SURELY IT shouldn’t be this hard? I am trying to balance on one leg and hinge down to touch the floor. No, not on a tightrope, not on a narrow gymnastics beam — on a perfectly level, solid floor. I am wobbling all over the place and fearful I will fall flat on my face. I really can’t do it. (I am Queen of Negative Thinking — “can’t” is probably my favourite word.)
“Engage your core,” my brand new personal trainer Ismael instructs. But clearly he’s used to having a core that is happy to be engaged; mine is shrugging and saying, “Who — me?”
Over the last six months, I have managed to lose just over a stone. That’s for those of you watching in black and white. Younger readers might prefer to know that I’ve lost 6.8 kilos. Or, to make it more tangible, it’s as if I’d been schlepping round four supermarket bags of potatoes (plus a couple of hefty spuds for baking) the whole time and have finally put them down, wondering why on earth I didn’t do that before. Given that I have zero willpower and a lifelong addiction to sugar, I am actually astonished that I have managed it.
Still another half a stone to go. But there’s another problem — this new, less chubski (not a real Yiddish word, but it should be, it should be!) me is very floppy. I’m a muscle-free zone. So that is how I find myself at a gym (remembering now why I have shunned gyms for so many years — noisy, dirty, sweaty, full of annoying slim, fit people), with Ismael at my side telling me what to do.
He brings me a long metal bar to lift: first, holding it with thumbs touching in the centre, up to my chin, elbows out wide. Then I have to change my grip and do a clean lift, elbows locked, above my head. My shoulders are burning and I’m exhausted after only three lifts. I keep telling him it’s way too heavy.
“It’s only about four or five kilograms,” he insists.
“Are you sure?”
“Well, maybe seven at the most.” “What are these funny screw bits at each end?”
“That’s how you secure the weights.”
Weights? Yes, I am struggling to lift a completely empty barbell. Out of the corner of my eye, I spy a man hefting a loaded barbell up from a squatting position. He is lifting 40kg. On the other side, there’s a middle-aged frummer on a running machine, his tsitsis flying out merrily at the sides. Everyone is fitter than I am.
At my initial assessment, Ismael asked me if there was anything particular I’d like to try, and I men- Zelda gets physical
“I think I have quite a lot of aggression — and at the moment my only outlet is shouting at my teenage son.”
By Week Two, I am the proud owner of a very snazzy pair of red and black boxing gloves and coordinating liners (to provide extra cushioning). Ismael holds up protective pads and urges me to hit hard and fast.
“Think of someone you want to punch!”
Really, the list is so long, it’s hard to narrow it down; I have to line them all up in my head so that they can wait their turn…
“I like this face!” he says, as I mentally cycle through ex-boyfriends and ex-bosses, jabbing at him. And I haven’t even got started on politicians.
He teaches me the basics and we do short bouts to his instructions with brief breaks in between for me to get my breath back.
“OK — now it’s left, right, left, hook, hook, duck. Go!’
With a hook, you twist your upper body from the waist so you have a fair degree of momentum behind the punch, but then I have to duck as he swipes. We repeat this cycle, going as fast and hard as possible until —inevitably — I get carried away with the punching bit and forget to duck. Ismael whacks me in the face. Luckily, he is wearing only the pads, rather than gloves, otherwise by now the ref would be holding his arm aloft and declaring me out for the count.
Am I going back next week, despite my bruised chin? Yes, indeedio. It is exhausting but also exhilarating, and there’s still no shortage of people I want to punch…