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Walking the Tightrope: Gym

When Sally Codman returned to the gym she started gently, swimming a few lengths then sampling aqua-aerobics - "great fun if you don't mind wallowing about looking like a hippo in a mud pool''.

Should I stay or should I go? - That's the question facing me at this time of year when I'm given the choice of continuing my gym membership, or embarking on a time-consuming round of letter writing and phone calls to cancel it. So, of course, I, like most other members who are solvent or not too deeply in debt, take the line of least resistance and remain a member. This is fine by me because (call me sad if you like) I actually enjoy going to the gym

I was offered membership as a Christmas Present three years ago by my long-suffering husband, who, tired of hearing me moan about how fat and unfit I was, called my bluff. Reluctantly I decided to take up the challenge.

I dug out an old T- shirt, sweat pants and the trainers I bought twenty years ago, when we went through a phase of participating in so called 'fun runs' (as you've probably guessed this didn't last long as the trainers are still wearable) and embarked on free trial sessions at several gyms.

My previous experience of the facilities offered by local gyms, like my trainers, was twenty years out of date. Way back then, 'going to the gym' was still pretty much for the guys. Gyms tended to be scruffy rooms, in cold converted mills, containing a few benches and racks of weights. The showers were lukewarm and decorated with mildew, the changing rooms smelt damp and sweaty and the 'café' was a coffee machine in the corner.

I was delighted to discover that many of today's gyms are purpose-built, light and airy, complete with full-size swimming pools and pleasant après-workout cafes serving cooked meals. I was daunted to discover that the gyms of today are full of a huge array of equipment; such as cross-trainers, power striders, rowing machines, bikes in a variety of disguises and fixed-weight machines. In the olden days the only 'high-tech' piece of machinery was the treadmill

Intimidated by all this new technology I started gently with a few lengths of the pool, and progressed to aqua-aerobics - great fun if you don't mind wallowing about looking like a hippo in a mud pool. Within a few weeks I'd got the hang of most of the mysterious-looking machines, with a bit of help from the better-looking instructors, and was on the way to a slim n' fit new me.

So, what went wrong? I'm definitely fitter - I can prove this by walking quickly up hills without puffing and panting and carryings lots more bags home from shopping trips. (Mr C. isn't convinced this last skill is a good thing!)

Unfortunately, I'm also definitely fatter. On a good day I tell myself this is something to do with muscle weighting more than fat. On a bad day I reason that my subconscious has decided that if I do a bit of exercise I can eat what I want, whenever I want. On an honest day I admit it's a combination of the above factors.

Perhaps what's needed is a fresh start in a new fitness class. Browsing through a magazine the other day I was amused to read advice on 'Wacky Ways to Exercise' favoured by, you've guessed it, Hollywood stars and California's beautiful people.

Gyms over the pond have moved on a level from our amusing and effective aqua aerobics. Today the latest trend in water workouts is submerged treadmills and bikes alongside kickboxing, step and circuit-style classes in chest-deep water (I kid you not.)

If water's not your element you could always try the 'Circus Workout' featuring swinging on the trapeze and tumbling, or failing that the hula hoop or belly-dancing classes. And, for the very bored or very desperate, something completely different - 'cardio striptease' - described as 'guaranteed to make you blush and sweat.' And there was I thinking I'd be adventurous and try a few yoga positions, a Pilates lesson, a touch of Tai Ch'I, or even hop on a bike for a 'Hills n'Thrills' hour.

Where the good old U.S.A leads, we seem to follow, so watch out for the amazing 'Underwater Circus Cardio Striptease workout' - coming to a gym near you soon. See you there - elephant costumes compulsory .......


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