Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I'll be honest. There are few forms of physical exercise that I actually enjoy. I hate sports -- team and non-team, watching or playing them -- so what's left? Dancing comes immediately to mind. But dancing with or without the stars is such fun because booze is often involved, and getting down can lead to getting it on, another physical activity that can be a blast, solo or with a partner. The best part: You don't have to leave home, or even get out of bed, to do it -- unless you want to.

But is there anyone out there who gets a rise from going to the gym? I can deal with being there; it's the getting there that's always a problem. It's somewhat easier to find motivation once you're on the gym floor, surrounded by beautiful people talking on their cell phones, staring at their muscle tone in the mirror, and occasionally, actually making their workouts count. But going to the gym seems like something we always complain about having to do. I don't know anyone who bounds out of bed in the morning, smile in place, and announces, "Ooh, goodie, I'm off to the gym! Can't wait to get there!"

I'm certainly not one of them. And isn't the best part of a great workout finishing it? I go running, preferably outside of the gym, because it's therapeutic. (I've put my beloved Pilates regimen on hold since I left Buenos Aires, which has made for slightly darker days.) Even if it had no noticeable effect on my body, I'd probably still do it because it helps me clear my head and feel at one with the great outdoors. It's also an excellent way to get to know a city.

But I go to the gym because, well, at my age I have to, if I want to continue passing for twentysomething, which I think is such a stretch. Still, I appreciate people saying it. Recently, I was talking to a 19-year-old (now 20!) who thought he was face to face with a 24-year-old. I blamed excellent lighting, Kiehl's and a strict work-out regiment. Notice that I didn't mention diet. I eat what I want to.

Getting back to the gym, which I do grudgingly, as always, it's a necessary evil. No pain, no gain, and without the gain, why bother?

I suppose there is a positive side that has nothing to do with body image. As my muscles work, my mind works harder. Sometimes I plan out the rest of my day, have imaginary conversations with friends and lovers, or write articles in my head. Nothing that's playing on my iPod ( the Yeah Yeah Yeahs cranked to 10, Queen's "You're My Best Friend" on repeat, or my self-mixed 20-minute non-stop dance mix credited to DJ Jezza) can ever completely drown out that inner dialogue, which this week, seems to be on repeat, asking myself the same question after question after question. (Get ready for a list of three!)

Can this really be good for me? Every few years I read horror stories about death by treadmill. I think I read something about a twentysomething athlete collapsing and dying while on the treadmill the other day. And when Issac Hayes suffered a fatal stroke in 2008, wasn't his body found close to a still-running treadmill? Though I try not to think such morbid thoughts as I watch the clock count down (or up, but down makes the time go by much faster), sometimes it's hard not to wonder about the state of your heart when you're out of breath and you can practically hear your heart pounding over "Heads Will Roll."

And now that I think about it, those mice don't look so good.

Should I really have taken a taxi here? As I've already said, going to the gym is murder. Still, for years, I didn't see the point of driving to your work out. No matter how far I lived from my gym, I'd always try to get there by foot. I wouldn't even take the subway there or back when I lived in New York City, unless a torrential downpour (rain or snow) was stopping me from travelling the hard way.

But in Bangkok I've thrown that particular rule right out of the window. You see, as much as I love this city, it still intimidates me. There's so much traffic (according to the taxi driver who took me to Fitness First the other day, 8,000 new cars hit the streets of Bangkok every day), mazes of roads going this way and that way, red lights that take forever to turn green (and vice-versa), and a dearth of Walk/Don't Walk signs. The major highways -- which include Sukhumvit and Silom, my main Bangkok stomping grounds -- have numerous overpasses to make crossing the street easier, but after climbing up and going down just to get to the other side, I often forget where I was going in the first place.

I'm accustomed to living in cities that are laid out like grids, and you can take the boy out of the grid, but he probably won't know how to get anywhere. So when I signed up for my temporary Fitness First membership last week, I began taking taxis to the gym, which is only a few kilometers from where I live. Every time I tried to walk home, I'd get lost, and after an hour of aimless wandering, I always ended up in another taxi.

So imagine my surprise when, after nearly one week, I finally managed to find my way home in under an hour, and I only got lost twice. The next day, I didn't get lost at all. I was so confident that I decided to walk there the next morning. Of course, the thought of battling Bangkok's 90°F mid-morning heat makes the getting there even less appealing.

Do personal trainers practice what they preach? At Fit N Fast, my gym in Melbourne, they do. I've seen these men -- and ladies -- at work. And even if I hadn't, their perfectly sculpted bodies would give them away. But at Fitness First in Bangkok, I began to doubt my trainer from the moment he ordered me to stand on the scale and announced that my body fat was a whopping 21.3 per cent. I pulled up my shirt to prove him wrong. He was impressed but stood uncorrected. He also said that at 79 kilos (and 1.86 metres), I'm five over my target weight. He lost a lot of credibility that day.

It's not that he doesn't look the personal-trainer part -- though he sort of doesn't. And I didn't get the sense that he was hiding anything scandalous under his baggy training gear. But as he was encouraging me to squat and rise, squat and rise, while holding a 10-kilo weight in each hand, with one leg bent behind me so that my toes were touching a bench, I felt like saying, "I'd like to see you pull off four sets of 15 reps of these!" But I guess being a personal trainer is a lot like cutting hair. You don't have to be a walking advertisement for what you do in order to get results.

And no pain, no gain, right? Next set. One, two, three...
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