The Man without Leg Days

About three months ago I embarked on a bit of a fitness jig. While I was in the forest, this involved getting up to do half an hour of sinawali, going for a run in the forest around lunch time, and lifting weights before bed. It’s not a particularly intensive regime – more on that in a bit – but it does mean I’m exercising for between an hour and ninety minutes every day. I’ve, in the main, kept this up in the two and a half weeks I’ve been living in High Wycombe, despite having to find a new running route and adjust my time table accordingly. At the moment, I am up at half-six to get in the time for my escrima.

My motivations for this are as dorkly as anything. I really like dressing up in costume for Halloween and, a few months back, watched the Netflix Daredevil series.[1] I quite liked it, and especially liked the ‘Black Mask’ look. I thought I would poach it but, at that point, I was in shabby shape. The components for the costume were relatively easy to get together[2] but, to quote a phrase, I did not want to look like a bipedal frog, all spindly limbs and bubble belly.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done a bit of ‘get fit.’ I first started caring about exercise when I was about sixteen, seventeen. That was prompted by, of all things, a news article about Michael Jackson hiring a personal trainer because he was worried about bone strength and getting brittle in old age.[3] This made me worry about the state of my bones. So, I started doing a little bit of body-weight stuff – press-ups, sit-ups, and lots of stretching – until my brother Kris invited me to his gym.[4]

ROKO in Portsmouth was basically a giant, well-lit warehouse filled with (then) high-tech exercise equipment.[5] You had a profile set-up recording your range of movement on a given station and then from there you were on your own. You could ask for coaching or help from one of the staff but why would I do that? I’d turn on my music player and just pootle around for an hour every other day, going through my twelve or so stations. It was great fun and, on the way home, I’d reward myself with some chips.[6] ROKO ended when I got so sick I had to be hospitalised and ended with chronic fatigue. I also lost loads of weight, going from a healthy adult male to skeletor in the space of an evening.

I next attempted to climb the hill of physical fitness while living in Greenwich. That pretty much involved more of my old regime and a bit of shadow-boxing thrown in for cardio. It was very, very low impact because I was in no shape to do anything more. I like to think that this helped me recover better than I would have done but I never reached the lofty heights I had achieved at ROKO. This tailed off when I moved to Stoke-on-Trent. While there, I walked two hours each day to get to work, which I figured was exercise enough. Whether it was or not is neither here nor there.

It wouldn’t be for another three years, when I started at Nottingham Trent University, that I would resume the Sisyphean pursuit of personal fitness again. I joined a local gym about fifteen-minute’s walks from home and, once again, started to go every other day. This wasn’t as high-tech as ROKO had been, but was a bit fancier than the local gyms stuffed with hard bodied bros that comes to mind when I think of ‘local gym.’[7] This wasn’t as successful a time as going to ROKO; a combination of stuff that darkened my mood led to me not going as often, or with as much dedication, as I should have done. I stopped going to that gym after a year, though only because the initial incentive low-price expired and I couldn’t in good conscience afford any more.

Another period of laziness followed, which gave way to swimming. I’m not a strong swimmer and I didn’t learn to swim properly until I was in my early teens. The Lenton pool was a tiny little thing, in the abstract a representation of what a local community can do for itself, but my strongest memories are of banging my head repeatedly on the sides.[8] I remain unsure as to why I stopped going.

After graduation, my exercise turned back to the old standards of press-ups, sit-ups, and stretches. I also added, for the first time, jogging.[9] I would get up early and go for a run around the block. Much as now, it wasn’t anything a real runner would consider running, but it made me feel good, especially once I’d managed to actually do my whole circuit without collapsing dead. However, being unemployed does wonders for the mind and I lost my motivation.

About a month after moving in with Liam, I had a small epiphany and started exercising again, and a lot. I would get up at silly o’clock to do press-ups, sit-ups, stretches, and lifting. At that point in time, I didn’t have the money to buy weights so instead I stuffed some bags with books and lifted those instead. Much to my surprise/pleasure it worked. I started to beat myself in to some shape. I actually managed to beat the 100 press-up thing. Later, I started adding escrima to my regimen, buying a pair of sticks and proving myself a menace to my skull and masonry. That bout of exercise tailed off during my time in Lenton Manor, once again putting up with cold and misery sapping my will to keep in shape.

So, obviously, at this point I think it’s fair to acknowledge that to keep this good habit I am developing, I also have to own up to being a bit of an inconstant exerciser. With that in mind, I’ve been establishing to myself what makes for good exercise practice. Mostly, this is things I’ve gleaned from people saying motivational slogans at me as I lift:

  1. Have a goal. This is my own one. In this instance, I want to not embarrass myself when I dress up as Daredevil, even if it’s just in the privacy of my own room.[10] I think it’s important to have something tangible to aspire to, because you can compare yourself against it. This also applies to the structure of your work-outs – I have a timetable for increasing weight and reps for my lifting, so I can see how much I’ve improved.
  2. Finish strong! This one is from Kris. I don’t know if there is an actual fitness reason for this, but I’ve internalised it as a psychological principle. If I finish better than I started – so twelve reps rather than eight – I feel better about the work I’ve done, even if I am tired. It works for me.
  3. Don’t train yourself to hate something. I mentioned earlier that my exercise is low-intensity. This comes from something a friend of mine said, many years ago, about going from unfit to marathon runner: don’t do something until it hurts you, because all you are doing is training yourself to hate it and want to stop. Instead, keep it reasonable, keep it fun, and you’ll want to keep doing it.

So, with those three things in mind, I’m off to do some arnis. Maybe nobody will see my impressive Daredevil cosplay but at least my secret identity will be safe.


[1] All a bit moot now, mind. I was intending to visit Oop North for Halloween but Liam’s moved and Rob doesn’t want to do anything for Halloween. As yet, the RAF do not seem to ‘do’ Halloween. They’re big on Oktoberfest though. Must be the German connection.

[2] The only problems I ran in to: Tactical gloves are illegal and I would love to know how they made the actual Black Mask, because apparently Charlie Cox’s one allows you to see.

[3] Turns out, he needn’t have worried. That’s life.

[4] I believe I did go to the Gym with Jon once or twice as well. Suffice to say, watching Jon lift weights is an experience.

[5] Also free-weights, but I have never been fond of free-weights.

[6] I didn’t think of this at the time, but those chips were probably why I put on any muscle while going to ROKO. Fuel and that.

[7] I would like to take a moment to say I’ve found most gym guys quite friendly, though overly competitive. I’m just not that chatty when I’m exercising.

[8] I swim underwater with my eyes closed. I don’t recommend it.

[9] Perhaps, more correctly, gasping.

[10] Take that, Crime!