Mark Andrews: I'm exhausted before I've even set foot in the gym

This is going to be a journey into the unknown. A venture right outside my comfort zone.

How Mark will look by the time you read this
How Mark will look by the time you read this

Perhaps not quite up with the time I was coerced into entering the Black Country Gurning Contest, or when I had to go morris dancing on Sedgley Beacon at 4am. But it is up there.

This week, for the first time in more than 15 years, I have been for a work-out in the gym.

Some of you may recall that earlier this year I had a bit of trouble with the old ticker: I don't like to mention it, but it is kinda relevant to the story.

As part of my rehabilitation, the excellent charity Action Heart is very kindly allowing me the use of a gymnasium at my local hospital. By the time you read this I will have had my first of three sessions with a cardio-expert, who will show me how to get my heart back in shape. I do wonder, though, if they know what they are letting themselves in for.

I'm not what you would call a gym bunny.

At school, I actually quite liked the gym sessions. Not because I had any talent, but because they provided occasional respite from the normal routine of standing on a frost-encrusted playing field being shouted at. Being shouted at in a warm gymnasium seemed a pleasant luxury by comparison.

Nevertheless, over the past 30-odd years I have been pretty adept at dodging the gym. In my late 20s I dabbled with weight training, but only in the privacy of my own home. With some high-quality kit from Argos which made the suspension of the car sag.

Before lockdown, I went swimming every week at my local leisure centre, much to the irritation of those who could actually swim faster than a sleeping turtle. But going to a gym? No thank you.

But didn't I mention something about going to a gym 15 years ago? Oh yes, the first and only time I went to a proper gym came when I was on holiday in Turkey, and decided to take advantage of the provisions at the hotel. It asn't an unqualified success.

Trying to blend into the background, I sat down at a weight machine and tried to pull the lever down, but it didn't budge an inch. After a few minutes' heaving and grunting, I succeeded only in lifting myself off the bench, the weights remaining rock solid. Clearly, this machine, which everybody else managed to use with impunity, was way beyond my meagre strength.

Humiliated by my puniness, the plan was to escape the building as stealthily as I had slipped in.

No chance. By this time, my efforts had come to the attention of a toned, swarthy Mediterranean fellow with sleek black hair, Lycra vest and matching shorts. He flashed a knowing smile, flicked a switched on the back of the machine, and the weights became free. So the one piece of experience I bring to this session is that it helps to turn the equipment on.

Anyway, with the sessions now booked, the next thing I need is some clobber.

"Wear a T-shirt, loose-fitting trousers and trainers," said the lady on the phone. Right.

I'm not totally averse to clothes shopping. I generally manage to look reasonably presentable for work, and off-duty I can rock the dark-jeans-and-check-shirt combo as well as Jeremy Clarkson. But dressing for the gym? That sounds scary.

OK, the T-shirt bit isn't too hard, even if it does have the name of a brewery across the front. Possibly not ideal for a centre dedicated to cardio-rehabilitation.

Will my Converse do for trainers? Apparently not. Serious exercise calls for serious footwear, and I need more protection. I suppose the sensible thing would be to go to a sports shop, and seek the advice of whichever floppy-haired teenager is on duty. Trouble is, I know he will talk about air-soles and Kevlar-cushion technology, in the same way that computer geeks talk about apps, rams and meg. My eyes will glaze over and I will have not the foggiest idea what I am buying. Besides, the ones in Tesco were 16 quid.

Then there's the loose-fitting trousers? That bit sounded important, serious even. The lady on the phone was adamant they must not be tight. Now, I would say everything's pretty free and easy in my boot-cut Wranglers, but I don't think that's what she had in mind. So off to buy some jogging bottoms.

Now buying normal trousers is easy. I know I'm a 34in waste, or at least I was before hospitalisation. But jogging trousers aren't measured by anything as simple as waist size. Instead you have vague categories like small, medium, large, XL and XXL – which seems to be the most plentiful.

And if they don't fit properly? You just make up the slack by tugging a draw-string thingy at the front. A bit like with pedal-bin sacks, only not quite so stylish.

I wonder if the lack of waist sizes is one of these touchy-feely, 'you can't call people that' type of things: to spare fatties the embarrassment of asking for a 62in waste, the rest of us have wear strides that don't fit, with a bit of rope to stop them falling down.

Strangely, while there is a 'few sizes fits all' approach to waistbands, there are all manner of different styles within those sizes. What is the difference between 'slim' and 'skinny', for example? And while I did find a suitably 'loose fitting' pair, they still had elastic round the bottom of the legs. Will that be ok? I do hope so. Because I'm exhausted already, and that's before I have set foot inside the gym.

Can't be good for the heart...

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