To boxercise or to jog, that is the question. After a couple of months of forced inactivity, I’m back to pursuing some sort of mid-life, peripatetic aspirational fitness programme. Not for me the triathlons and ironmen of Quiggin. We can’t all be uber-achievers in every aspect of life. But for some reason – probably a recent move away from the beaches of Bournemouth into the centre of London – jogging palls. At least I think it does. I haven’t broken into a trot since early June, except to chase buses. And anyway, I increasingly feel the need to de-compact my lower back and do some activity that recognises I also have upper limbs. So I’m trying out new things.
First off, reformer pilates. The one with the table or platform on a little dolly and ropes or bands to pull on. It’s basically just posh resistance training. I first heard of it in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. The man has a genius for spotting the little sub-cultural phenomena of today that act out his famous maxim of the future being here already, just unevenly distributed. Cayce Pollard’s natural habitat is a culturally rarefied world that’s so bleeding edge, she is a cool-hunter (remember when that was a thing?) who is far to cool to ever use that term. Anyway, she gets to London horribly jet-lagged – I think it was this book when Gibson said jetlag is the feeling of lack you have while waiting for your soul to catch up after a long piece of airplane travel – and does this weird exercise I couldn’t even visualise, involving a table and pulleys and a kind of deep, highly specialised procedural knowledge that beautifully illustrated her character. So I did a class of this on Wednesday, at the less than half price introductory offer of eleven pounds and fifty pence.
It was … ok. Very good at provoking sweat. Satisfyingly exacting at isolating a defined set of muscles. Highly effective at stimulating an all-body tremor of muscular protest. And utterly joyless. First exercise class I’ve ever gone to where no one cracked a grin the whole way through. And the changing room was even more morose. So, reformer pilates; po-faced, probably quite effective, horribly expensive, and with a whiff of cultishness. I think I’ll stick with old-fashioned mat pilates which is both cheaper and more likely to elicit a muffled giggle if someone farts. (Not that I did.)
Tomorrow, I’m doing a free session of power plate. This is basically resistance training on a vibrating surface, which makes the muscles work harder. I’m a bit dubious about it seems faddish and likely to bring on a migraine, but hey, anything once.
Another option is, somehow, to finally learn how to do a proper front crawl. I wonder if you can really learn this as an adult? I’ve been trying for about fifteen years and every one-on-one instructor I tried basically said ‘yes, keep doing that till it gets easier and you inhale less water’, and I keep doing it, but in the same substantially crap way. I think swimming would be a great exercise if I could do something other than breast-stroke, which grinds my lower back and provokes red speedo men into elaborately rude strategies of passive and not so passive aggression.
Boxercise. I tried this at a boot camp a couple of years ago and it is the only exercise that makes me smile, just to think about it. As a de-stressor, it’s just so literal. It’s also vaguely transgressive in gender terms and really great for the upper body. So I’m going to try and find out if there are cheap classes nearby.
Zumba. I get a little rash when I think about the whole corporate side of this, but mostly I failed at it because I went alone. One of my sisters says the only way to crack it is to go with a similarly klutzy friend who you can laugh with to ease through the embarrassment of being unable, essentially, to dance.
Spinning. This one makes me not grin but half-smile, in the sense of it being the class everyone wants to have done but no one wants to do. Or, as an old lecturer told me when I requested a reading list for a class I couldn’t take – having already graduated – reading lists you don’t have to and therefore won’t actually read are truly the best kind. You get a lovely dopamine wash of newness and potential, and a glimpse of the person you would be if you were to read all the books, but you don’t have to open a single one. I quite like the cheesy music of spin classes, though I always bring ear plugs as the volume is often unhealthily high. The beauty is that no one can tell how hard you make the bike’s resistance, so you can whoop and sprint with everyone else, even if you’ve only been three times in your life.
Tracey Anderson. Tracey Anderson butt and thighs. Tracey Anderson abs. And, oh lord, Tracey Anderson arms. All on Youtube, all free. The woman who trains Gwyneth and Madonna doesn’t need to reel in every tuppence ha’penny off punters like me. One of my sisters got me into this a couple of weeks ago. We sweated dutifully to Apple TV while a nephew who’d been required to move his lego from the carpet dismally counted each contortion to thirty. My dad was said he was impressed at our flexibility, which was a gentlemanly thing to say as he had only come in to get a dose of the best exercise of all, Sky Sports, and found our sweaty business ends pointing his way. I couldn’t sneeze or breath deeply for a couple of days after a thirteen minute session, yet also felt like a million dollars. Maybe the low-level euphoria Tracey Anderson triggered was just my muscles gratefully reminding me they exist, but this one is the winner for now. And free. Did I mention it’s free?