Rethinking the language of fitness

barbell on the floor
Photo by Leon Martinez on Pexels.com

This year, as I wrote previously, I vowed to do more exercise.

I swim, jog and walk when I can, but working in a sedentary job makes the effects negligible. And with interests like reading, writing and watching films, I’m more than likely to be found on my sofa in any spare time I get. I like being lazy and cosy.

Add to that the inherent unhealthiness of city life and the way we eat. It’s typical in London to end up eating out for 3 meals a day without thinking, as the rhythm of life revolves around work. You have very little time for breakfast so you grab a coffee and pastry and find yourself back in Pret for a sandwich at lunch. Maybe you’ll mix it up a bit by going to Leon for a fish-finger wrap on your way to meet a friend for a drink, or order overpriced bar snacks. You get home knackered and order a takeaway with Deliveroo. Not every day, but some version of this pattern occurs for a lot of us. Turns out after a decade or so, it catches up.

So I vowed to take action. F45 came on to my radar via social media. It describes itself as ‘a compelling group training experience’. It’s a franchise with local branches, one of which recently opened near me. I was tempted to give it go and then I read the descriptions of the workouts. Here are some extracts:

  • “You and 22 comrades will laugh and cry …. Meanwhile, your heart will be wondering what it ever did to you to deserve such treatment. Good luck.”
  • “You’ll walk out, or possibly crawl, with your body cut like a diamond.”
  • “Pray you get a good partner because you’ll be going through hell together. “
  • “Your muscles will be screaming after we superset them over and over.”

Is it exercise or is it torture?

For me doing more exercise is about being good to myself. I’m never going to fit it in more regularly if I see it as unpleasant and awful. After a long day at work followed by a tedious commute, where is the motivation to put yourself through an hour of additional hell by choice?

So I signed up for a free trial but never went. When I thought about going, I imagined a dungeon full of gladiator types shouting at each other and wondered who on earth would want to be my partner. It was probably best not to darken their door.

However a few weeks later, I changed my mind. Because maybe it’s just bad copywriting. Maybe instead of being full of gladiators, they will be a few fellow thirtysomething office-bound normals. And people shouldn’t be scared off from exercise, should they?

Sure enough, F45 isn’t as scary as it sounds. At my first workout, I did nearly throw up but that was perhaps because I ate a normal weekend breakfast of poached eggs and toast an hour before. I’m no fitness expert (clearly) but there probably should been a 2-3 hour gap.

The staff were helpful in the face of such amateurishness. They adjusted the exercises for me where I was struggling. The partner bit comes from exercises being in pairs. You each go at your own pace so it’s not really a team sport. But I did find people encouraging me, whether it was helping to adjust my weights to a realistic amount or giving me a high-five for surviving.

The workouts are 45 minutes and consist of a 5 minute warm-up, then circuits where you do an exercise as much as you can in 45 seconds. TV screens remind you of what the exercise is supposed to look like (if you were an exceptionally fit man).

My body ached in places I didn’t know it was possible to ache after the first session, but I surprised myself by going back. I liked that the whole thing can be completed in under an hour and that the exercises are varied. If you find one impossibly difficult (press-ups), improvise until you move on to the next one. I also liked that the staff are available to correct your posture and technique, but don’t focus on you entirely.

I surprised myself further by signing up for the F45 8 week challenge. You attend as many classes as possible during the 8 weeks, and also have access to a nutrition plan to help you eat the right food. I’ve also been trialling Mindful Chef meal plans to help get myself into cooking healthy meals during the week.

But I wonder how many others are put off by the macho language used by exercise classes. What if they said:

  • Listen to 90s dance music in a judgement free space
  • Be sweaty and free
  • Get a legal (endorphin) high
  • Offset more cake

Just a thought.

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