I’ve been thinking about this thing “fitness” a lot. As you know, I have gone back to the gym for the first time in 10 years and I’m loving it. My local gym is great – local authority run, helpful staff, fantastic quality and range of equipment and really friendly users. There’s some serious athletes there, but there’s also some old crocks like myself, most of us working hard to be as fit as we can be. Which has made me think about what we mean by “fitness”.
Don’t get me started on the fitness freeks of Instagram. Please don’t search #instafit . Not unless you really want an eyeful of buttocks and abs. Which clearly you might, but it has nothing to do with fitness. The vanity pulsates from the page. Just horrid. If we think that’s what it’s all about, no wonder people think getting fit is not for them. There’s more to fitness than this yes?
I flicked through a copy of ‘Women’s Health’s while I was at the dentist last week. All the beautiful (white, middle class, slim young) people in their lycra, running marathons. I guess the article was supposed to motivate, but it did a better job of demoralising to be honest. Far from being inspirational, it’s just a fairy tale to me.
I look at my friends and family (champion swimmers, cyclists, marathon and fell runners, boxers, footballers…) and their incredible fitness levels as young, middle aged, and very aged people, their competitiveness, their passion. I’m very proud of them but I’m not in their league. Hell, I’m not even on the same planet. And honestly, I have a really strong aversion to competitive sport born of 13 long school years of being bullied on the hockey field, netball pitch and egg and spoon race.
I felt sad the other day when a friend told me her very large friend wanted to go to the gym but couldn’t afford the gear and was sure everyone was going to stare at her. I think fitness has an image problem. If we think it’s all about being the fastest, or the slimmest, or the most ripped, or the best dressed, that’s pretty limiting isn’t it. And very exclusive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to go to the gym. Do what you want: walk up mountains, do the gardening, build a house, run round the park, go dancing, or sit on the couch. I’m not a gym evangelical. I just think that we need to look at what we mean by fitness and make it something everyone can chose to do if and when they want. Without thinking they’re not good enough.
So when I talk about being fit, what do I mean? Me and my knackered lungs that make walking a challenge and running an impossibility? And what about my gym friends – the ones with arthritis, injured backs, the wheelchair users ( ordinary people, not athletes, not Olympic champions, though we do have a professional wheelchair basketball player), the people with limited mobility, the old, the frail, the knackered, the blouses-and-slacks brigade. The guys who come with their care workers. My dad who goes swimming twice a week, taking off his leg at the poolside. You won’t see any of us with an #instafit hashtag, or on the pages of a magazine modelling lycra and talking about our latest mud run slash triathlon slash swim meet. And yet there we all are, week in, week out, getting FIT.
That Fitness Feeling
When I started out with this gym malarkey back in June, my aim was to make my life a bit easier. I wanted to be able to do more without getting tired. I wanted to be able to walk for longer without having to stop and rest.
But something else happened too: I enjoyed it. What really took me aback was how much I was loving the FEELING of being stronger, of testing my strength. The feeling I get when I’m pushing myself right to the limit. I love that. I mean, I’m not going to win an arm wrestling contest, but then that’s not what it’s about. I don’t care how much better or worse I am at this game than you. What I care about is that amazing feeling of being able to lift a much heavier weight than I could last month. That feeling of my body doing it’s incredible human body thing, moving, lifting, renewing, regrowing, strengthening, doing the things I need it to do.
So this is fitness for me. I’m never ever going to run for a bus let alone a marathon. No, really, it’s not going to happen. I’m not going to be slim and I’m definitely not gonna be showing off my buttocks on Instagram. But I can push myself til it hurts. I can benefit from the difference it makes in my everyday life. And I can be high on endorphins afterwards. It’s all about the feeling.
I hope my friend’s fat friend comes to the gym eventually. No-one will judge her. It’s not that kind of gym. And she definitely doesn’t need to buy any lycra. She just needs to enjoy that feeling that her body is capable and amazing. If that’s what fitness is all about, bring it on.