Returning to the gym for Lent to tackle my protruding gut
‘I realised I needed to stop pounding the Parmesan and start pounding the pavement’
Caomhan Keane exercising on a rowing machine
As the cock crowed on Ash Wednesday, I decided to take a leaf out of our Lord’s book and mortify my flesh. Unlike Josh Hartnett, however, it wasn’t the ride I was giving up for 40 Days and 40 Nights, but lie-ins and takeaways, as I flung myself headlong into my annual repentance for treating my body like a flesh and bone slurry pit.
Where once the weight flew off me like a T-shirt in a sweaty nightclub, now my body is retaining fat and losing muscle, as happens when a twink turns into a ‘twas. My slowing metabolism means I have to work twice as hard to achieve half the results while the aches, pains and refluxes that have taken up squatter’s rights in my body are occupying way more of my energy than I can any longer abide.
So, in late February, I checked back into my own tabernacle, the gym, in a desperate hope that committing to a Lenten challenge, I could prepare my body to adapt to a routine, rather than the stop-start surges that have yielded increasingly negative returns.
It’s not that I had suddenly become averse to flinging on some activewear and huffing and puffing like I’m at a Lamaze class. In the past year, I added another profession,teaching, to my first love writing, while a passion for collecting postgraduate diplomas has seen me take yet another ride around the academic loof.
With 12 hours taken up with study, work and worry about both – and another eight spent sleeping – was I really expected to carve a chunk of the remaining four hours pushing myself to perspire?
But as my BMI trickled into the red for the first time in my life, and those closest to me expressed concern at my protruding gut, I realised that I needed to stop pounding the Parmesan and start pounding the pavement, particularly as my family tree has a genome sequence that could fuel a season of storylines on Grey’s Anatomy.
With daylight hours taken up with work and study, that meant only one thing: refeathering my plumage from night owl to morning lark. And for someone used to hitting the hay when the rest of civilisation are hitting the snooze button, this was a shock to the system.
But while I still shriek in rage as my alarm shrieks to life, I finally feel like I’ve found a fitness routine that might stick.
Breakfast has long been parroted as being the most important meal of the day, but I’ve never been able to stomach more than a milky coffee in the AM. This has meant my metabolism is missing that extra kick up the arse to get it up and running. Working out in the morning, in a fasted state, is the perfect substitute, helping me burn more calories throughout the day (a rumoured 20 per cent more than when your body is in a fed state), as hormones such as testosterone – which help build muscle mass – are elevated in the body at that time.
Coming into work, buzzing off a runner’s high, the endorphins emitted are like natural painkillers for the body, making me more optimistic and productive and less susceptible to mulling or bulling over the molehills that dot the landscape of a student teacher’s life.
Pilates or resistance training insures that when I squat down to talk to a child, my back is less likely to spasm, choking me on my own repressed expletives.
And while my relationship with the sun could be described as vampiric, pulling on my running shoes and going for jog first thing gives my sour puss a face-lift, as even in the drizzling grey of a Dublin morn, it increases my intake of vitamin D, which helps ward off any assignment anxiety, burn out blues and the sleep inertia that plagues the 20 per cent of us who would classify ourselves as night owls.
Carla De Castro is a personal trainer with FLYEfit, which offers roaming membership and several 24-hour premises. “The truth is, the best workout is the one you actually do, regardless of what time of day it is. But training in the morning means you are less likely to miss out on doing it if life gets in the way.”
Meeting me once a week throughout Lent, Carla helps me avoid the most common mistakes people make when they start in the gym, like overdoing cardio at the expense of resistance training. “You will lose fat, but you will also lose muscle. Resistance training strengthens not only your muscles, but your whole body, which is why you feel less pain in your back and neck than when you started.”
She insures I’m engaging my core so that I am not compensating with other parts of the body, like my arms or shoulders, which could result in injury. “Focus on metres not minutes. Always exhale on exertion, the hardest part of an exercise, and don’t add the calories burned during exercise out of your food budget, as it will take you longer to shift any weight you want to lose.”
The mind is a funny thing. It’ll tongue your ear with thoughts of comfort food and give in to cravings before going full Heather at the first droop of a man boob or sign of additional chins. But the effect of a morning workout quietens its bile.
For me, six weeks in, I feel tremendous. I’ve lost 11lb (5kg). I’m less burdened with the fear and negativity, while my diet has improved, part of a knock-on effect from starting your day right.