Saturday mornings are bliss, aren’t they? The first morning of the weekend, no need to put the alarm on, a time to relax and recover from Friday Night Frolics.
Yet there I was, knocking off the alarm – for a fitness class.
Yup, a fitness class. I have become the type of woman who forsakes the Saturday lie-in in favour of a knackering hour at the gym. (I am starting to get very worried that somehow when I turned 50, I went through a wormhole in space and am now in a very strange parallel dimension where I do things like this. Donald Trump as US President has to be pretty strong evidence in favour of that hypothesis, no?)
Worse, I wasn’t doing this because Mr 50 Sense shaming me into getting off the sofa and not watching the 14th episode of The Good Place on the trot, nor because I’d made a drunken vow to a (usually younger) friend to join her the next day.
No, I volunteered. And I volunteered because – gulp – it looked fun.
I wrote on Ministry Does Fitness, a new fitness (obviously) concept by the Ministry of Sound, for work and was so enthused by what I saw that when the PR asked me if I wanted to try a class, I jumped at the chance. (Which is ironic, as part of the class involved jumping and I was useless.)
It’s not a gym; it does classes, with a different theme each day – one day you’ll find workouts for core, another day it’s strength, endurance and so on. Of course, that wasn’t good enough for me; I had to do everything, which is how I ended up on the full-body showcase, which (surprise surprise) works on the whole body.
Now, with its reputation for being so hip it offers transplants on the NHS, Ministry is not the type of club younger me would have gone into. Back home in Newcastle in my hey-day, I never had the confidence to go into Julies, The Boat or Tiffany’s/the Ritzy and instead retreated to the Stage Door, dancing to the B52s and Martha and the Muffins while wearing giant Deirdre Barlow glasses and a nice top which made me look not too dissimilar to Rose West. (Did I say hey-day? It was more like nee-way-day.) So there was a bit of trepidation as I walked through the door and saw a couple of Beautiful People in trendy workout clothes, complete with sheer panels to show off her finely tuned tum.
But there was a lovely friendly welcome from the manager who chatted happily – as I pulled down my T-shirt a little more over my hips and gave the BPs the side-eyes, deciding that wherever I worked out, it was far from them.
The classes themselves are held in a vault underneath a railway arch in London’s Elephant & Castle (EastEnders is actually real!) and looks unlike any other gym I’ve seen – dark, moody, flashing lights and loud, active music. It looks like a place to do business and it was this which had grabbed me. I love my own gym; it’s close, cheap and has everything I need, plus the trainers are really friendly. But it’s quite sterile in lots of ways and doesn’t pump me up. When I first saw the room at Ministry, I felt the same way I did when I saw a kettlebell class during my time at the YMCA in Toronto. It looked hard and I wanted to do it.
And I was right. This was one of the hardest classes I’ve ever been to. There were seven stations and we would do a minute on each – so a minute hard running on the treadmills (great treadmills that rely on you doing the work, not the machine), or a minute kettlebells for core, planking on the TRX, pushing weights – followed by 20 seconds rest. Then there was a whole delightful minute’s rest before going back round, with a different form of the exercise on each station.
True to my word, I stayed away from the BPs and teamed up with a “normal” looking woman – who was another reminder that appearances can be deceptive, as my God was she good. While I collapsed at the end of each minute, using the full 20 seconds to try and persuade my body to continue, she was already at the next station, ready to give it her all. I watched in envy as she jumped up on to the ladder bars with ease and began knee lifts while I pathetically couldn’t even get close to reaching them. She left me standing – or rather, crumpled in a heap.
Halfway through, I wanted to go home. I was hot and knackered. Truly knackered. If the door had opened there and then, I would have been out of that door faster than Usain Bolt. And once I would have. During those dreaded cross-country runs at school, I gave up as soon as it was permissible.
But I could hear the encouragement of the two trainers – and, in my mind, of my fitness friends on Facebook – and rallied. I realised no one was looking at me and how “pathetic” I was – they were all interested in doing their best – so I whipped off that protective T-shirt and tackled the next round in my sports bra and leggings.
Who cared if there was jiggling flesh on show? Jiggling means movement and movement is good.
Having seen my struggles in the first round, the main trainer was there to help me on the ladder bars with a step to jump off (and a little lift) and I lifted my knees delightedly for the minute as Supergirl opposite dropped down twice. My core exercises were also better than hers, too (thank you Chas Rough and Yogamazing).
Now I’m not writing that to boast about my core, not in the slightest. She was bloody brilliant and I told her that as soon as the hell – sorry, workout, was over. (“It was really hard this week,” she replied.)
I’m writing it as a reminder that different people are better at different things. I needed a hand to reach the ladder bars while she didn’t and that was okay. She found some exercises hard that I didn’t and that was okay.
We each tried our best and got the workout we needed, which is what exercise is about.
By the end of it, I was on a high and wanted to do it all over again. Do it again, only better.
My sports bra is from a company called MyZone and has a fitness tracker attached to the centre of it (I feel like Iron Man in it) and I was truly shocked to see how hard I’d been working. It felt amazing to know my body could do this. Past my half-century, I am the fittest I’ve ever been and that was incredible. It was one of those “I wish I could tell my 18-year-old self this feeling” moments.
And those Beautiful People? Back by the lockers, the Beautiful Woman laughed when she saw me give a deep sigh of exhaustion and, like Supergirl, told me how hard it had been this week. We chatted a bit about exercise and I told her how amazing she looked.
“D’you think?” she asked. “My brother told me he thought my leggings looked a bit sleazy. I’ve been worried about them all the time. My boyfriend likes them, but I dunno…”
“If I looked like you, I’d wear them,” I said.
“Yeah? You should get some. They were really cheap.”
I looked at her long, long, long legs and my wee ones. Sexy sheer leggings wouldn’t have quite the same effect with roll-ups in them. But perhaps if they do them in petite sizes…
Many thanks (I think!) to Ministry Does Fitness. If you’re interested, classes are at Arches 80 and 81, Newington Court, London SE1 6DD; ministrydoesfitness.com