we could rig up some kind of crank and pulley system, I was immobile. I dozed back to sleep, dreaming of treadmill spills and push-up face-plants.
I will get there, just one foot in front of the other, I remind myself. There are so many situations in life, that are hard the first time, it’s just a matter of getting your bearings and finding your own way. Anything new is hard, joining a gym, going for a walk or run around the block, walking into a room full of strangers, travelling solo, leaving a job, quitting an unhealthy habit, or leaving a toxic relationship. It is so worth taking the risk and stepping into the new rather than staying trapped in the familiar.
If you need guidance, or assistance in finding your place, starting something new, stepping out of your comfort zone, holistic counselling can be life changing. I will listen without judgement, if I can, I will try to hold a pen to take notes, but mostly I will be with you to help plan the start of your trip, as someone who has been there and taken some pretty scary steps, negotiated change and come out the other side still breathing, I can be a guide. The question for you to answer is “Are you ready?”