We all know beauty's on the inside. It’s not what you look like, it's what you do that counts. But when your nine-year-old wobbles your bingo wings and asks why your arms are so floppy, it’s enough to put things swiftly in perspective. I’m 43, I have no extra minutes in my day, but I wish I looked more like Davina McCall than me.
As the Head of Digital at HELLO! I spent a lot of time observing the habits of fabulous forty-something celebs. I know all about the realities of photoshoots, the benefits of good lighting and the joy of great makeup artists, so I definitely understand that holding myself up to impossible physical ideals isn’t good for anyone’s mental health. But actually - while I wish my extremities were firmer and my belly didn’t resemble one of my kids' prize squishies - it’s really these celebs' routines and discipline I find fascinating - and wish I could emulate.
Victoria Beckham works out before the kids are up (sadly my eldest has to be up at 6am to make it to school on time and not even VB is working out at 5am, so that’s off the list). But somehow these stars fit it in, and it's suddenly bothering me that if Davina can transform her figure by becoming good friends with a barbell and some serious commitment to spinning, then surely I should be able to, too?
I've figured out that the only time I could carve out of my day for working out is lunch. So I find a gym close to the office (the Bankside Health Club has lots of lunch time classes, so it seems a good start) and go for a chat with the fitness manager Anna. She says my plans for classes are great, but if I really want to firm up and look like a celeb (my ambitions are realistic, I promise), there's no getting away from some resistance training. So before I can give myself time to change my mind, I sign up. Anna and I will start off with 2 personal training sessions a week. And I'll add to it from there.
My first trip to the gym feels weird. I'm so used to settling into my desk and sitting there all day long, even having lunch at the screen. It feels decadent, and stressful, to pull myself away. Even the thought of locking my phone away for 45 minutes is starting to give me palpitations. What if Meghan suddenly announces she’s pregnant? What if the baby we’re eagerly awaiting the first photo of, to announce his or her birth, arrives? Can I really go awol in the middle of the day?
It’ll be good for me, Anna insists. And while I’m sure she’s right it feels really odd. The thing about gyms though, even if you not doing an actual work out, (according to my trainer she's just assessing my areas of weakness), is that your mind, once whizzing with deadlines and social media statistics, is suddenly only able to think about one thing. This. Really. Hurts. And the break in the mental whizz feels good.
The day after, it doesn't feel quite so good. Walking is challenging to say the least - especially when it contains stairs. And as warned day 2 is even worse. But by day three, when I'm back in the gym with my trainer again - this time focussing on arms, it is true, the pain was worth it. Because it felt like I really was doing something.
Davina's workouts give me motivation that I can do it too
It still feels stressful being out of the office for 45 minutes. And the weights my weedy arms are able to lift are slightly embarrassing in a gym which suddenly feels populated by bodybuilders. But I've made it, twice. So I'm beginning to feel like I might really be able to stick to my three month challenge.
I'm going to be updating this article each week, so you can see how I progress. Who knows what the results will be. Anna seems convinced I'll soon be pushing 200 kilos with my thighs (we'll see about that). But she promises that if I stick to it, I can definitely hope to look like more Davina, and less like Mr Blobby. "Your son won’t be saying that about your arms soon," she promises.
I was supposed to take proper, influencer-style before pictures but I’ll be honest, I really can't face it. So here’s one of my first day in the gym feeling distinctly uncomfortable in this contraption. But at the weekend I’ll take a couple more baseline images so we can see my progress. And if you fancy joining me please do. I’d love to hear your comments via the social posts.
My first experiences of post-resistance training after a long gap had been so bad I’d spent this weekend anticipating massive upper-body pain that would render sipping tea impossible – but in fact my arm and shoulder discomfort wasn’t that bad. So come Monday morning, I wasn’t dreading a reunion with Anna as much as I’d thought I might. Getting out of the office still felt decadent and like it should all be done in a dash. But I persist in reminding myself lunch hours are built into contracts for a reason, and actually taking mine a few times a week would soon be good for my stress levels (surely?) rather than add to to them as they currently did. After all, no emergencies had, so far, befallen anyone while I’d been at the gym.
I’d been wondering if a personal trainer was really necessary, having managed my own weight training in the past – but as the days went by it was becoming clearer what the benefits are. Not only does she have me using machines in ways I’d never have thought of myself (leg extensions and compressions done with toes turned in, or out, to highlight specific muscle areas make simple moves infinitely harder and more effective), it’s also nice to have someone else’s input on your physical wellbeing.
Some of the exercises I’ve done this week have been to build strength in areas I have weakness due to all the desk-based activities I do – and even just the discussion of this has made me more aware of slouching, and posture. I don’t yet feel inches taller but I can see how in time I might.
We move from the simpler machines this week, onto the really scary man machines, the sort I’d only dare touch with the protection of a PT by my side – one where I’m squatting with a huge bar on my shoulder and getting into positions that feel much more challenging that those I’ve done before in body pump class.
I also find myself deciding to jog to work one morning – it’s only a few kilometres but it loosens up my residual hamstring soreness and makes me feel great. At the weekend, my brother messages to say his gym is having an open weekend and do I want to go along for a session? I’m not brave enough to try his HIIT class, but I do jump on a rowing machine for 20 minutes, and then go for a swim. My body doesn’t feel any different yet (other than the aches and pains) but I’m feeling pretty high on the fact that I’ve managed to squeeze four exercise sessions into the week.
It’s a particularly full-on time at work this week and my two strictly-scheduled work out times carved into a back-to-back meetings are a welcome relief from the pressure. And although I’m not really sure it can be true, I’m starting to feel like my body is already changing. There’s a moment at work when I stretch out my legs to rub my slightly stiff thighs and I feel real definition through my quads. I’m also sitting on incredibly achy buttocks for the last half of this week, thanks to some seriously killer lunges Anna had me doing last week, under high weight and to failure. The aim was to make sure my quads, which are dominant apparently, and usually take the strain when given the option, couldn’t do so. Judging by the pain, I can concur that the muscles at the backs of my legs were definitely engaged.
My son hears me talking about my trainer on the school run and interrupts. "Do you mean a Personal Trainer?" he asks incredulously. I nod. "Do you think you’re a celebrity now?" he demands (we have a Game of Life – Red Carpet edition where the aim is to build up an entourage – this is his only experience of a PT). But I see where he's coming from, because on one hand it does seem like a lavish luxury. But for once I am answerable to someone – if only because I’ve booked a slot in her day so can’t stand her up. And it’s this responsibility to another person which has meant that I’ve now persisted with my new fitness drive for three whole weeks.
My before pics - at least things can only get better!
I even got a colleague to take some 'before' photographs of me quickly at the start of this week as I realise I need to be able to see actual progress in this process and the thought of posing against a wall in my kit isn’t quite as unthinkable as it was 2 weeks ago.
My challenge for the next week is to join some classes – I’m nervous about spinning but Anna takes one class at my gym so I’ve said I’ll go to that one. Yoga is another that’s been recommended (I’m not nervous about that, just questioning if I can find the time), and the screaming, drill sergeant ones that I hear with horror some lunch times when I arrive at the gym have thankfully not been mentioned yet. So I’m going to keep quiet about those.
OK – hands up. I haven’t made it to a class this week, but life can get in the way of even the best laid plans and I’ve had to fly to Madrid for a few days at head office, which left minimal days for training. I did however manage to catch up with Anna for two sessions and wow.
I think previously I’d assumed (and actually I have had a trainer once, many years ago, and it was true then) that after a few weeks of personal training there will really be no need to continue sessions – you’ve figured out how the machines work, you know which bits need the most work, so you’re just really paying for external motivation. The things Anna makes me do, however, I’m quite sure I’d never be able to make myself do – because it really, really hurts!
This week I was introduced to the circuit. A beast that began with pulling a large, heavy rope through a ceiling pulley until it had gone all the way through, then doing it back the other side. No time to catch my breath and I was onto what I can only call heavy ball torture – basically picking up a large, heavy 10k ball, trying (and at times failing) to propel it above my head, then slamming it onto the floor. Only to do it again….and again…(you get the drift). After that it’s the rope slam – another big, wide rope this time hanging vertically off a wall bracket, which I have to pick up the ends of and make bash against the floor, a bit like a never-ending wave. Followed finally by superman arm lunges (I might be making these names up) – essentially whacking your arm forward into a superman pose, against some fairly heavy resistance, so you have to engage your whole core to achieve it.
I’m actually slightly dizzy at the end, my heart racing and my arms like jelly. But there’s no doubt it feels like it’s doing some good. And the great thing about doing a bit of exercise (and aching a bit in the days that follow) is that it reminds you constantly about doing a bit more – so I’m proud of myself when, during my business trip to Madrid, I find time for a 5k run.
I’m starting to feel like my muscles are getting stronger, and that – while underneath a layer of biscuits and cake that seem to be endlessly on offer at work – I can see the odd tricep trying to make its outline known.
I mention to Anna that I realise it’s probably time to look at what I’m eating and she agrees. There’s only so far you can get with training alone, so she asks if I’ll start keeping a food diary. Actually, next week is half term, and the kids and I are off on holiday – not the best week to start, so we agree I’ll get serious on my return. And my attempts to promise the odd run on holiday – or even a trip to the hotel gym – are received differently to how I’d imagined. Even Anna, super-human body building Anna, refuses to train on holiday. So I go into this week’s sessions with even more gusto than usual, with the promise of a whole week off guilt free next week.
When I get back to the office (my guilt levels of taking off at lunch have dropped from about a 10 down to a 7) I can’t help telling everyone I’ve been thigh pressing 100kg today. Anna’s taking the weights and the intensity up a notch – in between tricep exercises now, are more tricep exercises, rather than a breather and a gossip, but she and I can start to see little signs of the work paying off, and it feels really good to be making progress.
WEEK SIX AND ONWARDS
Well, here's the thing. I'm still training with Anna (it's been 4 months now) and I don't look like Davina. But also, I have a really hectic job, two young sons and a household to run when I get home from work so actaully I'm ok with that. But I'm stronger, fitter and more than anything I'm mentally boosted to realise that I am capabale of both getting out of the office a couple of days a week, but also ressurecting these muscles that haven't seen the light of day for many years. And having a time, twice a week, that is marked out as 'mine' is really empowering. Occasionally of course things don't go according to plan. But mainly I make it. And while I might not look quite as good as Davina, I'm definitely thankful to her for giving me the inspiration to get back in the gym.