Róisín Ingle: I want to throw my kettlebells through the bedroom window

It’s not the trainer’s fault, but all regular exercise does is give me a pain in the hoop

‘I should explain to anyone lucky enough to have never heard of a kettlebell that it’s a kind of weight yoke used in a gym scenario.’ Photograph: iStock

‘I should explain to anyone lucky enough to have never heard of a kettlebell that it’s a kind of weight yoke used in a gym scenario.’ Photograph: iStock

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“Time flies when you’re having fun,” says J, on a Zoom call from the impressive gym he built in his garden somewhere in rural Ireland. J is a personal trainer who pivoted in the pandemic from in-person sessions to more virtual encounters with people like me. He is brilliant at what he does, kind and encouraging with the patience of a Lycra-clad saint. Also true: he drives me up the wall.

It’s not him, it’s me. I am fitphobic. I am lazy. I don’t see the point in standing up if you can sit down. In short, I don’t like exercising, so of course J, who lives and breathes and believes in exercise, was always going to be a slowburn. I don’t believe in so-called endorphins or the alleged runner’s high. I don’t believe people when they say they feel more alive after a sweaty fitness session. After a sweaty fitness session I feel more dead than alive and I need half an hour in bed to recover.

It’s impossible to have ‘fun’ when you are swinging a kettlebell between your legs and worrying that you might at any moment send it crashing through your bedroom window

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” J says, and he sounds like he means it, which makes it even more annoying. I’m not having anything next or near to “fun”. It is scientifically proven that it’s impossible to have “fun” when you are swinging a kettlebell between your legs and worrying that you might at any moment send it crashing through your bedroom window. You cannot have fun with a kettlebell full stop. I have tried.

I should explain to anyone lucky enough to have never heard of a kettlebell that it’s a kind of weight yoke used in a gym scenario. It doesn’t look anything like a kettle or a bell. And that’s just one of many perplexing discoveries I have made over the past year of trying to become a fitter person in the middle of a pandemic. Apparently regular fitness activities, especially when you are older, help you have a sense of purpose. I read it in this newspaper so it must be true. But all regular exercise does is give me a pain in the hoop.

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” says J, who as well as kettlebells loves motivational catchphrases and rhapsodising about Aldi’s click-and-collect service. He waxed so enthusiastically about the wonders of click and collect during our sessions that I eventually signed up for it just so he would stop asking me whether I had signed up yet.

“I did the click-and-collect thing,” I told him while jogging on the spot the other day. He was thrilled. I wonder if he’s on some class of commission. That’s the kind of ungenerous thought that passes through my head during our sessions. That thought is on the milder end of the ungenerous scale, mind you. I don’t dare admit to the more violent sentiments in my head when he asks what most regular people consider an innocuous question: “What’s the weather like there today?” It’s bad enough having to exercise. Having to engage in small talk and exercise at the same time is a whole other level of kettlebell hell.

J sends me memes with motivational messages, unaware that I am criminally unmotivated by such things. ‘Never tell anyone your plans, show them your results instead.’ ‘It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up’

In between sessions, J sends me memes on WhatsApp with motivational messages, unaware that I am criminally unmotivated by such things. I’ve tried to explain this but unfortunately J is an optimist and believes that one day one of the messages might land. So he keeps right on sending them:

“Never tell anyone your plans, show them your results instead.”

“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

“The starting point of all achievement is desire.”

He sends a “vibe of the day”: “Old ways don’t open new doors.”

“I’m not where I want to be but I’m proud I’m not where I used to be.”

“Thanks for that,” I reply when they ping into my inbox, not letting on that they only motivate me to bang my head against the wall.

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” J says, but it is not possible to have fun when you are squatting – even typing the word makes me feel nauseous – and then rising up from the squat to lift two dumbbells above your head. (They don’t look like bells either, but they are dumb.) These moves are called “squat thrusters”. There are other moves. Heel drops. Curls. Hollow holds. Row and throws. I’ve been doing and saying these things three times a week for the guts of a year and it still feels 50 shades of wrong.

I was going along quite happily, having finally stopped hating my beautiful body for not conforming to certain narrow expectations of attractiveness. But then something I didn’t like happened

I didn’t even know what a squat was a year ago. I had no need. I was going along quite happily in my life, having finally stopped hating my beautiful body for not conforming to certain narrow expectations of attractiveness. I had moved to a place where I liked myself, just as I was. But then something I didn’t like happened.

Just before the pandemic hit, I went for a walk with my children and found myself having to stop every 100 metres or so because of a niggling pain in my lower back. I had become so inactive (apart from cycling, which in my head doesn’t count as exercise on account of it being actually enjoyable) that I couldn’t even go for a pain-free walk. And that revelation led me to J. And to kettlebells in the bedroom. And to endless discussions about the weather and the, in fairness to J, exemplary customer service in German supermarkets.

Am I fit? I don’t know about that. I am fitter. Fittish. I can walk down to Poolbeg lighthouse along the South Wall and back again and it does not give my lower back so much as a twinge. And despite all my moaning, I still can’t seem to quit J. It’s not me, it’s him. Turns out it is hard to beat a person who never gives up.

roisin@irishtimes.com