It had to happen at some point. I’ve told most people now about my plan to get Fit At Forty and now, having put it out there, I’ve got to actually do something about it.
There have been many months between me and exercise. It hasn’t been intentional (well, it sort of has but I don’t want the gym to take it personally) but now I’m at the point where it needs to be tackled and this is where it begins.
If you’re anything like me then you know that it’s essential (i.e.: not at all essential really but a way to put off getting started) to get all the kit before you even attempt your new hobby. If it doesn’t work out then at least you can point to the set of clothes/equipment that signified that you tried. Besides, it’s an unwritten rule of the gym that you dress for your tribe. There are the regular gym-goers who rock their leggings and vest-tops (not ALL men), wearing them like a uniform and feeling totally at home in them. If you’re a willowy young lady in possession of a waist, you tie your hair in a high knot and slink around the gym in lycra leggings and a crop top, looking fabulous. Other people, like me, admire their beauty and insouciance whilst shambling around the exercise bikes like some kind of terrible warning or memento mori (as you are now, so once was I).
In my youth I used to swan around the gym in a purple all-in-one so shiny it was almost neon, with a white ‘matching’ g-string. Mr Motivator would have recognised my style and nodded in admiration. I would look at the older ladies in leggings and knackered old t-shirts and wonder why they didn’t just try a different outfit, after all there were more shiny white g-strings hanging up for sale in reception? Now I’m much more sympathetic to – and keen on – the protection of a baggy t-shirt.
Not having entered the gym for some time – and not sure where my all-in-one had gone – I took inspiration from various online fitness shops, never really stopping to wonder why certain items had been so heavily discounted. Duly, a couple of parcels arrived through the post and I opened them with a kind of feverish glee. Only to discover that leggings that I had fondly imagined to be ‘directional’ – sort of a black fractal pattern over an ombre blue background – made my legs look like a nightmare forest. Still, it was time for my first Body Pump class and I had to drag them on and get going.
Body Pump is a stupid name for a good class. One of the best things about the evolution of women’s exercise over the last 20+ years has been the expansion in the types of class available. Whereas weights were once only for a frighteningly grunty corner of the gym that smelt of sweat barely masked by Lynx Africa, now the ladies are allowed to lift them too – yay for us! Body Pump is pretty much just lifting weights – on a bar or singly – to loud music. And you can grunt along too if you feel so moved.
The gym I go to has a darkened studio with disco lights so you could almost feel that this is somewhere fun to be. It’s certainly much kinder than the fluorescent strip-lit classes of my youth where every bulge and jiggle was highlighted. I immediately headed for what could euphemistically be called ‘Beginners Corner’, i.e.: furthest away from the door, furthest away from the mirror and furthest away from the instructor.
Feeling fairly optimistic about my chances of getting to the end of the class without having to look in the mirrors, suddenly the woman in front of me shifted her station to one side to make room for a friend – and there I was, in my full glory. Pink and blue lights strobing over my haunted leggings.
Horrified, I took full stock of what two babies, no sleep for five years and vats of wine had done to me. ‘Had done to me’, you notice: I’m not claiming any responsibility for my own actions. Luckily, I noticed there was a join in the mirror nearby so I stepped a few centimetres to my left and immediately shrank in half, thereby saving my own blushes and the sight of my fellow gym-goers.
It’s at this point that I have to own up to having big boobs. It’s not something you can easily hide; in fact I hardly have to ‘own up’ to it at all as it’s fairly obvious. Sometimes other women can be a bit envious of them and I can see how our culture could make you think like you’re missing out. But bear in mind that I once knelt down to feed my toddler and my boobs hit my knees, catapulting me backwards by several feet and nearly performing a mid-air flip. At their largest, I googled my bra size to see if I could find any inspiration from ladies in a similar predicament. I found out that Jordan, the glamour model, had decided hers were too much to cope with at that size and had had them reduced. That’s right, Jordan had found them a bit too much. Also, another lady had had a car accident which she’d survived because her breasts had acted like airbags and saved her from injury. Great. Very inspiring.
I also read that there had been a study done in 2007 by the Portsmouth University Research Group into Breast Health that measured the amount of movement boobs do whilst women are walking ‘briskly’. THEY MOVE BY 9CM, LADIES!! If you’re young that’s mainly up and down. If you’re slightly older, it can be more and, if they’re bigger, that increases by up to 16cm – in a figure of 8. And they move independently! No wonder they can be mesmerising, it’s like they’re semi-sentient beings living their own little lives on the front of your body. Moreover, when you introduce exercise, they move more: 21cm! Your boobs travel almost as much as you do on a short jog. So spare a thought for those of us ‘blessed’ with more than a handful. We’re not trying to stop the traffic on purpose, it’s just a really crap side effect of getting fit.
I have a couple of robo-bras that do their best (heavy-chested sisters, hit me up for the details) but it’s a bit like trying to restrain two lively piglets racing about in a field, frankly. So instructions like “Keep the weight bar as close to your chest as possible whilst snatching and lifting” mean almost certain bruising and inadvertently adding extra weight to the bar. Still, it’s better than Zumba where outlying parts of me have barely finished rotating one way before they need to go back in the other direction. A-rhythmically.
I’m also quite tall. This is a physical attribute of which I’ve always been quite proud. I can reach high shelves in supermarkets and am quite pleased at being able to look eye to eye with most men. However, it can also encourage people to think that I am stronger than I really am. Most of the time I’m happy to trade on that assumption but sometimes it catches me out. Certainly the gym instructor thought that I could manage more than the tiny little sliver of metal on each end of the bar and came over to load me up.
“You can take more than that! Try 5kg instead of 1!”
No! No, I can’t take it. My body creaking with the pressure of trying to please the instructor, the groans complementing the general creepy air of my outfit, I grinned/grimaced and hoisted up the 10kg into the air. It had to come back down sometime and it wouldn’t be going back up again, my arms told me. Still, foolish pride mixed with innate stubbornness meant that there was no way I’d be asking the instructor to take the weights back off and, against the laws of gravity, I managed to repeat the movement.
“Now, time for squats!”
45 minutes later and I could feel the aches and pains blooming. I could only imagine how incapacitated I would be the day after. Sure enough, I seized up like a rusty car door and staggered my way in and out of the school playground to pick up the kids. No, I haven’t injured my back. No, I’ve not sprained something important. I’ve just ‘done some exercise’. And I’m going to have to do it again to get better at it if I’m going to be all lithe and gazelle-like by this time next year.
Watch this space…
…And if anyone has any spare Voltarol, can you let me know?