John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

#Take it to the limit, one more time...

Virgin Active have put a quiz on their website: Are you a couch potato? Unfortunately it doesn't work in Firefox or IE7 (on my Vista machine), and the questions aren't particularly insightful, but I think I do tend to be too sedentary.

I've recently been making an effort to go swimming more often, to help me get back in shape. However, it can sometimes be hard to summon up the enthusiasm for this, particularly if I've had a long day at work. A couple of weeks ago I'd planned to go for a swim in the evening, but I was yawning on my way to the gym and I really just wanted to go home and slump in front of the TV. I decided to go anyway, on the basis that I could always just do a few lengths and then sit in the jacuzzi for a while. The interesting thing is that after the first 10 lengths (200m), I actually felt more energetic than when I'd arrived, so I wound up swimming for my usual 30 minutes. So, the real problem (for me) is inertia: once I actually get going, it's quite rewarding.

Thinking about cycling, there are times when you can just coast along (particularly if you're going downhill). You don't need to use the pedals, and if you turn them around slowly then it doesn't have any effect; you need to get the "bite" where you're actually pushing the back wheel around. Something similar happened when I was swimming on Wednesday: I was going along, and I suddenly felt that I was doing it properly. I certainly wasn't breaking any speed records (or even accelerating), but I was using my arms to pull myself through the water, and meeting real resistance; at the same time, my legs were kicking hard enough to keep my body more or less horizontal. It's hard to explain, but it is satisfying.

Meanwhile, the gym are quite keen on getting people to sign up for training sessions. I did try one of the freebie sessions in April, but I didn't like it much. That's partly because it wasn't all swimming: the guy wanted me to go jogging through the water and then jump out to do press-ups at each end. However, it's mainly because he was quite pushy, e.g. he'd tell me to do 10 press-ups, and didn't want to take my word for it when I said that I couldn't. (At my peak, that wouldn't be a problem, but I know from experience that I have to work up to it, starting out with 1 a day, then gradually increasing the number as I get stronger.) Something similar happened when I went snowboarding: I got so frustrated with the instructor that I wound up unstrapping the board and walking down to the bottom of the slope, because it simply wasn't fun.

One of my teachers did something similar when I was at school. Our boarding house was doing a cross country run, and I'd normally walk most of the way, but on this occasion he ran beside me for the whole thing, thus forcing me to run it too, so I went far beyond what I believed my limit to be. The odd thing is that I remember the housemaster with affection; I haven't stayed in touch with him, but I owe him a lot for the way he influenced me.

I'm not sure why I react differently to the personal trainers I've met more recently; maybe it's just that they don't know me, or that I now have a more realistic idea about what I'm capable of. I think the main problem is that (in my perception) they're just using their own abilities as a guideline and they're obviously a lot fitter than I am. Mind you, I wonder what would happen if I did IT training the same way? The conversation would go something like this:

Me: "Right, I need you to select those three files, copy them to your USB memory stick, open them in Word, and print out two copies of each, one copy to the laser printer here and one copy to the printer downstairs. Go!"
Trainee: "Erm, hang on, I'm not very good with computers. How do I select those files?"
Me: "Come on, you can do this, it's easy."
Trainee: "No, I really can't, I don't know how!"
Me: "Pfah, I could do it with my eyes closed! Go on, you can do it if you really try! Faster, faster!"

If I acted like that, I'd expect to lose my job and possibly a few teeth. So, I make an effort to be patient when I'm teaching people what to do, and I recognise that there are other things they can do far better than me; I think that fitness trainers might benefit from the same approach.

Having said all that, I think it can work quite well to have a "gym buddy". That's partly because it makes me more likely to turn up (rather than skiving off) if I've arranged to meet someone, and also because a bit of friendly competition can help (e.g. racing from one end of the pool to the other). Ultimately, though, I think that self-motivation is the key, and that's a lot easier if you actually enjoy what you're doing.
Tags: cycling, running, swimming

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