How do I exercise? Tell me, please!

Please excuse any veering off into ranting, but I’m currently suffering from bafflement and irritation in equal measure. Why? Exercise, that’s why.

I am not a natural exerciser, nor a loyal one, but every now and then, the urge comes along to do something, and then, in my geeky fashion, I set about researching my options.

So here’s where all that has brought me:

I had to stop kickboxing because I kept aggravating my shoulder which has a tendency to dislocate. So that’s out.

Then there was running, which I was enjoying, and even completed the Great North Run, but ended in agony because I’d developed shin splints. So that’s out.

And because of the shin splints, I now have to be very careful about impact exercising, so that meant my second attempt at Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred ended in failure.

So then there was swimming. Which I still enjoy, greatly. But, I was getting into a bit of a rut, and finding that I was becoming bored, which I was very keen to avoid, as so far it’s the only form of exercise I can still do. So I thought, why not mix it up a bit?

I thought I could swim intensely for twenty minutes or so, and then spend another twenty minutes working on my legs, or my arms, or my abs in the gym, on their machines. But then I did some research on the gym machines, and at best, they appear to be fairly useless, and at worst, actually damaging.

Free weights, it would seem, are the way forward, but unless you’ve got your technique spot on, then the same applies – useless and damaging.

And then I came across tabata, which is (or was, it’s probably terribly passé by now) the new thing – where you exercise intensely for 20 seconds, rest for 10, and repeat for eight times. You complete one to four full sets of this (so 20 minutes in total) and apparently, this intense exercise gives you as good a result (arguably better) than an hour’s run.

I suppose I can get my head around that, but then you’ve got to work out which exercises to do in your bursts. Do you opt for cardio, such as burpees (shudder…and not great for shin splints) and jumping jacks (ditto)? Or do you throw in some leg action – squats and lunges – or some arm work – push ups and bicep curls – or ab work – bicycle crunches and toe touches? I imagine you’re meant to throw a bit of everything in there, but somehow, I feel poleaxed by the sheer choice out there. At least in the gym, you can go from one machine to the next, finish them all, and feel like you’re somehow complete. Or I can swim a mile, and feel like I’ve ticked a box.

So now I’m just confused. And not exercising.

My problem is I need structure, and even more importantly, I need to feel I’ve had an expert telling me what to do. So, tell me – keep swimming and swimming alone? Combine intense swimming with gym machines? Combine swimming with some sort of mastery of free weights at the gym? Designate swimming a pleasure activity (instead of ‘exercise’, which probably means I won’t bother at all…), and concentrate on at home tabata instead?

Sometimes, I get all doom and gloom that my body will just throw up another injury regardless of what I do or I convince myself that it doesn’t matter because I’ll get bored in a few months and give up anyway…

I find fitness blogs fascinating because these women (and men) genuinely seem to adore exercising, and they’re clearly experts in their fields – the passion just shines out of them – but I’ve yet to find what really works for me. I know exercise is really important for my physical health, and I also know it’s vital for my mental health, but I’m currently all at sea.

And don’t even get me started on healthy eating, and whether that really is more important than exercising in losing weight, which, to my mind, rather renders this whole rant moot…


Body Attack Blues

I’m not a natural exerciser. Most recently, I signed up for a class called Body Attack at my local gym. Let me start off by saying that I confused Body Attack for Body Combat… I used to kick box (until I dislocated my shoulder), and I’m very comfortable punching and kicking so I thought it was about time to get back to it. Body Combat, with its ‘strike, punch and kick your way to ultra cardio fitness’ tag, sounded just the ticket. Body Attack, on the other hand, is ‘high energy interval training’. The mix up was entirely my own fault. Similar names, totally different descriptions…

So, I rocked up to Body Attack, confidently told the instructor that although I’d never been to this particular class before, I had kick boxed for years. She gave me an odd look, and told me to grab several sets of dumbbells and a mat, and I took a spot in the only available space – right at the front staring at myself in the bank of mirrors – lovely. Let me just say that I need to lose weight, not a serious amount of weight, but a decent amount, and standing in front of those mirrors wasn’t a great start.

The instructor began by announcing that today was a brand new routine; new to everyone, even the hardcore fans. Phew! I thought. At least I’ve got kickboxing experience. And then she said she’d start with a warm-up (duh!), before moving on to three sets of exercise that would rise and fall in intensity.

I barely made it through the warm-up, and I was the youngest person in the class by several decades. Lunges, squats, press ups, burpees, all your usual stuff, but to music, in time, with rhythm. I have no rhythm. I was laughed out of a cheerleading audition at university. I was standing at the front of the class performing a ‘simple’ and ‘gentle’ warm-up at least three beats behind everyone else. It was embarrassing, but I’ve been in worse situations (I once completed an entire exercise class with my stretch capris inside out with the key pocket flapping on my arse like a tail). I tried to ‘man up’. I really did. I gritted my teeth, and swallowed my pride as I did all the ‘easier’ moves, and I was still knackered – dripping with sweat, panting like a wildebeest.

And the instructor, bless her, she’s probably a lovely person, and she certainly has plenty of fans (I had to book into her class well in advance), but I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. She had one of those headset mics on, into which she screeched instructions, which I completely failed to comprehend and ended up desperately trying to mimic her moves (I like to think this accounted for at least one second of my ‘delay’).

Then she moved on to the actual exercise part of the class. By now I’d realised that kickboxing was not going to happen, and I began to bargain with myself – ‘If you complete the entire class, you can go shopping after’ or ‘If you finish this set, you can stop at the supermarket after and buy some cookies’. And then I looked at the clock. It was an hour class. It was only 15 minutes in. At that point, I stopped bargaining and started panicking.

I am flawed in many ways, but perhaps most annoyingly, I care (I mean, I really care) about what people think of me. I couldn’t quit and just walk out in front of all these people. How embarrassing. I looked at the clock again. 16 minutes.

I dropped my hand weight. Walked to the side of the studio, picked up my handbag, and walked out. Best decision I made all day.