Just over one sweat-filled year has passed since I took on the challenge of total body transformation, and, as I slip on a pair of well-worn sneakers, I think about how far they have taken me.
I bought the shoes to go with my gym membership. This would be my first serious attempt at getting fit. If I was to be serious, I thought, I needed the gear â€“ and if I failed and gave up, the expensive footgear would serve as a niggling reminder of my laziness and unfulfilled dream.
The dream was to look like one of the guys in the magazines â€“ the ones with all the women dripping off them â€“ maybe not exactly the same, but something that might pass as a fit, regular body.
As it was, my body was straight up and down. No curves, no fat (except for a little tummy which hung over my belt) â€“ twigs for arms and kindling for legs â€“ a sunken chest and shoulders so narrow my t-shirts were in danger of sliding off. I felt awful, emaciated. Not all of Australia is suffering an obesity crisis!
My diet wasnâ€™t the best. Living off junk food, which I thought might bulk me up, was starving my body of proper nutrition. I was wasting away, sitting in a windowless office all day with very little activity and no serious will to build up the heart rate. Why should I? Whatâ€™s the point when itâ€™s easier to do nothing at all? Self-loathing wasnâ€™t so bad; Iâ€™d managed so far!
One day a pamphlet arrived in my mailbox. It was for a gym in my area and they were having a joining special. I almost tossed it in the bin but something made me stop. If I didnâ€™t take this piece of paper and do something with it, Iâ€™d be throwing more than the pamphlet away. Here was a chance to put an end to my dismal self-image. It might all be a waste of time, but if I were to hit the weights day after day, week after week, logically speaking, some physical change would have to occur â€“ I had nothing to lose. So I gave the gym a call and the nice lady at reception convinced me to come in and say hello.
As soon as I got there I felt ill. My gym prejudices told me the building would be full of toned and tanned bodies on treadmills, muscle bound oafs, blonde and beautiful bunnies all there to rain on my inferiority complex. The idea of dragging my narrow shoulders through those double sliding doors three times a week felt like pure masochism.
Henry was the trainer who greeted me and took me on a tour of the gym.
Like most trainers, his was a body so annoyingly fit he really had no business being in a gym at all. The gym is for unhealthy people: fatties and skinnies â€“ once gym goers achieve the sculpted look Henry had they ought to piss off and make room for the rest of us!
Within 15 minutes Henry had me on the machines and was making notes on his clipboard.
Flexibility: Below average
General level of fitness: Woeful.
Verdict: Alex, you suck!
None of this was any surprise to me. Perhaps it was the delirium I felt from using certain muscles for the first time, but I noted a look of genuine sympathy in Henryâ€™s face. I appreciated it. There were now two of us concerned about my body. If we both worked hard maybe we could turn it all round.
And so I started going to the gym. Armed with Henryâ€™s fitness program, a gaudy tracksuit and crisp white trainers I began to get fit. The first few weeks were tough. Mostly it was cardio stuff â€“ loosening the joints and getting my body used to the strain of activity and exertion.
In the gym I was at my most vulnerable. Shirt covered in sweat, hair in a tussle, screwed-up expression on my face and a scrawny frame exposed for everybody to see. I weighed less than 70kgs and I was almost 6 foot tall. But it didnâ€™t take long to realise how silly I was being.
What I saw was the amazing variety of bodies that frequented the gym. Sure there were big muscle guys and saucy ladies, but there were plenty of tubby people too. There were the old and frail using the treadmills and light weights, pregnant women doing stretching exercises, middle-aged executives burning off corporate lunches on the bicycles, and, to my great relief, skinny guys like me, sweating and panting, their machines set to the easiest settings. There was also a young guy who had been in an accident and was there to rehabilitate a badly damaged leg. He hobbled about on crutches, each step marked with pain and courage. Suddenly I had no right to complain about my body, instead I felt guilty, and promised to look after it from then on.
After four months I graduated from the machine room to the free weights room. Here was another challenge. Iâ€™d looked in to the free weights room a few times but mostly I just listened to the shouting and grunting that came out of it.
The gym is the natural home of the alpha male. If one cannot be an alpha, one must do his darndest to pretend. Here in all its fleshy, lumpy glory can be seen those blokes who have gone too far, watched on by the smaller guys who want to be like the blokes who have gone too far.
Many will be attired in singlet (and occasionally, more puzzlingly, beanies) and spend most of their time admiring their mass in the wall-to- wall, floor-to-ceiling mirrors.
The only thing scarier than these juiced-up front rowers is the sultry ladies in spandex and short shorts. Itâ€™s a humbling experience. I donâ€™t look when they bend over, or at least I know I shouldnâ€™t look. Actually I didnâ€™t need that kind of teasing when struggling enough as it is!
There is no hiding place for a skinny guy in there, and I wondered how much longer Iâ€™d be able to take this kind of punishment.