Belfast Telegraph

I've gone to new lengths to avoid all those annoying gym types

By Claire Harrison

I've done something I swore I'd never do again. I swore on various loved one's graves and made prophecies about the arrival of hell and high water, but somehow it has happened again. I joined a gym. I didn't really mean to join a gym.

I signed up to join my nearest swimming pool but I couldn't do that without putting my name to gym membership as well, so technically, against all better judgment, I am a gym member.

I've been here twice before and neither experience ended well. I'm the kinda sucker gym bosses love – someone who signs up to a monthly direct debit and never goes.

I have a habit of coming in like a lion, going four times a week in snazzy new gear. Then I miss a day, then another and another and before I know it three months have passed before I last broke a sweat.

The last time I threw all that money down the drain, I said I'd give myself a good talking to if I was ever tempted again but the matter has since been taken out of my hands.

I've suffered from bad back problems since being pregnant which have gradually become worse to the point I feel like an elderly woman has snuck in to my mid-thirties.

On top of physiotherapy, my GP advised me to start swimming, which was pleasant enough news as it's one of the few sports I actually enjoy. So that's how I found myself standing in the reception of a gym with one part of my brain filling in the forms while the other was desperately thinking of reasons to run away.

The receptionist didn't seem to notice my slightly nervous disposition until she made the mistake of trying to book me in for an induction session with a personal trainer on the gym equipment.

"No!" I shouted hysterically in response to a perfectly reasonable question.

"I won't be using the gym," I clarified at a slightly lower decibel. Her face was a picture. I could tell she was thinking: 'Well, why on earth are you joining a gym today?"

"Just the pool," I explained. "And maybe a bit of Zumba."

I hate gyms for many, many reasons. I find bikes, running and rowing machines incredibly dull, I can't see the point in not actually going anywhere. I don't like the muscle head men who walk around dripping sweat everywhere, their necks wider than their heads. And then there's the toned young women who prance around looking good and oooh, don't they know it. The phrase 'squat thrust' makes me a bit sick, and I HATE people who stroll around naked in the changing rooms.

So I tried desperately to put all that discrimination to one side as I cleared my paperwork with the terrified receptionist and headed for a swim. When I got to the changing room, I realised I had left my goggles at home. I was delighted to have a reason to leave but the 'new me' shoved me on in.

I used to swim a few times a week. I even swam for a club in my youth and was (just the once) called up to join its relay team in an inter-provincial competition when several team-mates were ill. It didn't end in glory but I reached the finish line without collapsing and it allows me to say I was once a proper competitive swimmer.

While I was never fast, 40 laps of a 25-metre pool took nothing out of me until a few years ago. This week, I was out of puff after two. I've never felt more unfit. But I ploughed on and slowly crawled my way up to 20. I felt like the Thorpedo standing on a podium by the end.

I hope by stating my intentions in public, I will stick with my membership and can eventually work my way up to 40 (at which stage I'll be able to spring out of the water with a miraculously healed back). But one stroke at a time, next week's target is 21 lengths. Wish me luck... I'll need it.

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