Monday, 8 March 2010

The puzzling appeal of air-conditioned, digitally monitored training sessions

I am the first person to admit to being an exercise freak. I am one of those nutters who enjoys getting up at ridiculous o clock to go swimming before work, or who will shoot out for a cycle ride even when temperatures are wallowing below zero. However, whenever my gym-aficionado, protein-shake-drinking boyfriend suggests I join him at his gym, I struggle to find any motivation.

My aversion to the one he frequented last summer was understandable - it was called Winners, had life-size cut outs of Arnold Schwarzenegger plastered on the windowless walls and was dominated by oversized brutes grunting as they pumped iron. I was more optimistic when I recently visited his replacement, Esporta Health & Leisure Club, featuring big windows (albeit overlooking the car par) and a pool complete with Jacuzzi and sauna.

Kitted out in a borrowed, oversized tracksuit, I was mindful to approach with an open mind. However, after shifting restlessly between different machines, I found myself on the conditioning mats doing exercises that could be performed just as well on the comfort of my bedroom floor. After a few half-hearted, poorly performed stomach crunches, paranoid that those working on balance balls with hand weights would be criticising my technique and somewhat put off by the pot-bellied man in the spandex all-in-one (I’m not joking), I plodded off to bother the boyfriend in the weights section.

This body building workshop was slightly removed from the general gym. Filled with ominous- looking, clunky machinery and walls of mirrors, which revealed every angle of my unshapely tracksuit, it was filled with the jaw-clenched and testosterone-fuelled. Needless to say, poignantly out of place, I bid a hasty retreat to the sauna.

I can cycle happily for an hour in the fresh air getting splattered with mud and battered by the elements, but on a stationary bike in an air-conditioned room surrounded by others in intense training… that’s a different sort of willpower.

What most put me off was, ironically, the emphasis on exercise: the hypnotic red digits charting the number of calories burned with painstaking slowness and timing your workout with lengthy, prolonged seconds, the huffs, puffs and grunts of the others around you and the rhythmical pounding of treadmills in action…

It may be that one day, after one too many sodden, cold cycle rides or an icy, cold spell that lasts too long, I am converted to the comfort of carefully controlled, measured, indoor exercise. However, for now, I certainly sympathise with those who would rather savour an extra hour in bed or stay warm on the sofa than haul themselves to the gym. In fact, I’m in awe of those dedicated gym-goers who actually enjoy a daily workout.

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