Gym-tastic! Fitness is a Feminist Thing

There have been many anniversaries of note in 2017:

  1. 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death
  2. 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele
  3. 75th anniversary of Desert Island Discs
  4. 50 anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act
  5. 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley
  6. 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana…

You get the picture. Plenty of souvenir tea towels, programmes on Radio 4 and so on.

The date I have pencilled in my diary however, is the tenth anniversary of my introduction to Les Mills. I have been breaking sweat with him ever since.

For the uninitiated, Les Mills, former New Zealand Olympian, is the inspiration behind a global fitness programme incorporating classes you may have seen advertised as Body Pump, Body Attack, Body Combat, Body Balance and so on.

Essentially, if it’s a paid-for class with the word ‘Body’ fronting its name, you’re probably contributing to Les Mills’ pension.

Prior to subscribing to the whole Les Mills Fitness programme I had had a patchy relationship with fitness.

When it came to PE at school, I hid in a music practice room. It worked well and I regularly scored nil on the Athletics Register. I loathed team sports and happily never represented the school at netball, lacrosse or rounders.

I did enjoy dance, but that didn’t earn me any points with our traditional, cold-showers, no-nonsense Games mistress, whose name was Teresa. Her teams of ruddy-faced netball or lacrosse players went under the moniker ‘Terry’s All Gold.’

The rest of us were base metal.

Once I’d left school though, I discovered aerobics. High Impact aerobics, Step Aerobics, Boxercise, Jazzercise; I was going to classes four times a week through my twenties.

I loved the lycra, the trainer socks and the water bottles; I loved the instructors sporting mic packs and head sets bouncing across the stage driving us on with enthusiastic encouragement and abuse in equal  measure.

I loved the endorphin rush at the end of a workout.

I picked up the routines quickly and I was coordinated. I didn’t have to hide at the back of the class. I could proudly show off my gross motor skills!

For the first time in my life, I felt like I could do exercise. So much for Terry’s All Gold. They were full of soft centres. My abs were crunched and my inner thighs were potentially lethal.

In rural Dorset however, challenging classes and good instructors were hard to come by. 

And that’s when my pal Sarah introduced me to Les Mills Fitness. And Body Pump, a weight-training-to-music class.

 The instructors at the centre were mostly women. Well muscled, ripped women. 

It was empowering to be around them. Properly strong, athletic women. The sort of women men thought they could out-lift.

The sort of women who destroyed male swagger and boastfulness with a raised eyebrow and powerful silence as they clean and pressed something outrageous.

I was in awe of them all.

Once I’d got to grips with the Body Pump classes and begun developing some actual triceps you could see through my tops, I thought I’d give Body Combat a go.

For the first two classes I was bemused. Where the hell where the women finding all this aggression? There was lots of shouting and guttural noises above the crescendo of the music. It was as if Game of Thrones was being replayed in Studio 2.

Obviously, since I’ve read the report into BBC pay, I realise they must’ve been channelling anger about the gender pay gap.

The thing is, once you put your mind to it, exercise can be a powerful way of channelling stress and other difficult feelings. And there’s no need to be nice about it.

For ten years I’ve been religiously working out the Les Mills way, grunting and swearing my way through hours of Body Pump. (Jane Fonda this ain’t.)

Ok, the music is a trifle… Antipodean at times, but it’s still the best programme I’ve come across.

I can use work stress, family stress and political anxiety to my advantage. Frankly, the more stressed I am, the bigger my biceps.

Fitness doesn’t belong to the young. It belongs to the stressed. And the motivated. In Executive Youth I’m fitter than ever.

If you ever get into a fight in a pub, call me.

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