Behavioural economists have shown that we overestimate how much gym time we will use when signing up for monthly or annual health club membership; we’d be better off paying for individual sessions.

That’s certainly my experience. I was a member of a gym behind Fleet Street for a number of years, and never lifted a single weight. Membership was subsidised (modestly), but this was not complete profligacy, or an egregious triumph of hope over experience; the purpose of my membership was really to use the showers. My exercise regime involved riding a bike to work 130 miles a week in all weathers, so access to a shower was mandatory. I rode flat out, had no concept of rest and recovery, and would end up knackered, or — more scientifically — suffering from overtraining syndrome.

The idea of modulating effort and choosing to have rest days never crossed my mind — the mutant puritan gene at work. Progressively, after riding home from 12-hour days late in the evening following frequently pointless conference calls with New York head office, all the benefits of this excercise started to go into reverse.

After I left Fleet Street, I took up running and around the same time bought a short series of sessions in a small gym attached to an adult education college. There could not have been a greater contrast to what most of us experience in a franchised gym. This place had the most eclectic mix of serious lifters and little old ladies hanging onto their mobility. It was cheap (but not always open) and literally at the end of the road where I lived. Fantastic! So over a few weeks I learnt a little bit about free weights, but not enough to overcome a general prejudice against that sort of exercise.

So, I’m about to confess that — after weighing up the economics of gym membership v home equipment, and being nagged by what I keep reading on Art de Vany’s blog (who recommends doing some weight training) — last week I went out and bought a set of dumbells and barbells, and a simple frame. Total cost: less than £100. Now, admittedly they take up some space so there is some hidden cost, but I’m pretty sure that even the smallest apartment could accommodate some adaptation of this setup.

Of course, admitting to this actually hurts a little bit, because I’ve spent my life rather hoping that I might be perceived rather more on the “bleeding heart/artist” side of the personality spectrum, than the “jock/sportsfan”. The Knackered-Hack-As-Weightlifter is not a role I’m reconciled with at the moment, even though my purpose is mostly to improve posture, basic strength, metabolism and, above all, energy levels. But as de Vany’s post above points out, studies show that resistance training helps with the rejuvenation of muscle tissue in the elderly. It seems a far more effective way to reverse the ageing process than using hair dye.

The only weights I thought would occupy my middle age were the York Waits*, a band of early music specialists whose CDs come out in our house at Christmas time to satisfy my increasingly arch musical tastes. So now, every time I go into the basement, I see the logo of York weights on the bench. Something, it seems, has gone terribly wrong.

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