Join the club
By Liam O'Brien
One of the few pleasures of going to the gym is seeing other people having the same miserable struggle to get fit and healthy as you. Sadly, it's less enjoyable when you feel the gaze of cross-trainer veterans burning into your muffin top, mocking the small weights you're using and the floods of sweat you've deposited on the equipment.
But for those made antsy by the idea of going to the gym – or coughing up extortionate membership fees – there's an answer: take part in online classes from the comfort of your living room. People around Britain are signing up for 'transatlantic workouts' filmed in New York and LA on laptops and iPads and beamed online.
For the latest training fads, American websites (yogisanonymous.com; yogavibes.com; emglivefitness.com) are your best bet, but British website instructorlive.com offers a good all-round package. It's free for 30 days, and £5.99 per month thereafter.
There are 40 different classes, and commonplace aerobics and yoga basics are well covered. The site's 5,000 users can also choose to watch classes on the appealing sounding 'Pyjama Pilates' and 'Beditation'. The classes can be watched live or accessed via their archive. "The live classes are more motivating, because you can actually ask the instructors for advice," says founder Luke Walker. "You just type it in during the water breaks in the class, and the instructors will ask if there are any questions."
He came up with the idea in May last year after seeing similar sites in America, but added the interactive element so home users could get the help if they felt they were going wrong. Walker says he knew there was an audience for his business, especially for those people who "still associate exercise with being picked last in PE at school" and hate being watched exercising.
Young professional women tend to take evening classes, mums with young children prefer daytime exercise. Only 12 per cent of those signed up are men, but "most of those are using our yoga classes," says Walker. "There has been a stigma that yoga is a feminine activity, but now that's changing and a lot of guys want to get a bit of confidence before they step into a class with other people so they use us as a stepping-stone."
Cheapskate's version: Nothing too plausible here, though your extreme bargain hunters could secretly film a pilates class and then workout to the covert recording.
The bicyclist: Fighting chance
By Simon Usborne
The card taped to Joe's handlebars illustrated the extent to which cycling can turn even the most mild-mannered 'Mamil' into a maniac who'll endure great suffering in search of some arbitrary competitive edge.
Joe and I were taking part in the Alpine Challenge, a three-day French race offering the sportive crowd the glorious illusion of pro status – road closures, mechanics and Tour de France-style rankings.
I shied away from competition as a kid – too much pressure. Aged eight, I abandoned my swimming bronze-medal exam by insisting I needed a wee (I didn't). But while cycling is about challenging oneself, many of us hide a racing instinct we never knew we had. I was sixth out of 150 before the final climb and desperate to stay in the top 10. Joe was fourth and had written on his bars the time gaps he had on his rivals. Below, he had scrawled: 'Dig fucking deep Joe!'
And deep we dug. I've never dug deeper than during a lung-tearing climb up the Col de la Croix Fry. I ended up ninth overall, Joe sixth. We were delighted by this fleeting glory. Why? Perhaps it's only as grown-ups that the meaningless-ness of amateur competition allows us to really enjoy it. Silly, yes, but it's also thrilling.
Takin' it easy: 'Give up your seat'
By Larry Ryan
On the train you might assume lazy first principles dictate that if a seat is available, you get on that seat. But while sitting, your brain whirrs with worry about offering up said seat to someone. Your body is takin' it easy but your mind isn't and, friend, that's a problem. Sometimes it's best to just acquire a good lean somewhere, avoiding the whole damn seat farrago.
Modern gym rules: Noise
By Luke Blackall
Keep it down: if you can't lift weights without making a sex noise, buy some and do them at home.
Fit kit: Adidas Medicine Ball, £70
Adidas has turned that dusty old leather globe that looked like a weird basketball in your school gym into a smart rubber weight with dual handles for easy lifting. Used correctly (get Googling) medicine balls work wonders.