There is an oft quoted statement that you can’t build or maintain muscle much past your late forties. You’re over the fitness hill and should just fade away. but then how do you account for physiques sported by the likes of Jason Statham, Hugh Jackman and Keanu Reeves? All actors hovering around that fifth decade. I was pondering this and then read about another actor, JK Simmons (he was in the film whiplash), who in his sixties decided “I was going to stay in decent shape for the rest of my life,” and promptly built himself up to an amazing level.

The actor JK Simmons in ‘Whiplash’ at the age of 60. He got down that gym and worked for it.

So I have decided to get in shape, lose that spare tyre and build some muscle. My incentive for all this came in 2015 at the age of 49 when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer, turned out my left kidney was just one big tumour. The  only treatment was an operation to whip out the offending organ, so within a month of diagnosis I was in Adenbrookes having a pretty major operation. I won’t go into the slo-motion emotional wringer that myself and everyone I love went through, suffice to say they got the bastard out and follow up scans have been clear.

It’s a weird thing, the Big C. For me (amongst many things) it was a smack in the face with a sense of my own mortality, which I carry with me constantly. I dealt with it by developing a near fanatical positivity, the doctors told me that walking was the best thing as soon as possible after the op, so I hobbled around the village like a geriatric on a mission. At first bent over with the foot long incision across my belly screwing my abs into a wall of numb scar tissue. Slowly I got straighter as mobility returned, over a few weeks the screaming agony dialled itself down to a painful annoyance and eventually a dull ache. Then one day my wife Kirsty suggested we started going to Boot Camp…

This was when I met Dawn Lamb. I explained what I’d been through and she said she would soon sort me out and get me doing sit ups. She has told me since that she didn’t expect to see me again after the expletive laden complaints and grimacing from me in that first session. Well I bloody well did go back and that boot camp has been a part of our lives for the past eighteen months or so.

Now I’ve always thought that I was relatively fit, over the years I’ve done a lot of hillwalking, winter climbing, canoeing and surfing. All of which are pretty demanding sports. yet when I look back my technique to get fit for them was pretty lazy. Rather than maintaining any kind of training programme it usually came down to beasting myself for a month or two before a trip to get strength and stamina up and then larding out after it. As a younger guy that kind of worked, but as I’ve got older it just seems like a recipe to get injured more quickly.

I’d only ever done exercise for a particular goal and never really enjoyed it for its own sake. But now I found that I was really enjoying boot camp two or three times a week come rain or shine. Then Dawn started mentioning her plans to open a gym, I only half listened as the idea of a gym didn’t really appeal to me. Give me a grubby tyre sloshing with rainwater to push around some astro turf any day over that! Eventually Elyte Fitness opened and we duly went along to have a look round, not really knowing what to expect.

Suffice to say I’ve had to eat my words as I haven’t been to boot camp since (and yes, I feel the guilt pangs, sometimes that neglected pile of tyres at the corner of the pitch haunts my dreams, all alone now with just the rats for company). The big bright and airy studio is a great space for classes, the spin studio is frankly awesome, but it is the functional gym at Elyte Fitness that really fascinates me. So many shiny mysterious machines that somehow promise me Statham or Jackman levels of buffness. Yet I have no real idea what I should or shouldn’t do with all that iron, how to target strength, flexibility or stamina.

So what to do? I bought a few issues of Men’s Health magazine, all of which promised me a body like the bloke on the front cover in only 4 weeks. Hallelujah I thought, this will be a cinch, I even copied them out into a little notebook so I could take them to the gym. However, once I was there it just fizzled out, good intentions turning to frustration all too quickly.

OK, so they are all film stars who have buckets of cash for teams of trainers and nutritionists, but they are all around that 50 year old mark. I held on to that one similarity I had with them whilst it dawned on me that it would take more than just buying the mags to achieve the promises made on the front cover.

So if I am I’m lacking gumption, then let’s get someone else to give me some motivational assistance. Step Forward Ashley Hicks BSc (that’s in sports science), just starting out on a career as a personal trainer. His first question to me was ‘well, what do you want to achieve?’.

Read Part Two to find out

Iain Hazlewood

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