Thursday, 12 September 2013

joined a gym (Week 1)

I am not one of these.
In fact, I have never even really used a gym, let alone joined one, hence this is a pretty large Never for me to tackle. The last time I did regular exercise it was 90 minutes per day of dance workout as part of a drama course. I hated every minute, and although at the end of the month I could do lots of press-ups, I have never before or since had the desire to do press-ups at all, let alone multiple ones. 

Therefore those who know me, even in passing, may be forgiven for scrunching their brows and wondering aloud (as one in fact did on Facebook when I announced my intentions) what I have done with the real Katy Darby.

However, after July spent mostly on holiday and an August spent mostly watching telly, reading, and hunched over the computer, I felt far too much like one of the misanthropic shut-ins of whom the neighbours will eventually say to a reporter live at the scene of carnage that they “seemed ordinary enough” and “kept themselves to themselves”.

In addition to this, my customary terrible posture while typing on the sofa led to various alarming aches and twinges which would no doubt have been par for the course in a 70-year-old, but made me think I should probably challenge myself physically a bit more. Walking up and down stairs a few times a day is clearly not enough.

So, never one to take less than drastic measures, I joined my local gym. And when I say local, I mean I can literally see it from my window. Despite this, it’s shameful but entirely true that I hadn’t set foot in it since moving to Peckham in 2010. But on Monday, 2 September, all that changed.

The first thing you must know about Peckham Pulse HealthyLiving Centre is that it’s a council gym run by a private company (Fusion) which means that some bits are great and some are shit. The first two times I tried to join I had to wait 20 minutes to be seen – the first time because one of the receptionist was late, and the second because a giant queue had formed for no special reason. So the service and organisation of the place are less than impressive, but once you’re in, it improves dramatically.

The cost, however, is not cheap: £480 for the year or £48 a month by direct debit, minimum two months. Plus a “joining fee” of £34.76, meaning that for the first month’s membership I had to pay over £80 upfront. (£82.76 to be precise).

Very good discounts are available for the usual suspects: OAPs, jobseekers, disabled people and people on benefits but alas no concessions for those on low incomes or teens – kids have cheaper tickets but there’s no such thing as a child membership only, or a parent and child membership, only Family for 2 adults and 2 kids. Anyway, not my problem I suppose, apart from the surprising expensiveness of it all. You'd think the government could spend less on telling us to eat well and exercise more if they actually subsidised council gyms, but whaddoIknow?

With monthly membership, however, comes certain privileges: free access to pretty much everything (including all classes, and all Fusion centres – as if I could be arsed to go to Elephant to do Pilates), plus at the moment a free week’s pass for a friend (which they still haven’t given me) a personal training plan (ditto) and lots of other vague promises they have yet to deliver on because, I quote the receptionist “they haven’t briefed us on this yet”. Don’t worry, I'll hunt the bonuses down and drag 'em out screaming.

To get my money’s worth and make significant savings on the upfront price of swimming, classes, gym use etc. I calculated that I would need to go pretty much every day for the first month and three or four times a week thereafter. Luckily I have nothing much better to do until term starts again in October and can easily take an hour a day out of my writing, reading and TV time to cross the square to the gym. And so it began.

Total cost so far: £82.76
Number of visits: 10
Total cost per visit: £8.27

Day One: (Monday) Swimming 7/10
As I hadn’t been inducted into the gym yet, pretty much all I could do was swim. Peckahm Pulse actually has a really nice 25m pool, with a glass ceiling and a vista of trees through the window. I stayed in for an hour and did 50 lengths which is just over a kilometre.

Day Two: (Tuesday) Gymming 7/10
Induction with instructor Claire: she showed me the many, many expensive hi-tech machines in the gym part of the centre (this is where your membership pounds go, folks) but I decided to concentrate on the crosstrainer, the walking machine and the cycles. I did about 20 minutes walking, 10 min crosstrainer and the rest was on the exercise bike – maybe about 15-20k in all? That was mostly bike, obviously. You can set the machines to record calories burned or time spent instead of distance, but whatever. There are two TVs in front of the machines which are permanently tuned to ITV2 and 3, with subtitles. I managed to watch an old episode of Minder all the way through. Yay me!

Day Three: (Weds) Aqua Fit 5/10
The first group exercise class I go to is a water aerobics class which consists of 17 grannies, two other people under 40, and me. Start slow, I reckon. The instructor turns up l0 minutes late, fiddles with the speaker for a further 8 minutes, and we finally get going around 11.20. It’s not very challenging, unsurprisingly, but it’s quite fun. This is also where I learn that even at swimming classes, you have to bring your paper ticket along so they know who’s come and how many of you there are. It’s so adorably 20th century. I was also meant to do Soca (Caribbean dancercise thing) in the evening but they put the wrong time on my ticket so I turned up an hour early and had to go by the time it started.

Day Four: (Thu) Pilates 6/10 and Boxercise 8/10
This is pretty good, and only seven or eight people in the class, except that I am the only total beginner and need special treatment. It’s reasonably tiring but not sweaty or knackering. Boxercise on the other hand was the most fun I’ve had in the gym so far. It’s basically aerobics with boxing moves, which gets you sweaty and panting but doesn’t make you want to die after 10 minutes (or indeed 60).

Day Five: (Fri) Hatha (Flow) Yoga (5/10)
I booked this on a whim because I thought Total Stretch class sounded too hard, but little did I realise that this was a 90 minute class, which meant the class felt so long I started to wonder whether yoga actually had the power to distort time. I always take off my watch and turn off my phone so was late out to meet my sister for Zumba, which we were then told was cancelled. We went for a swim instead. Note to self: don’t wear swimming costume and a little skirt as yoga clothes, or the poor guy behind you will end up with an eyeful of your arse during every Downward Dog.

Day Six (Sat) Indoor Cycle, aka Spinning
This was HARD, though I didn’t make it easier for myself by
a)      Turning up in the wrong shoes so I had to do it barefoot
b)      Accidentally picking a cycle set to racing position, with seat super high and handlebars waaaaay forward so that my arse hurt, literally, like buggery all through the class and for two days after. 


Day Seven (Sun) Total Stretch
Like God, I’d planned to rest on the seventh day, but then I thought Total Stretch couldn’t possibly be that bad, and if it was, I’d wimp out and leave halfway through. Turned out it was totally fine, with some imaginative use of equipment like those giant bouncy ball things and karate belts used as sort of stirrups to stretch your hamstrings. Teacher very nice, too.

Gymsperiment Week One Verdict: Not bad, pretty doable

Do I feel better, worse or the same? Morally and motivationally better, physically about the same. I expect the fitness benefits take a while to kick in, but I haven’t had any bad experiences so far. Apart from the timebending yoga.

Is it worth the money? At average £8.27 per visit, not yet – it’s cost about the same as it would have had I just paid on the door each time … but it can only go down from here.

Best thing? Boxercise and horizontal cycling while watching Minder.

Worst thing? Timebending yoga, the queues, non-functional coffee & water machines in the lobby.

What next? I have yet to try Combat Aerobics, Aqua Zumba, Zumba and Soca. Watch this space …

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