Six weeks ago, I joined a gym.
We were about to shoot the music video for “Elephant in The Room,” Stories Told’s second single. I was more than a little nervous about the whole experience, because it would be my first time being a “leading lady” (discounting my turn as Flora in David Ives’ “Arabian Nights”), and spent much of my free time fretting about costumes and makeup and finding the best angles to transform me from sharp-jawed, severe looking frontwoman to lovelorn ingenue.
Then I remembered something that made me even more neurotic: the camera adds ten pounds.
The solution to this was pretty clear-cut, at least in the eyes of Mark, our sardonic creative director. “Lose weight.” he said, matter-of-factly. I tried to deflect, explaining that I wasn’t that much chubbier than my college self (surprisingly true) and anyway I’d just dropped an inch…maybe.
“You’re already fatter than you were when you started. Lose weight.”
Before you call me out for fat-shaming, let me explain: in the years since joining the workforce, my physical activity levels had taken a nosedive. Once upon a time, I could run (well, run-walk) ten kilometers in our church’s annual marathon. I did core training, strength training, self-defense, pole fitness, and even krav maga. One year, I was even the last woman standing in our PE class’ dreaded beep test. I’d trained three hours a day, four times a week, to sculpt my body into a lean, deadly, dancer’s frame for a student martial arts film. Though I was never skinny (the closest I got was that martial arts film, and I looked downright awful after the weight loss), I’d always been somewhat fit, with enough physical activity to justify the nasty college student diet I was on (instant noodles and Monster Energy, anyone?).
Post-graduation, with no more mandatory PE classes, more time seated at a desk, and band life eating up the rest of my free hours, my routine changed dramatically to a more sedentary pace. Slowly, so slowly I frankly barely noticed, my strength began to disappear. My boyish body–boxy, with its wide shoulders and cleanly-angled jaw–softened. Add to this the fact that I’d only gotten worse in my junk food/energy drink habits, and it was no surprise that I was out of shape.
I’m not proud that it had to take appealing to my cinematic vanity to convince me to do something about my body, but it worked–that afternoon, armed with Mark’s instructions, I hied off to Healthy Options and bought myself a bottle Green Tea Thermo Pills, which I took religiously over the two weeks (after which I was told to taper dosage off) leading up to the shoot. And, as I chugged down the first water bottle of the day–ignoring cravings for potato chips and Mini Stop fried chicken–I started looking up gyms.
Actually, that’s a lie. I already had a gym in mind, largely because it was the only one I knew was in close proximity to my office. 360 Fitness Club seemed big enough to be legit, but small enough that I wouldn’t feel lost in a sea of machines, as I often did on the rare occasions I would go with my mum to her gym. I couldn’t afford a personal trainer, but as a type-A personality I thrived on training, repetition, and a concrete plan. Circuit training, which I’d done back in university, offered just that.
So I booked myself a free trial, to test the waters.
After nearly passing out, and basically sending my worn pair of Lunar Balance Nikes to shoe heaven, I signed up. The amount was reasonable–especially considering the free group classes and the discount for Pole Fitness, which I desperately wanted to take up again–but painful enough that I couldn’t just brush it off if I felt too lazy.
Admittedly, the first two times, I nearly did just that. I had to drag myself through the doors, dreading the moment I finished warm-ups and had to dive into the circuit. Even my circuits were wobbly those first tries, far from the intense, measured rhythm of my free trial. Given 360 Fitness’ workout model of exercises done in rapid succession, with little rest time, I had no opportunity to zone into music, like you could on a treadmill. I was alone with my screaming lungs and the unforgiving “beeps” signaling each thirty-second set.
It was like my university beep test nightmares all over again. But then, I found my groove, and six weeks later here I am.
Honestly, I’ve never really experienced the so called “endorphin rush” you’re supposed to get post-workout. And there are still times–especially right about the midway point of my third circuit–when I want to quit, throw up, black out, die, or all of the above. But it’s become a habit, all the same. If I’m cranky after the gym, I’m crankier when I miss a workout day. Something about the reliability of the circuit, the world reduced to thirty-second intervals and an inner trainer shouting at you to keep going, just a few more, is almost zen-like. I don’t think, which, if you know me well enough, understand is no small miracle.
When I feel like I’m screwing up at work, or like my brain is fried beyond belief from the Christmas rush, like I’m alone on yet another Friday night, or like I’m being pulled along too many tangents, I clock in gym time and feel all of it disappear, feel myself reduced to shaking muscles and burning lungs and a brain that, at most, just shouts at me to keep going.
I did my first finisher set today. It’s the set you do at the end of three circuits that helps lock in your “afterburn.” (Can’t remember the fancier name for it, but I know there is one.) I did 5k, mostly running, in 42min and 12seconds during that annual church marathon, which was on Monday. Every Saturday, I take pole fitness and am pleasantly surprised that my body still remembers the spins, the basic climbs.
Next week, I want to try the “Run you clever boy and remember” workout I found on the internet, maybe as a finisher or an alternate set. I posted it on the 360 Fitness Makati FB group, and while no Whovians have shown themselves yet, a few people have “liked” it. (Maybe I should go to the gym in my TARDIS shirt.)
There are no mirrors in 360 Fitness, not unless you’re in the group class room (like in the photo above). There is no time to snap a selfie “in action,” not while you’re on the clock. This isn’t about how I look, how attractive I might become (though I do fantasize a bit about rocking a bodycon dress for my 23rd birthday). Instead, it’s about turning the world off for a little bit, zoning out, finding a moment of quiet in a noisy life. What started as the fear of looking fat on camera has turned into, frankly, a masochistic way of putting myself first.
Strong. My body is stronger. I can feel it. It’s not fighting form yet, but it’s getting there. And it feels good.