Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Rage against the machines?

Last Wednesday, having paid over my money, I went for an induction at the gym.

I really don't like communal changing rooms, but fortunately I could still remember the art, well-honed at school, of getting changed without actually flashing anything better left unrevealed. Once changed, I headed for the lobby to find only one other person waiting. A boy. A thin, runnerish-looking boy. Not that I have anything against thin boys who run - I'm very fond of one in particular - but honestly I'd have preferred another girl, preferably not too athletic-looking.

The instructor was also a guy, who was cheery and very fit-looking but a couple of inches shorter than me, which had the unfortunate effect of making me feel like a huge, looming, cumbersome person. At this point, I quite fancied making a quick exit, but all my street clothes, handbag etc were locked in the changing room, behind various turnstiles and barriers. I could just about have vaulted over them, but I might have looked a little conspicuous.

We were going to be told how to use the Nautilus weight machines. I'd never used weights before, but was well aware of the reasons why I probably should - bone density, avoidance of back problems in later life, building of muscle in order to raise metabolic rate and so on. A while ago I came across Krista's website ( which has inspired me to at least give the machines a go, if not to start in with free weights, which she prefers, right away. Oddly enough I actually quite enjoy, say, heaving heavy boxes about, and I have had various jobs (bookseller, waitress) which involved lifting heavy objects.

I am slightly put off by the thought of my muscles becoming chunkier, but:
a) I'm chunky now. Frankly, toned muscle would be preferable to flab;
b) Most girls don't experience that effect anyway;
c) If I don't like the effect, I can always slow it down or stop;
d) What am I saying? I haven't even started and I'm already worrying about effects which won't have a chance of happening unless I pay attention and work out how you use these machines...

All the machines looked pretty much identical: an arrangement of tubular steel and blue padded bits. Most of them were occupied by men in shorts with varying degrees of musculature; there was only one girl.

We were given cards on which to record our progress. The machines are arranged in a circuit and you only do up to 12 reps on each one, adding a little bit when you can do 12 without too much trouble. I'd expected to be embarrassingly weedy on every machine, but in fact the only really, really hard ones are the Incline Press (which works the triceps) and the Bicep Curl. Which doesn't come as a vast surprise, since I appear to have no detectable muscles in my upper arms at all. I mean, something must enable me to raise my arm, but you can't feel anything but squish up there...

The runner-looking boy didn't try out very many of the machines - he said he had done it before (although I do wonder why he was doing the induction if so. Maybe he was feeling shy too, but that didn't occur to me at the time). I tried them all out - I was certainly not going to do it for the first time with nobody to help me out. It did feel a bit like a performance. It was pretty embarrassing to get on the couple of machines that have seatbelts after the instructor had been showing us how they worked, and have to make the seatbelt longer to go around me with both of them watching. But in general, it seem to be true what they say: nobody looks at you in the gym. Really not. None of the other people there took any notice of us.

I've been back twice, and have managed to use all the machines and to up the weights a little the second time, as it says on the card. Time will tell whether I'll be able to keep doing this, or whether I've started with relatively light weights and will hit a wall soon. The only problem I've had has been with the Bicep Curl machine, which I can't quite get the hang of: it's got these weird wobbly handles which work independently, and somehow I just seem to lose the flow, even with the lightest weight on. However, I got an instructor to troubleshoot and I hope to get on better next time.

I've had a go on the cardio machines as well, but have only really used the stationary bikes. The elliptical, when I tried it, seemed to be trying to run away with me unless I slowed down, in which case it stopped. I think there must be a knack to it. The only snag with the bikes is that using the horizontal kind (there must be a word for this sort, but I don't know what it is) I have a slight tendency to knee myself in the breasts. I'll just have to learn to aim more carefully...

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