I don’t like gyms. I go there only to suffer and to hurt. I do this in the company of fellow sufferers, vain posers and deluded time wasters. I do this either to the accompaniment of pop music that makes me feel very old, in front of muted televisions beaming the mutants of daytime TV, or to the mindless chitter-chatter of people who think that gossiping on a rowing machine for 20 minutes counts as a workout.
I lift and lunge beneath the strip lights because I know that I should and because my life seems to revolve around retrospective pleasures. I feel better after I have been to the gym than I did before I went.
I hope you agree you need exercise in your life. If you don’t then you are, frankly, wrong. And more than that, you are missing out. When I am fit and training regularly I feel so much better -healthier, smarter and happier- and that makes listening to X-Factor music in the company of muscle-bound meatheads tolerable. (I am lucky to have a great coach: the sessions with him are useful and focussed. The sessions at my own gym without him are useful and focussed (and painful) thanks to the programme he’s given me).
But my dalliance with gyms is linked only to our South Pole expedition (and even with this I prefer training outdoors: see this video of us training outdoors, Rocky style, on the Isle of Skye) and the need to hit the ground running, or at least hit the ground hauling a 180kg sledge at snail’s pace for 110 days. I wouldn’t be going to a gym otherwise. Most of the trips I have done before have been physically demanding but have not really needed prior training. I prefer to have an idea, begin it, suffer, adapt and finally thrive.
Exploring your physical limits is a great way of pushing back your boundaries and surprising yourself at what you are capable of doing. Cycling over mountain passes or walking cross-country all day, spurred on by the incentive that you will not eat until you find a shop is a guarantee of a great workout. The physical achievement of completing a difficult journey across arduous wild country is something that will fill you with pride as well as making you stronger. Anima sane in corpore sane.
But as I have often said, exploring need not always be done in far-flung exotic locations. The next time you go for your usual run, turn left instead of right at the end of your street. Run a different route, explore your neighbourhood more thoroughly. Go run through your local woods (did you know the bluebells and stitchwort are out at the moment?). Cycle south on Sunday morning for a couple of hours, the sunrise on your left. Ride until you find a pub for lunch, then ride home a different route. I love running in new places: there are new things to look at and distract your mind from the pain in your lungs and legs. And getting yourself lost is a perfect way to force yourself to run for longer than you ordinarily would.
Exploring is an interesting and enjoyable thing. Physical exercise is a satisfying and important thing. Combining the two -pushing yourself hard in new and wild environments- is one of the most rewarding, beneficial and enjoyable aspects of my life. It’s even worth the pain of preparatory deadlifts in front of Jeremy Kyle.
What do you think? Do you agree or not? What’s your personal poison?