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January 17, 2009

Abba's Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) is as pleasurable a three-minute slice of pop as you'll find this side of 1970. Fact.

But I'll never hear it in quite the same way again after today attending my first indoor cycling class at Fitness First under the enthusiastic tutelage of Linda Bailey. I first encountered Linda, who is based in Avoch on the Black Isle, for a story I was doing about the withdrawal of funding from an active referral scheme. In a nutshell, the scheme allowed doctors and other health professionals to refer individuals for specially tailored fitness programmes. Linda is a personal trainer, plus, it would seem, a whole lot more.

It is widely accepted that an appropriate burst of exercise - whether that be gentle walking, tennis or marathon running - makes people feel better. That it can also help prevent a scary range of illnesses from heart disease to cancer should make it a no-brainer part of our everyday lives. For many of us, though, it isn't. Fact.

That funding was pulled from the active referral scheme at a time when the "more active, more often" message is (rightly) being promoted in our schools makes no sense at all. Go figure. Linda, though, is a determined lady and has continued with a number of clients on a pro bono basis.

Personally, I've always believed that personal trainers should be the sort of people you feel confident would kick your ass in a fight. They should also be motivators (naturally) and also ready to stand up to any nonsense. Linda, it would seem from my initial measuring up session, appears to tick all the boxes.

No-nonsense? She wasn't taking any of my nonsense about being unable to consume two litres of water a day for a start. Do I put oil in my car? (Honest answer: no...but I knew where she was going with this). Do I value myself more than my car? (Are you kidding? A boring Renault Megane 'familymobile' that keeps breaking down? No contest: it's me, me, me!) Do I put oil (or its equivalent, water) in myself? If tea and coffee counted, the answer would be yes. Tragically, they don't. Don't you just hate it when you know the other person is right?

When you start an exercise programme, you outline your goals. Mine involve being able to wear 34-inch waist Levi 501 jeans currently languishing in my wardrobe. Oh, and I'd like to be able to go swimming with my children without having to use the old folded arms routine to cover up my man boobs. Feeling fitter would, of course, be a bonus.

After being run through a few tests - lung function and grip strength being two new ones on me - it was time to see how flexible I was. This part I was not looking forward to. It basically involved lying on my back, bending my legs and sitting up straight. My hamstrings screamed at me to stop. And I managed to push a piece of paper a truly pathetic 6cm forward.  

Let's just say there's room for improvement. Linda, nobly, said very little. She didn't need to. I knew instantly she'd found one of my biggest weaknesses.On paper, I have the hamstrings flexibility of someone in the 50-59 age group. I'm 42. That's not good. Turns out I really should be doing all those stretching exercises I've been ignoring for the past 20 years. Who'd have guessed?

Anyway, back to Abba. To show willing, I agreed to try out Linda's indoor cycling beginners' class. Indoor cycling is better known as Spinning in fitness circles. But what it gets called depends on how the instructor has been trained; and by whom. It involves an exercise routine based on a stationary bike and music. In this case, Abba. Good start!

And it's great!

You're sitting there thinking 'This is a piece of cake!' In your mind, you look like this. In reality you are, gradually, sweating like a pig and getting out of breath. If you're doing it properly, your legs start to hurt. But in a perversely pleasurable sort of a way. Exercise as fun: who'd have thought it?

You do, however, start to think of familiar songs in a very different way when your calf muscles are on fire...

Project 501 has lift-off. Destination: ten per cent less body fat within five months. Just in time for the sun coming out. Sounds good to me.


My little monster

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