“You have put on lots of weight since I last saw. It’s got to come off. Your blood pressure is far too high and that’s got to come down too. You are 48 not in your twenties and you work too hard. Eat a lot less; find a gym and use it – regularly. It will help against that stressful job of yours, too”.


So said my retired GP, an experienced and kindly woman, brought back to cover a shift or two during the summer. At that particular moment, however, she looked like a Crown Court judge sending the prisoner off to jail whilst I sat there in the ‘doc’ with my tail between my legs.


When I switched my ears back on, I discovered that I was only being given a conditional sentence and even a choice of sorts – go to a gym to use a personal trainer regularly or go on blood pressure pills. My friends are full of (probably unscientific) tales of doom about those pills along the lines of ‘you never come off them’ with mentions in hushed tones of what those adverts call ‘erectile dysfunction’. So … I looked for a gym.


A friend had told me about the Better Body Gym and that it was ‘nice’. This sounded good but the advice was delivered during a meal out at a restaurant where I was eating something for which my GP would have undoubtedly added another 5 years without parole to my sentence. Anyway, what did ‘nice’ from her mean exactly? She is a highly intelligent and much loved friend but she did once wear white trousers whilst supporting her son from the muddy touchlines at school. Further consideration had me concluding that this might prove that she was not a natural gym user in which case it might be advice worth taking.


I walked past the gym 3 times before I dared go in, worried that all gyms must be full of ‘the beautiful all posing in mirrors – right?’. Obvious really, otherwise I would not have any excuse for my failure to use one in the past.


Totally wrong. The Sevenoaks Better Body Group gym has a really friendly atmosphere and clients of all shapes, sizes and ages.


No really, people as rotund as me, every bit as out as breath as me and, when there is a break in the music, I discover that some even grumble at their trainer just as much as me.


Talking of trainers, I was introduced to Jimmy, who has more bounce than Tigger and adores rugby despite being small and trim and, it has to be said, ‘mouthy’ on the pitch. I discovered he is kind, thoughtful and just out from a sport’s science master’s degree. He has helped me 3 hours a week ever since. I had undoubtedly fallen on my feet … just in time to be off my feet again on the mat learning ‘the plank’ which you don’t walk; using the ladder which you don’t climb; doing Russian twists which seem to have nothing to do with Putin and pushing the dreaded sledge (don’t ask because I won’t have enough breath for a quick answer). I cannot recommend Jimmy highly enough and have even let him loose to train my kids and my wife too.


I have befriended the team and the regulars. Shelley, the reception manager has teenagers to manage at home and she says that the trainers are much the same. There is a trainer who is always sufficiently cold to dress for an artic expedition. The greatest disaster is when the coffee machine is broken and the same person will always be first in the queue gasping for its repair. One chap, firmly into his ‘third age’ comes just to keep moving. There are mums (especially as Shelley can be persuaded to cuddle little ones whilst Mum trains), teenagers, a female pole-vaulter, some gymnasts who do awesome tumbles (don’t get ideas now, Jimmy) and even a man training to push a fully loaded bobsleigh. But mostly, it is full of people who just want and need to get fitter.


I have had surprising and funny moments. I chatted to a gentle doting father, who, just after showing me a picture of his little girl, casually told me he was the same kick-boxing expert who I had just seen killing the training dummy, which incidentally is replete with moustache and side-burns drawn on. I watched one of the super-fit trainers on Christmas Eve be put to shame by a man considerably older than her doing some core exercises involving balancing a surfboard on a ball. Oh yes, and I bumped into one of the ‘stars’ from my own office but perfectly timed as I was completely out of breath and unable to make conversation beyond ‘uurgh’.


A few tips:

  • It is essential to find a trainer who you like and who likes you. There is a wide choice all between good people. There are over 20 different trainers but they each have different styles – some more macho, some girly and, indeed, some deceptively relaxed (like Becca who trains me sometimes when Jimmy is away). Some trainers are qualified in injury recovery, some in weight-lifting and even some in both. There are even enough female trainers for female clients to have a choice of gender of their trainer, which is apparently rare.
  • If you don’t gel with your trainer, try someone else. They are used to ringing the changes and they gain as many clients in this way as they lose, so it’s all understood and it is fine.
  • Don’t worry about being rubbish. That is what they are there to help you with. You get better and one day you realise that something is not as difficult as it once was.
  • You only have to do one thing – commit to doing it as best as you can whilst you are there. This is because the trainers get an emotional reward from your effort. If you try hard then they are happy. It really is as simple as that.
  • If you start from a low base line (and sub-basement does not do justice to mine) then be brave enough to take a before picture. You don’t have to look at it now but it will soon help you see how far you have come.
  • Low base-liners should expect to need a few minutes after a session before you are safe to drive away. I use this shrinking length of time to measure my improved fitness.
  • Don’t worry what anyone else is thinking about you or whether they are looking at you or judging. They really aren’t. They are getting out of breath – like you; sweating – like you; and muttering insults under their breath at their trainer – just like you;
  • Trainers can’t count repetitions of any exercise – neither up or down.  Hyper-inflation is so common the Bank of England should worry, especially on the last set – “1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3 …”. If you lose count then they will just wait for you to look tired and then say ‘2 to go’;
  • I recommend Jimmy to you … but you can’t have him for the much fought-over 9 am slot on Saturday morning.


The rewards for doing this are multiple. I have made friends and a close friend in Jimmy. I really am fitter. I am lighter now than I have been for at least the last 10 years and still working on it. I have even had to buy new clothes because my old ones are far too big. Now I just have to keep the weight off (gulp) so I had better go to the gym.And the blood pressure is down too, thanks for asking, Doctor.


James Robinson (February 2016)