Saturday, 3 September 2011

Why do I do this to myself?

I've always been a bit intimidated by gyms. I'm not exactly what you'd call a natural athlete. I have all the coordination of a penguin on a trampoline, and it might generously be said that I have a runner's build (without, you know, actually being able to run) rather than anything approaching actual musculature. Right now, though, I'm feeling particularly un-sportsmanlike. My previously flat stomach, which used to be able to take whatever I threw at it without expanding beyond 30 inches, has started to flag in the last couple of years with the small but unmistakable beginnings of what I believe is referred to as a "middle aged spread". Meanwhile, my skin, which is sensitive enough at the best of times, has not responded well to two and a half months of the sweat and grime of a Delhi summer. It has, however, remained completely impervious to the weather in terms of developing any kind of a tan.

In short: I feel a bit gross at the moment. So today I finally decided that action had to be taken, and I joined my local gym. I'd been putting this off not just because of my inbuilt suspicion of such places, but because it is inordinately expensive. Gym membership is a luxury here, which means it's the preserve of the wealthy elite - the kind of people who have a good deal more money than your average Londoner - and this is reflected in the price. This is particularly true of my local gym. I could have got a bit cheaper somewhere else, but I know myself well enough to know that if I don't make it very convenient to go, I won't.

I don't know what the training to be a personal trainer covers, but one thing it really should include is knowing your customer. In particular, being able to spot customers for whom the whole experience is one enormous battle with that inner voice that says: "You're weak! You're uncoordinated! You look ridiculous! Go home and eat cheesecake!" For such am I, and I really could do with trainers who can help me get over this instead of making it worse.

The problem is that by the nature of the job, professional trainers are fitter, healthier, more attractive and cooler than 95% of the people they have to work with. I mean the mere sight of these guys, all sculpted torso and perfect hair, just made me want to turn around and scamper towards the first source of comfort food. Not only that, but compared to their skin (flawless, of course) my pastiness achieved day-glo proportions (not helped by my choice of a white t-shirt and black shorts).

It was not a promising start, but it got worse. First they put me on a jogging machine for 30 minutes. I hate jogging machines. I'm fairly flat footed and, however hard I try, I can't use the things without creating a thump-thump-thump so loud and intrusive that it could provide the beat for an Ibiza nightclub. The visual of me running - flailing arms and scrawny legs all over the place - is bad enough, but combined with a noise that could wake the dead you couldn't come up with a better way to make me feel self-conscious.

I got off the running machine beetroot red from both exertion and embarrassment, and we moved on to the weights. I felt on slightly safer territory here: I'm not about to try to lift tons and humiliate myself by losing control and clanging the weights down, so I thought I could just get on with quietly doing my thing. That was until my trainer tried to put me on the lowest weight level for every single exercise.

"Um...this is a bit easy..." I squeaked as he stood looking down at me on the chest press, massive biceps folded across his chest. "Can we put it up a couple of notches?"

"Are you sure?" he responded incredulously, as though I'd just declared that I fancied jogging down to the Taj Mahal after I'd finished my work out. Next to me, a tiny Japanese woman with arms like pencils was lifting double my weight. He shrugged, moved the pin, then went over to one of his colleagues and said something in rapid Hindi, which was followed by hearty laughter and a fist bump.

Yeah...these are the kind of guys who fist bump on a regular basis.

OK, I know the trainers are probably nice guys really, and I know that most of this is down to my own insecurity rather than the way they behave. But I wonder if they have the first clue how intimidating they are to a lot of people when they are in their own environment like this. As far as I'm concerned, that should be covered in Being a Gym Instructor 101. I might be imagining it, but I feel like this was less of an issue at gyms in the UK. I couldn't help wondering if the more privileged world that exists around the gym industry in India had rubbed off on its staff with a streak of arrogance. But again, it's probably just me.

Anyway, traumatic though it was, I've forked out the cash now and the incentive to get rid of that ominous ring of flab is enough to get me back there. But next time, I'm sticking to the exercise bikes, and I'm setting the pin where I damn well want to set it. 


Sonya said...

We are attuned in our activities! Today I decided to start breaking in some trainers I bought a while ago with the idea of eventually "doing some exercise"... I say a while ago: it was in Manchester, in December. They are complicated and jaunty with two laces in each shoe (yes, TWO laces in ONE shoe!). It took me 6 months to get round to lacing up one of the shoes, then I gave up (too much exertion). Today I laced up the other one, popped them on my feet, spent ten minutes tying them up in various stupid-looking ways, then off I went: two blocks to the supermarket and back. My feet are so sore now, aren't trainers supposed to be comfy? I wish you more luck than me... *fistbump* xx

Chris said...

Tying four sets of laces just to put some shoes on sounds like more than enough exercise for me, so I'm impressed you made it to the supermarket too. Yay you! *Double fistbump*

Lauren said...

Hi Chris,

Just stumbled across your blog researching expat life in Delhi. I'll hopefully be moving to Delhi next year to do my masters degree at Jawaharlal Nehru University, so it's great to read about your impressions. I love this post about personal trainers and the one about Ali, your Hindi teacher. I recognised him immediately as the guy teaching me Urdu script online through skype (Zabaan, right?).

Rest assured, Hindi script is far easier than the Urdu one, so don't despair. I've been learning Hindi for three years now and have just come back to the UK after a year living in Jaipur, which improved my Hindi by leaps and bounds. Stick with it and you'll be fluent in no time. (Personally I'd recommend Teach Yourself Hindi by Rupert Snell, if you don't mind, in Ali's words, 'the dumbed down version'). It won't give you quite the grammatical understanding that our friend is so keen on, but it will get you speaking on a conversational level in no time.

I was blogging myself while I was in Jaipur ( and I certainly admire your enthusiasm, with your daily posts...I wish mine could have been a bit more regular.

Anyway, keep it up with the great blog and enjoy your time in Delhi. Look out for the 'Love Delhi' guidebook by Fiona Caulfield, available in big book shops like Crosswords. I think you'll like it =)

Lauren x

Chris said...

Hi Lauren! Thanks for the useful tips, I will look out for the book and check out your blog! Yup I am indeed studying at Zabaan, and we are using the Snell book (but I think the non-dumbed down version - I had bought the simpler one but Ali scoffed at it!).

Let me know when you are moving to Delhi! Hopefully I will have managed to keep up a reasonable rate of blogging - Delhi just gives me so much to write about...


Raul Thomas said...

Hey Chris,

Funny post, keep 'em coming :)

Raul Thomas said...
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