Ah, so another year begins at the gym.
How many times have I forgotten my post-gym underpants? How many times have I tried to peek at the blonde guy with the amazing legs whilst needlessly tying and re-tying my laces? How many times have I fallen off the gym ball trying to do that thing where you balance your feet on the gym ball? How many times have I wondered what the machine with the levers and the weird pads is for? How many times have I wanted to reach inside the speakers and strangle the Heart FM presenters? Many, many times.
But this is January and for the next six to eight weeks, things will be a little different around here. You see, there are new, strange clothes hanging in the changing rooms and there is something large, pink and distressed on the rowing machine. I glance to the far end of the gym and...is there? Yes. A glutinous maximus is straddling the cross trainer.
The cross trainer: every newbie’s favourite toy. Not too strenuous, not too serious, the cross trainer includes a handy shelf upon which the user can perch their bottle of sugary energy drink and poolside book. It is also positioned, not by mistake, in front of the TV screen showing re-runs of Cash in The Attic – subtitled of course. You wouldn't want to drown out your Now 32 album!
On the stretching mat is the obligatory man doing irreparable damage to his spine whilst completing his third set of woodlouse sit ups. Keep your back straight man! Beside him, a spindly woman is kidding herself that the crab impression she watched some witch in a leotard perform on Youtube is going to make her look like Jessica Ennis. It won’t, it will make her look like Anne Kirkbride.
Enough of this negativity though! I have made a New Year's resolution. For once, it is not to get a six pack. Nor is it to get pecs or to rid myself of the weird bit of fat my body likes to stash beneath my buttocks in case of unexpected famine. No. My resolution this year is to try and encourage one – just one – of these gym newbies to stick it out until June. If they are going to monopolise the free weights section with their absurd cheerleader routine and populate the stretching area like a bunch of barking seals then they can make it all seem worthwhile by actually achieving something in this artificially-lit vanity bunker. I do not hold out much hope.
Last year, in the heady haze of a new and optimistic January, a pudgy gentleman in his mid-forties appeared beside the water-cooler. Here was a man fresh from a rather worrying health MOT who had decided to punch his declining health in the face and steal back some self-control. He had purchased a special pair of yellow running shorts and bright green trainers for the purpose. He looked rather shifty and self-conscious as he climbed onto the running machine.
Well…I was staring at him. I watched as he struggled to make sense of the buttons on the dashboard. The belt began to move and for a second, he forgot to walk, making him look a little like a suitcase on a baggage carousel. But then he began to move his legs and soon the speed was picking up and, though he wasn't running, he was striding at quite a pace. By the time I completed my set of ten lateral raises (keeping my back straight, my head up and my knees soft) he was looking tired and there were thick beads of sweat dripping from his cheeks and forehead. But he walked on, and the next day he was there again. And the next day after that.
He was still visiting the gym a month later and by that point, he had managed to start jogging. I became obsessed. Fellow gym-goers will be aware of the monotony of completing endless sets and reps and anyone who tells you that “You shouldn't worry, no one is looking at you at the gym!” is a total liar. Be under no illusion, we are watching you. This man knew he was being scrutinised but he just kept on coming and he was really doing well! One by one his fellow gym-clots flickered and disappeared from the group. But there he was, three times a week, pounding the treadmill. I considered having a chat with him and perhaps even congratulating him on his progress but I thought he might find that a little patronising.
And then in May...the man just disappeared. I didn't see him for months until one day I was standing in the queue in Pretentious A Manger and he was buying a Posh Fat and Pickle baguette AND a death-by-flapjack. Was that a hot chocolate? It bloody was! What weight he had lost in the first two months of 2012 had been recouped and bolstered in the subsequent three. He turned from the counter and made his way to the door. As he passed me, our eyes met and I smiled. He looked to the floor and shuffled onto the street. It made me feel terribly sad. No, it really did. I was thinking about it whilst totally fly-weighting the **** out of my pectoralis majors! He had really achieved something against the odds but then he'd just thrown it all away. In a dusty cupboard somewhere lay a crumpled pair of yellow shorts and some faded green trainers. Hidden, but not forgotten. Gathering fluff like his arteries.
Not this year. I am going to do everything I can to keep at least one of this new herd of gym-clots going. I'm gonna cheer them on like Bruno Tagliatelli off of Strictly Dumb Prancing. I want them to know that, even though they're not self-obsessed, strutting, mirror-posers like the rest of us, they are still a highly valued and respected part of the gang. MORE valued. MORE respected. They have finally decided to change, to act, to try. They have confronted their schoolyard demons and are now cross-training, cycling and rowing their way towards a new land of self-confidence and delicious smugness.
So now I'm scanning the gym wondering who, specifically, to back. I shan't bother with the 30-something woman in the Hello Kitty sweatpants and I have no faith at all in the staying power of the skinny lad in the plimsolls. I was him eight years ago and I know he will return in his late twenties when he's ready.
Actually I have to tell you about the guy who just walked in. He’s wearing shoes. No….shoes! In the gym! Shoes and socks! SHOES! He won’t last the week. Okay…I choose…the big man on the rowing machine. He's been going all the time I’m writing this (on my phone). He was going before I got changed. There isn't just sweat in his eyes, there's determination. He's in pain, I can see it, but he's still tugging that handle into his moobs like Russell Grant fighting a dog for the last chew. Decision made.
I will say hello to this man. I will tell him he's doing a great thing. I will look the other way during my minute's rest between sets and I will encourage him to try weighted squats and lunges (to stress his thigh muscles and gluts, thus improving stamina, boosting metabolism and burning crucial calories). He might not like it. In fact, he'll hate it, but he's going to stick with his gym membership if it kills him. His New Year's Resolution is my New Year's Resolution. That guy has just made himself the gym buddy from hell. I'm going to keep his chin and his pecker up so high he'll look like a cactus in a neck brace.
I bet you 20 quid he's gone by February.