“Gymmiversary,” you’re thinking, “is the worst possible neologism, Derek, and I’m disappointed in you.”
It’s okay, I have an excuse for my execrable lack of creativity. Two, in fact. One: I work in, or adjacent to, the press. I have an NUJ card and everything (it’s good for free drinks and pay negotiation which, considering my current salary, tells you a lot about how much worse things would be without unions. JOIN A UNION). Two: All of my energy is now spent on lifting lumps of painted metal while grunting.
Admittedly in the year preceding my foray into being a representative of the gym-membership-owning classes I already had weights in my house (and still do) for the purpose of clogging up the bathroom every morning with my heartfelt struggles with dumbbells, but since January 8th 2017 I expanded my repertoire to include things like “failing to complete the NHS Couch to 5K programme” (I got to about week six, lost count, got a dodgy knee owing to the complete absence of knee cushioning on one side, thank you 2006-self and your belief that you could do a paratrooper landing on paving slabs, minus the parachute; also lost most of the skin off the back of my foot, a condition I am currently imitating thanks to NYE, borrowed brogues, and champagne. And champagne’s insistence that I can definitely get my knees up to my nipples while skanking. But I digress; oh, how I digress).
I think the purpose of January is probably introspection, reflection, good intentions, repetentitive digestion (so many ascetic dietary changes that don’t last the month), and a purge of all things connected with the previous year. A spring clean for the body and mind; and souls, if you believe in them, which I personally don’t. Leaving more time for things like “what the fuck are you doing with your life” and “why can’t I see my own knees over my stomach”.
Structure is a panacea in a complicated life, or the four or five complicated lives I suspect everyone feels like they’re actually living. Finding the right structure for me has been A Challenge which is still ongoing; no sane person goes to the gym 7 days a week but to begin with I did attempt that. Since – with one blip for a hideous cold – I’ve settled into a happy routine of four days a week, although the year has seen varying tinkering with how long I need to be there (hint: not the TWO TO THREE HOURS I got stuck into for a while), what I need to be doing while I’m there (hint: dear autumn self having a panicked eating disorder relapse after some unexpected weighing-in at a doctor, you don’t need to do 1000kcal+ workouts. You definitely don’t need to try to burn off your entire day’s calorie allowance in the gym. That’s crazy person behaviour), and which exercises were going to make my knee feel like it was falling off.
I’ve been bullied by my own muscles into accepting that stretching, yoga, and foam rollering are not optional but compulsory if I want to be able to move at all the next day; I’ve undergone the mandatory metamorphosis in thinking of breakfast as a huge macronutrient-heavy hit required to fuel whatever’s happening in the gym instead of a skippable nuisance occurring sometime before an abstemious lunch (something the generation which birthed mine is still struggling with: lunch is a meal, not a collection of depressed snacks served at a table, you dysfunctional hippies) and the translation from “cake is bad” to “cake is a really effective way of being able to deadlift 120kg”. I’ve successfully acquired blisters on: my heels, my palms, my armpits, my thighs, my arsecrack, and other areas even less suitable for mention in a publicly-readable blog. My gym kit smells like death pretty much constantly. I know every single song on the gym’s playlist and there’s a massive overlap with G-A-Y Late; I know what all the regulars look like and which equipment they’re not going to put back and which of them is an obvious lunatic and which one is definitely going to be in prison again soon.
I’ve also signed up for multiple “protein filth companies” (terminology © the people I live with, one of whom is allergic to the entire concept of the gym and the other of whom signed up at the same time as me and goes about once a month a most) and have acquired a worryingly encyclopaedic knowledge of which vegetables have more protein in them than carbohydrates.
For a while I was convinced this was having no effect, as one often is when things are difficult. Then I ran to catch a bus and didn’t die. Then I started marching up the large hill by my house without really noticing it was there. Then, in December, I went for a 19-mile walk purely to see if I could (I can: I regretted it immensely because it was extremely cold and that many hours alone with your thoughts is Not Healthy). I’ve watched in the mirror as my silhouette changes and changes and considered the possibility that my inconsistency, oft-lamented by so many caretakers in the dawning of my life, might actually a blessing after all: the proper term is “chameleonic” when someone changes drastically and frequently.
Aside from all that, time spent grunting around with lumps of metal (and semi-clad sweaty men, let’s not forget) is a refreshing break from being barked at by the news, time when I can’t berate myself for not working on projects, time when my mind is free to concentrate on other things, like how intensely much my shoulders hurt and good grief that man’s biceps are the size of my head.
It’s slow going so far. I’ve only been doing it for a year, and my additional interventions have been few. I don’t – can’t – run much with a buggered knee. I’ve never been a particularly strong swimmer and since exchanging fat for muscle I don’t even float very effectively. My bike’s hidden behind clothes in my wardrobe thanks to some Altercations with the people who own our building regarding whether or not a bike standing out of the way in public storage space constitutes a fire hazard. And I can’t afford as many dance classes as I want to take, or club nights as I feel are my right as an ageing homosexual with no dependents and a flexible work schedule.
But still. I can lift much heavier things than I could before, and less of me wobbles, and I can touch my toes, although with the state of my trainers, I cannot really imagine why I’d want to.
Onwards to Year Two of the Gym.