Feel good special: Deborah Ross's fitness freak-out

It may be cold and miserable outside, but there are ways to make yourself glow. Deborah Ross, who gets breathless just whipping cream for a pavlova, hired a personal trainer to knock her into shape. And over the following pages we show you other (less strenuous) ways to put a spring in your step
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Um... how about, I once joined a gym but never went? Or, how about, I'm so utterly lazy that I always take the lift in M&S and it's only about eight stairs? Or, how about the fact that when I whip cream, I not only have to take short breaks, but my arm is really, really sore the next day?

This is not just unfit. This is pitifully, mortally unfit. This, I guess, is what happens after a lifetime of no exercise whatsoever, aside from opening one eye in the morning then the other (you may sneer, but I believe that this activity uses almost an eightieth of a calorie).

I figure I'm now paying for it, though. I can't get to the top of our house without feeling breathless. I don't even attempt to run for buses. They'll be another one along in a minute, I always lie extravagantly to myself. I feel pretty fatigued and in poor shape most of the time.

I'm not scared of dying, and I don't care about those extra few years, but I wouldn't mind feeling well and healthy while I'm still alive. But a personal fitness trainer, at £60 an hour? That's mental, isn't it? Yes, but do you think that if I were to say to myself: "Right, tomorrow, I will exercise," that I'd actually do it if someone wasn't there to crack the whip? Do you think I wouldn't come up with some excuse, like having to put the wheelie bin out or the elastic has gone in my sweatpants?

So, a personal trainer it is.

FIRST SESSION?

Grim, grim, grim, grim. Hateful. Don't get me wrong, my fitness trainer, Kieran Gallagher (from www.kieranfitness.com) is lovely, and very handsome (mental note to self: next session, mascara). I have kitted myself out, but rather half-heartedly, I admit. I'm wearing a pair of my son's tracksuit bottoms teamed with a pair of trainers which, at £13.99, were the cheapest in JJB.

I'm guessing that if you had to describe the look, it would be chav. All I need is the pram and a junk-food outlet. I figure there is no point in buying smarter gear as I'll probably never go more than once anyway.

We go out on to the nearby Parkland Walk, the old railway line between Highgate and Finsbury Park that is now a wooded path. "OK," says Kieran, "let's see you run."

Run? Run, my arse, I say. Some people can run, I know. You see them in Lycra with their legs scissoring effortlessly like beautifully oiled shears. This is not me. I cannot run. The one time my partner made me go for a run with him, I didn't make it beyond the corner of the street, and that's only four houses. He left me - nay, abandoned me, the bastard - propped up and gasping on the gate post at number two. I'm just not made for running. Some people aren't. Kieran says: "Let's go. Run."

So I run. I probably only run for around a minute, by which time I feel as if my chest is going to implode and my bones are going to crumble to dust. No part of my body feels right about it. If the parts of my body could speak they would say: "Hey, leave it out, bitch."

We do some exercises: squats; lunges; triceps and biceps work with weights. That's not as bad. Then we run for another little bit. "Good work, good work," Kieran lies.

We go on like this for an hour. A bit of running, if you can call it that, then more squats and lunges and lifting hand-weights above my head. I hate every single minute of it. I think I tell Kieran to "fuck off" at least twice. I kind of hope that should do it, and he'll never be back.

SECOND SESSION?

"Oh God, not you again," I say when I open the door to him a couple of days later. He wonders if I suffered after last time. Nothing too bad, I say. Just couldn't walk, just felt as if every muscle in my body had been ripped, that kind of thing. We go out.

Kieran, 27, is sublimely fit. He just got into going to the gym himself and became so adept he started training others. He does the personal training, but also teaches classes: aqua; circuit training; body conditioning.

One of his clients has gone down from 17 to 13 stone simply though aqua exercise (her old swimsuit looks like a baggy nightie now) although good nutrition is important, obviously. He says that unless you are ill in some way, everyone can get fitter, and everyone can run. Being able to run is, I say, my own personal goal (as is being able to make a pavlova without having to lie down for the afternoon, but I keep quiet about that).

He tells me a good way to get into it: run for 30 seconds, say, then walk for three minutes. Repeat for as long as you can be bothered, but probably for not longer than 20 minutes to begin with. Do that every other day for a week or so, then up it to a minute of running, two minutes walking, and so on. It sounds boring, but it takes time for your joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones to get used to the mechanics and impact. Too much too fast might result in injury.

We run together. He is a lovely runner, legs moving effortlessly like those beautifully oiled shears. I am still just kind of puffing along. I can feel my face going all blotchy (mental note to self: next session, mascara and foundation). We return home, to my living room, for some abdominals work - sit-ups and press-ups and crunches and the like.

My son looks round the door to see what is going on and laughs and laughs and laughs. It's the unexpectedness of seeing his mother do any kind of exercise, I think. It's like seeing a fish shopping on stilts in Tesco.

AND AGAIN?

"Hey, don't you ever get the message?" I say when I open the door to Kieran a week later. He does not get the message, but then he wouldn't be a very good personal trainer if he did. It's his job to make me work, and he does.

"Right," he says, "Ten sit-ups." I do 10 sit-ups. "Now another 10." I protest. That's 20, I say, and you said 10. That's unfair and mean and nasty. He says: "If I'd said do 20, you'd have just said no."

That is true. I do another 10. Amazingly, I've been doing the walk-run thing in the interim. I'm not sure I like doing it but I like how it makes me feel afterwards. I feel good about myself. My partner is astonished.

"Deborah has taken up running," I hear him tell people on the phone. "I know, I know, can you believe it?" I'm hoping I don't become a fitness bore. I've decided that whatever happens, I'm not giving up the drink and the Class A drugs or whipped-cream deserts.

AND NOW?

OK, to cut a long story short, I've been seeing Kieran for nearly two months and this is where I'm at: yesterday morning - running for five and walking for one - I covered three miles. After 33 years of smoking (gave up four months ago, another story) my lungs are possibly overjoyed.

I still can't say that I enjoy exercise, even though being love-bombed by endorphins is pleasant, but I increasingly enjoy having done it.

And I don't just feel better, I do think I look better. I tried on a sleeveless dress in Agnès B the other day and I thought my arms didn't look that bad. Not lovely or full-on Madonna-ish or anything, but not that bad, and certainly not as badly flabby as they were before.

Also, I recently spotted a muscle - the abdominal oblique, I think - that I never knew was there. And one last thing: if you happened to have been in the running shop in Camden the other day, you may or may not have seen me fingering £100 trainers.

Kieran can be contacted at www.kieranfitness.com. Alternatively, try The National Register of Personal Trainers at www.nrpt.co.uk

Up close and personal: why it's good to have a trainer

* You can't get out of it; personal trainers are buggers and always turn up. You will exercise.

* A trainer will work out the best exercise programme for you based on your own particular fitness goals.

* They'll often come to the house.

* All moves are demonstrated so you can't get them wrong and do yourself an injury.

* All moves and techniques are fully explained; it's very helpful to know what muscle you are working on and why it is important to work on them.

* It can really help get you started.

* It's expensive, although possibly not as expensive as joining a gym you'll never go to.

* Excuses won't wash, not even good ones, like the dog ate my trainers.

* Most heartbreakingly, fitness cannot be stored. You have to keep doing it. This is a major bummer and should not be allowed.

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