I was asked recently about how exercise is coming along. It went south over October and November, although I kept the PureGym membership and occasionally went to make heavy things move.

Over the past three months, I've improved. One of my co-workers is a personal trainer and martial artist, and with his help I've started kickboxing after a fifteen year hiatus - and I seem to have kept most of my earlier flexibility. It's utterly punishing stuff, with incredible emphasis on conditioning and cardiovascular work. By the end, I'm uncoordinated, tired and weak - and in pushing on, in spite of the dizziness and drenching in sweat I'm learning to enjoy it once more. It's weirdly rewarding. I keep walking out feeling like a million bucks; like I'm accomplishing something.

In early February, I hired my co-worker as personal trainer (at a considerably less expensive rate than I got from the gym) for an hour a week. In these sessions, I've been pushed for more conditioning, and learning how to handle kettlebells correctly. They're excellent for combining resistance training with gasping-for-breath cardio work. I seem to be blessed with buttocks of old mutton and iron. My lower back isn't thanking me, but it's the good kind of tired muscle pain, which is easily resolved with a good stretch. Not to be confused with the "AAAAARGHCANTGETOUTOFBED!" pain that requires Vicodin. I've gotten myself two steel kettlebells from left-over birthday money, do a short circuit every morning and I'm already looking for heavier ones.

In a moment of madness and their £29/month promotion, I've joined Edinburgh Leisure - mostly because I like Leith Victoria's swimming pool - and it's easy to sneak in a swim most days after work. Again, I've kept most of my skill from fifteen years ago, even if I don't have the puff to do much more than the occasional front crawl sprint.

Speaking of puff, in spite of several attempts (most of which annoy the shit out of my Twitter followers), the delicious fags remain. There is no excuse. I've been supplanting them with electronic cigarettes, the kind that make my mouth smell like a packet of blackcurrant Tunes. All hail helping me breathe less easily.

I pulled out the old pull-up bar from the closet (probably bought years ago on a dare), and combined it with a Pilates resistance band tied to the frame and using the band on my foot as assistance. This way, I'm training myself to handle the load, and I'll decrease the assistance from the band. Using a stool to assist in pull-ups requires me to split focus from the pull-up movement itself, whereas the bands are passive assistance.

So. Nothing much has changed. I'm still unfit; every session remains a challenge, but the real difficulties in keeping the routine remain. How do you all keep yourself motivated?
I often cycle to work. The bicycle is one of our greatest transport inventions, transferring up to 98% of the energy from the rider to the wheels, this means I don't really need to put a very large amount of effort into it, and coasting - stop pedalling and letting momentum take you forward - is common. It's not really making me that much fitter, but quick for getting me from one side of Edinburgh to the other in an hour (which is about the time I'd take on the bus). It also makes me strangely happy. I turn up raring to go.

Anyway, I've been a lardy guy for the better part of 20 years, and I'm getting sick of it. The only people I know AFK who have successfully changed from being fat to slim have either exercised hard or had surgery to make it so they can only eat a few mouthfuls of food. Good food is a great pleasure, and should not be sacrificed. My mum has lost a lot of weight in the past two years, through eating a lot less, but she looks weak - losing both good muscle as well as fat. As it happens, I work with a guy who moonlights as a martial arts and personal trainer, and after picking his brains over a few "water-cooler" moments, he suggested hiring a personal trainer to go over my lifestyle and training regimen. Around the same time I got a raise, and decided I could afford it. It's also the first time I've ever face-to-face hired someone to do me a personal service.

So, after asking at my local gym I got a trainer. He's a rugby player, and looks it, built like a friendly brick shithouse. As it turns out, it was entirely (if initially) painless - a couple of questionnaires and a conversation about goals. Taking "I want to be healthy, fit and strong" - and breaking it down into "running 2 miles without an oxygen tank", "being able to do unassisted pull-ups" and "losing fat, without losing muscle". I despise the word "tone" as a verb - it's a marketing droid's word that disguises the very real effort required to get in shape. Instead of saying "tone" from now on, say "making heavy things move and yourself for good measure". It's hard work, and using soft words to disguise it is foolish. </rant>

On to the first session - a basic program of calisthenics and simple equipment exercises. The trainer devised a program that avoids resistance machines, largely because the body does not work in the simple way that these machines force you to work. Hooray for science! I regretted it, but almost certainly won't over time as I get better. Going through the programme, it was an interesting if downright weird experience - relearning how to do this stuff properly, and feeling the body work as a functional unit. I have so many annoying habits, and physical tics to undo.

Lesson #1 - Getting it right is more important than throwing weight around. So, it turns out I had to relearn how to do a squat: bend at the hips, keeping knees in line with toes, driving through the ground with your heels, and keeping the back straight. Keeping that stuff in your head, and feeling it work - it was strangely satisfying.

It's worth saying out loud that a knowledgeable, encouraging and correcting-where-necessary human being is an enormous help.

Towards the end, the programme required gritted teeth, involuntarily shaking. and a small monsoon of hard-won sweat. But... I *can* do this. In the changing room afterwards, pulling off a sopping-wet t-shirt with some difficulty, and feeling the soft, sweet endorphin rush amid deep, rich oxygen refilling my body; it felt like an accomplishment - a badge of pride.

Now to do it again...

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April 2014

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