‘ My gym’s walls are decorated with equipment you’ll last have seen in Jamie Dornan’s Red Room of Pain’
It’s not that I mean to keep having short- term, meaningless, blink- and- you’ll- miss- it flings. I’d actually like to be able to hold down a grown- up, long- term relationship. But I can never seem to commit. Every time I find myself eyeing up a new gym membership form, I think to myself, ‘ This is it. This time will be different. This is the one.’ Take last January. Gym no. 5. I joined it, and wrote a column about all the other Januarys in which I’d joined a gym, gone once, and never been back. Having publicly outed myself as serial one- workout- stand merchant, I figured the shame would force me to make a go of it.
Unfortunately, I’m not that easily shamed. I went once, had a bit of a fumble with the rowing machine, a quick wham- bam on the treadmill, left and never went back. I’m not even sure why. There was just no chemistry.
But the months passed. Summer rolled around, and I found myself fantasizing again about the other me. The me who glugs protein shakes instead of Pinot Noir and has ‘ glutes’ instead of a backside like a dried tangerine. The me who really is capable of maintaining a long term relationship with a gym.
It was a Facebook ad that did it. “Complete beginners’, it said. ‘ Any fitness level’, it promised.
When I spoke the words aloud, two friends volunteered to join me. I was suspicious that they did not meet the criteria, given that they are both very fit looking, as well as impossibly beautiful and disgustingly high achieving. “It said COMPLETE beginner?” I said. They blinked innocently.
The gym isn’t an ordinary gym. It is a Crossfit studio. I’ve been told the first rule of Crossfit is that you have to talk about Crossfit, so here goes: There are no fluffy towels, no miniature TV screens, and no messers. The walls are decorated with an array of equipment you’ll last have seen in Jamie Dornan’s Red Room of Pain. When I got there, I remembered why I don’t like gyms.
I walk in the door and I can literally smell the humiliation oozing out my pores – the legacy of all those cold afternoons left standing on pitches until there was no left to pick.
The gymnastics class I did when I was eight, when I thought I was Nadia Comaneci, until I noticed the other girls in convulsions of laughter at my approximation of a forward roll. ( My lifetime habit of going once, and never going back, can be traced back to under- 9s gymnastics.)
The afternoons in PE class when I could not make my body do the things everyone else’s body seemed to do effortlessly. The school sports days when I felt humiliated before I even got out of bed. At the induction class one of my ‘ complete beginner’ buddies revealed that she has been working out twice a week with a private trainer since last year. The other regularly swims 3km “for fun.” The traitors. I was hopelessly outclassed from the start. “There’s something going on there,” the instructor – a pocket- sized Lara Croft – said, as she quizzically sized up my attempt at a squat, while all around me my classmates lunged and stretched like the pro- swimmers and lifting machines it turns out they are. “I’m not sure what’s going on with that squat, but we’ll get to the bottom of it.” The clue to how Crossfit works, it turns out, is in the title – it will make you fit, but it will make you cross in the process. It will make you cross because it is gut- churningly hard. It makes you do things you didn’t know you could. It uses muscles that probably your own doctor didn’t know you had. It hurts like a hot day in hell. No, it’s worse than that. It hurts like childbirth. It turns out this is a good thing. You’re so busy throwing things and lifting things and dragging things and swinging on things and jumping on things, while simultaneously trying to squeeze your glutes and push out your hips and not vomit -- and occasionally mouthing ‘ never call me again’ across the room at the traitorous, but now gratifyingly red- faced and sweaty pro- swimmer and gym bunny -- that you forget to worry about the fact that you’ve got as much natural grace and agility as a three- toed sloth. When an hour has passed, and you’re panting and in pain and ready to go home, but quite unable to traverse the distance of the carpark, something odd happens. You can feel it. A lifting of your mood. You and the pro swimmer and the gym bunny limp to your cars. You’re all smiling. There it is – the fabled dopamine rush. It lasts a few hours, before the actual pain sets in. The earlier pain was only the starter pain. “You won’t want to come on Thursday,” Lara Croft says. “You’ll be in bits. You’d better come.” You don’t sleep for two days. You can barely move. The three steps from the kitchen to the hall are Mount Kilimanjaro. When Thursday rolls around and your phone pings with the reminder, something even odder happens. You find yourself reaching for your runners. It’s four weeks in. We’re taking it slowly. We might just have a future this time.