I like cigarettes, I like beer, and I like fried chicken. My job is almost entirely sedentary and I have, as you will read later, a ‘weak core’. I’ve never had a problem with any of this, and have always viewed more active pursuits – and those who indulge in them – with a mixture of disdain and trepidation.
But something has happened to me in the last couple of years. Something perhaps inevitable, given the above: the paunch. Affecting not to care about your figure is one thing when you’re a snake-hipped badass. But when you’re above fighting weight and have recently crossed the threshold of a new decade, suffice to say Something Has to be Done.
In the interests of science, I decided to humiliate myself in four different ways: going for a run, a session with a personal trainer, yoga and a group boxfit class.
But before I tell you about each one, a confession. I had a lot of fun doing these things. Yes, I was in a lot of pain, but I might be starting to understand why people like being active – the effect on one’s mood cannot be understated.
And despite my complete lack of fitness, co-ordination or dignity, I was not once offered anything but warm, friendly, encouragement. So, if you feel at all intimidated by sporty people, you needn’t be.
Going for a run
On returning from an eight-day sojourn to the States, I resolve to begin my odyssey with a jog in the park. Three laps around the outside of London Fields, home in time for tea – no problem.
Well, not until it starts to rain torrentially. Then my iPod decides it doesn’t want to play ball. Starting at Pub on the Park, I’m out of breath by the time I reach Broadway Market, holding a faulty electrical device, thoroughly soaked and well on the way to a case of trench foot.
But it becomes an oddly liberating experience. The shortness of breath one becomes accustomed to, and eventually just concentrating on rhythmically throwing one leg in front of the other becomes rather satisfying. The sense of achievement on reaching the end, the burst of energy you get as you know you’re approaching it…it’s all rather joyous actually, as running essentially is (do it with your hands in the air if you’re not convinced). The rain? Well, it was refreshing, okay? Just get some shoes without holes.
An assessment with a personal trainer
Why did I agree to go to an introductory session with a personal trainer the day after my company Christmas party? As I unglue my eyelids, and cough up cigarette butts, I wonder what levels of self-loathing would drive a man to this.
This was the thing I was dreading most, envisaging a terrifying beef carcass raining blows on me while I wept over the mess I’d made of my life. I was robbed of that narrative arc by a softly-spoken gentleman by the name of Sapan Seghal, founder of London Fields Fitness, who explains his philosophy of making fitness available to everyone (his gym offers low-cost classes too).
He takes me through the process of personalisation, explaining how much of it is down to nutrition (80 per cent!), before making me reveal my shameful lifestyle and asking me about my goals. I almost feel like I should be reclining in an analyst’s couch, but then comes the assessment.
Skip, he says; run over there; more skipping; step on and off this bench; crunches; now press ups! Repeat! Bench squats! Nothing in isolation is so bad but combined it is pretty punishing (at one point I wonder if I should tell him how close I am to vomiting). Yep, Sapan, agrees, my core strength is an issue.
But again, it’s strange: I feel good! I feel like I want to do more of this (not today) and indeed, one of the central principles of the work they do here is giving you ‘homework’. I tell Sapan how good I feel, reflecting, “I must be a masochist.” “I can tell,” he responds, “from the way you run”.
London Fields Fitness Studio
379 Mentmore Terrace, E8 3PH
Sunday morning yoga
I confess, I have always been a sceptic, but when my editor says: “Maybe try something a bit more relaxed, like yoga,” I think why not? On a Sunday morning it’ll make a nice chilled-out start to the official day of rest.
Something more relaxed indeed! In fairness, perhaps I didn’t explain to the instructor, the most excellent (and patient) Naomi at Yoga on the Lane that I am a total novice, but it seems I have landed myself in an advanced class.
And advanced it very much is! It’s a majority female class, and these women are rock solid – the moves they pull off without flinching something to behold. I, by comparison, am trembling and panting for breath, trying to support my body weight on one puny arm.
I feel a little bit like a nuisance in here, but Naomi takes good care of me, putting me in ‘child pose’ when the going gets tough (I love child pose). It is quite the workout, and I can feel that weak core being put to the test, as well as my sense of balance, and am dripping with sweat by the end.
At the end, we get to do a little lie down…and it’s amazing! Maybe it’s because I’ve just taken such a beating, but I really do feel at peace, lulled off by the gentle sounds of Sunday morning.
Yoga on the Lane
105 Shacklewell Lane, E8 2EB
Punching strangers at a boxfit class
When I find out that boxfit is punching and occasionally ducking out of the way of punching and not just a boxing-themed aerobics class, I get The Fear (the seeds of which were sown by being around people pumping iron – though énergie does pride itself on not being a ‘big scary gym’).
Boxfit goes like this. We’re put into twos; I get paired with Michelle, a fellow first timer, whose kickboxing warmup is enough for me to realise quite how badly she’d deck me in a real fight (take a friend if punching strangers doesn’t appeal).
Jonathan, the instructor, demonstrates with one of the more experienced hands an increasingly complex series of moves with which one of you, holding pads, challenges the be-gloved puncher.
I’m instantly distressed by how much I’m enjoying punching. As the routines get more complex, and you get more accustomed to it, you even start to imagine you’re in an actual bout (a pretty big leap, but a boy can dream).
Jonathan gives us friendly advice, saying, not in so many words, that if you keep doing that, you’re going to get pulverised. I find myself caring and really wanting to take on the advice.
This is a covertly intense workout – you don’t really realise while you’re punching/being punched, but you are working almost every part of your body (the next-day aches are in unexpected places).
I’m actually tempted to particularly recommend this to my non-punchy brothers and sisters – you may well learn something about yourself…
3 Reading Lane, E8 1GQ