"Whaat? You mean you've never had a personal trainer?" exclaimed the PR lady. Er, no... at something like pounds 45 an hour, it was neither top of my priorities nor within my budget.
This was different, she insisted. Get Motivated, a new outfit set up by an ex-City type, was planning to "transform the shape and lifestyle habits of the nation" and "bring personal training to the masses" by offering sessions at the startlingly low price of pounds l5. I could try it myself: "Don't worry if you're not too fit."
Until my mid-thirties, I could wolf down masses of fat and sugar, stay in bed all day and still stay thin. I never gave gyms or dieting a thought. Two pregnancies changed all that. I was demoralised by the number of clothes I could no longer get into and developed the "apple" shape (extra weight on the upper torso and abdomen, rather than hips and thighs) associated with a high risk of heart disease. Apart from lifting a three-year-old into the bath and walking with the children (at a snail's pace) to the park, I never exercised. I had no desire to develop a goddess-type body, but I did want to feel more like my old self. I phoned the PR and accepted.
Nearly all their trainers had degrees in exercise science or human movement study; many were from Australia and New Zealand, because knowledge there was ahead of Britain by about five years (not because they were young girls keen on travel, then?)
Did I want male or female? A woman, please. Was I the kind of person who liked to be bullied? No, thank you: a gentle approach would suit.
Stephanie, a cheerful Australian half my age, took no notice of the toys scattered over the carpet, nor my old khaki shorts which didn't quite zip up. She had a questionnaire. Main aim? To lose a little weight, tone up, get fitter. What kind of exercise did I like doing? Er ... walking? What prevented me from exercising? Children, work, lack of energy, life.
Posture? Abducted scapula (hunched shoulders from too much deskwork), a slight head tilt, slight lordosis (bottom sticking out). Feet: slightly flat, in need of good supportive trainers. Abdominal strength: average - not bad, said Stephanie, for someone who hadn't done a sit-up in years. Hip-waist ratio (to measure the amount of fat carried around the abdomen): less than .8, so within the healthy range. Resting heart rate was 65 beats a minute, again low for someone sedentary.
To reduce the flab, said Stephanie, my heart had to be working at 105- 131 bpm, the "fat-burning zone" - brisk walking pace.
We began the real thing: chin pokes to combat my head tilt, tricep extensions to pull back the muscles in the back, abdominals, overhead tricep extensions with weights to tone my arms - and prone paddles to strengthen back and bottom. I would have enjoyed it, except most of the time I was thinking about how much else I had to do and feeling guilty about the children being looked after by someone else while I concentrated on my body. You need time to yourself, said Stephanie reassuringly.
Afterwards, I have to admit despite my cynicism, I felt great. And the next few days, on a break with the family, I did feel inspired to do more: I ran up and down the seashore, measuring my heartbeat, did my abdominals as the children watched telly in the hotel room, used a heavy lamp as a weight for the triceps. I felt better physically than I had for a long time.
The next time I saw Stephanie, I was definitely stressed: too much work, too many problems with childcare. We went for a walk at a very brisk pace along the river (heart rate 113). I should have got into it, but I was gloomy about my three-year-old who hadn't wanted to go to playgroup and the house we were desperately trying to buy. Doing leg stretches just past Tower Bridge, I burst into tears. Stephanie put her arm round me and said she always knew when people were low.
By our third session, I had done no exercise in the interval and hadn't even managed to buy a pair of trainers. I was still feeling tired and emotional. We did some aerobic warm-ups, but my heart wasn't in it.
Since meeting Stephanie, I've lost my scorn for personal trainers. I have three more free sessions to go. I'd love to do them, but don't know how to fit them in ...
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