The Gym Diaries

Word staff writer Owen Salisbury has started to take his fitness seriously: he’s hired a trainer. Here’s the first in a series of columns where we follow Owen in his attempt get muscles like beachballs


This is the story of how I turned from a chubby schlub into a serene, balanced, healthy individual making positive life choices, who also happens to be a jacked, cut and served slab of prime Grade A hypermasculine man-beef.


Hopefully, anyway. As I write this, I’ve only just started. I still have the belly, I still live the stress, I still have a Yugo of an immune system.


Think positive, though. As you read this, I’m a few weeks into a life-changing experiment with my personal trainer, Daniele Moretti. Here’s my diary.


Day One


I am surrounded by grunting, muscular Vietnamese guys. Even the one with a gut struts on legs like pillars, with shoulders that could bear a Nouvo.
My legs burn. My gut jiggles as my chest heaves. Sweat drops from my face, soaks my shirt. I’m not even carrying weights. I feel like an idiot.
“It’ll pass,” Daniele says.


The Crucial First Days



The first days are all assessment. Daniele demonstrates a motion, then inspects my crude imitations. He adjusts my posture and tells me some rule of thumb — always have knees and toes pointing the same direction when doing squats — then adjusts me again when my form deteriorates.


Form is crucial. Daniele doesn’t compromise, nor allow me to cheat. It takes a while to find the sweet spot, though when I do I recognize it. While the basics are the same for everybody, the specifics depend on your body. Everybody squats with a straight back; the width of your stance depends on your unique biomechanics.


I do a side-squat. My knee cheats out. He spots it, encouraging me when I get it right. Soldiering on, I feel inept. I dislike that intensely.


Basic Motions


Since I want to get healthy, my routine is based on full-body motions. Lose fat, build muscle, boost energy, work the heart and lungs. We do six basic motions: squats, lunges, hinges, pushes, pulls and various sorts of rotation. Many exercises are body weight only — think push-ups or pull-ups.


“That’s enough for your goals,” Daniele assures me. There will be no curls, no vanity exercises to sculpt my biceps.


Days Four, Five and Six


Second week of training. We shift our schedule, and end up doing three days in a row. The first two are good; the third I’m slightly hungover and utterly drained. I look like a vampire’s lunch.


Daniele is relentlessly positive, but not mindlessly. “The building blocks are there,” he says. “Now we have to get those blocks in place.”


He pushes, but is adamant that recovery is as fundamental as exercise. Knowing your limits is a must.


“We’ll do an active recovery day,” he says on the third day. Active recovery involves stretching, body weight exercises, movement without stress.


I still can’t last the hour. He pushes me to dizziness and discomfort, then lets me go. I don’t quite want to puke.


Through Exercise Alone



Exercise alone isn’t enough to rebuild your health.


I get the supplements he suggests: multivitamins, zinc, magnesium, B12, fish oils, melatonin because I’m an insomniac.


Another essential part of recovery is having the correct nutrients to rebuild the torn muscles denser and tighter. Metaphorically, I’ve begun tearing down a decrepit house. Rebuilding requires matériel; I take mine with food because zinc on an empty stomach is encapsulated nausea.


A Minor Epiphany


This series came about partly because one of my students poked my belly, saying “Teacher has baby!” When that happens, it’s time to fitness up. Because I’d met Daniele around then, this column seemed obvious.


Yet an odd thing happened at the start of week three. I text Dan about how much I need this, need to turn things around.


“Glad you’re experiencing that eureka moment so early,” he texts back.


The next day, I realise I’ve moved my belt up two notches already. More vitally, I feel better. The gym is becoming a fun place.


“Understand your goals, understand your context,” Daniele says. I think I finally do.

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