What do I want to achieve?

Just look at that picture at the top of the page, have you ever seen determination like that? Or a more worthy photo bomb by a bloke up a ladder with a paintbrush? That’s me on the left and Ashley my keen young personal trainer on the right looking as serious as the journey ahead of me demands. The bloke on the ladder is another trainer at Elyte Fitness, Greg, who quite frankly gave the whole thing the level of derision it deserved.

‘What do I want to achieve?‘ That question has been rattling round my head for the past week. Deep down I want to look like Jason Statham, but as soon as the words form I realise what a tit I will sound saying it out loud. The guy is a flaming athlete, he started out as a diver, practices loads of martial arts, a mega film star who does his own stunts, and has the time to devote to serious training. I am a 51 year old graphic designer who walks the dog (if she’s lucky), and gets to the gym a few times a week. The only thing I have in common with The Stath is hair loss.

When you start to think about it seriously it’s not that hard to come up with some goals; I want to prove that you can gain muscle and strength over 50; then I have always wanted to do some alpine climbing, which needs a level of fitness over and above what I’ve had in the past for winter climbing in the UK. Routes are longer and you need to move fast, so strength and stamina are key; then there is the desire to feel good about myself, which I do when I’m fit and have a sensible diet.

Evidently this all makes sense to Ashley as he nods and adds it all to his notes (I kept schtum about the Statham bit). I hand over my scruffy food diary that he had asked me to do for a week, again he nods and files it – I’m taking his lack of laughter or tutting as all positive signs so far.

The most interesting thing that comes out of the planning session is how much of personal training is down to the psychological side of developing oneself – I’ve noticed myself become more cautious over the years in the goals I set myself activity wise; age, parenthood and life experience strangely all play into this. For sure you can’t (or shouldn’t) be as reckless in middle age as you are in your twenties, but maybe we over compensate sometimes in where we set the bar.

The first phase is to do some strength tests in the gym to discover the maximum weight that I can handle for the main muscle groups we will be working on. This hurts, the way you find out your max is to get to the weight at which you fail. Failure involves teeth gritting and shaking like a shitting dog as you find yourself paralysed mid exercise with a weight that ain’t going anywhere.

Once Ashley has that information he can plan my workout sessions, we agreed on 4 or 5 sessions a week that he would develop over time to keep me working at my limit. He got to work on the plan as I hobbled out of the gym.

‘Working at my limit’ is such a deceptively simple phrase to say and type, I only started to realise what it meant when it came to the first training session a couple of days later. Ashley’s training plan broke down into targeting specific muscle sets on different days over the course of a repeating seven day cycle. We started on a Wednesday which for the foreseeable future is my ‘Shoulders and Core’ day.

Ashley’s training technique is based on a solid scientific foundation, weights, reps, rests and combinations of technique are all finely tuned. He watched me like a hawk to make sure my technique was just right, and you really feel when it is spot on as just the targeted muscle set is working. Of course I got to my limit pretty quickly on each exercise, Ash wasn’t afraid to up the weight if it looked too easy. The point of failure became a familiar place, his helpful explanations of why I was shaking like a leaf and going purple didn’t make it feel any better though. In this game failure is a good thing, muscles take notice and hormones are released that tell them to up their game (he’ll kill me for skimming over the science like that).

I really ached after that first session, I don’t think I’ve ever ached so much from such a short period of exertion, the corny ‘muscles you didn’t know you had’ line was very apt. The aches in those unknown muscles kept me awake that night, a few times I started to wonder if I had actually done myself a mischief. Next day the pain had morphed into an ache, I guess this is how I will feel a lot of the time from now on…

Thursday is ‘legs’ day and as Ashley was away I had to find the motivation and honesty to get through the sets in as hardcore a manner as I could muster. Yeah, well I think I did OK – certainly I really felt it again deep in the muscle, but I missed having a trainer there to coax that extra rep or nag me about my technique. That is when you realise the gulf between going it alone and having a personal trainer.

Successive sessions covered triceps and back, biceps and chest and a cardio session in the spin studio. Before I knew it the first week was done, and it has been a real eye opener, having a personal trainer transforms the idea of ‘going to the gym’. You are embarking on a journey with a defined start and goal, guided at every stage by someone who knows more about the way your body works and how to transform it than you will ever do.

I’m currently in week two, Ashley has increased some weights and really pushes me to get all reps done. Now I know what the exercises do and the way they need to be performed I can concentrate on getting it right. Over the door to the functional gym room at Elyte fitness they have their motto written on the wall; ‘It never gets easier, you just get stronger!’ Amazingly it feels better, but definitely not easier!

In the next blog I’ll get into the nitty gritty of diet. Training is only half the picture, without the right food going in you simply won’t have enough fuel for the training… Pass me that Mars Bar will you?

Iain Hazlewood

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