ZELDA LEON

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - EX­ER­CISE Con­tact Is­mael Es­silfe-Quaye via his pro­file on www.toplo­cal­trainer.co.uk

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

tioned box­ing.

“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…

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