The longest ‘weight’: Why ‘locked out’ gym goers truly miss their place of refuge

Fitness fanatics across the Province are craving not only the physical benefits they enjoy from their training regime, but the mental health and social aspects as well. Journalist Laura McMullan is one of them

As I write this, I feel drained, a little shaky, very emotional, and slightly lacking in confidence.

Being brutally honest, I wish I could curl up into a ball and sleep forever. and my motivation is verging on non-existent.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

You could interpret these words as those of someone who has just put themselves through something intensely physically challenging.

The truth is, in this case, it’s the polar opposite.

I’m not sitting here craving a gruelling mountain challenge, or a SAS type work-out that Ant Middleton would be proud of.

I just miss my gym.

Last week Gladiator Training in Ballymena, where I’ve been a member for almost four years, closed its doors for – well, who knows how long.

My friends and I absorbed this news with varying degrees of emotions.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

For most of us, acceptance. Of course it was the right thing to do. For a few of us – myself included – denial. Make like an ostrich, and pretend it’s not really happening.

For all of us, sheer sadness. A feeling of being a little bit – no, a lot – lost. A strange sense of almost – panic.

What would we do? When and how would we exercise? Where would we go in the evenings?

And obviously, you don’t have to be a scientist, or a politician, or an expert in infectious diseases, to provide logical, sensible solutions to these ‘first world’ predicaments of ours.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But the other question hung silently over our heads like a cloud, until one of us finally verbalised it: “When would we see each other?”

I’m a runner, and I fully enjoy and appreciate the benefits of training alone, in solitude, and I welcome every strand of mental strength that practice brings and bestows upon me.

Running solo and for long distances is as much about training the voices in your head to be strong and self-believing, learning to rely on your sole self for the motivation you need, and ultimately, your reward is those endorphins, which flood your brain with that sense of indomitability, of confidence, of joy.

But every once in a while you need those voices to belong to others, and not just yourself.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And that’s why I – and hundreds of other gym goers across the nation – choose to group train as well; for the sake of our sanity, our mental health, and just because we love like-minded people.

It’s not because we are a pack of poseurs who revel in strutting around in front of a mirror, comparing the sizes of our six packs or the weight of our barbell.

That cliché is old and tired and simply not true.

The vast majority of the people I train with are normal and natural, and simply working on their physical and mental health as much as the next person.

Sheer exhaustion after a challenging class, or muscle soreness the morning after might not sound like experiences you associate with a healthy, happy mind, but I’ll willingly assure you they are.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

From my point of view, as someone who spends most of the working day hunched over a laptop, there’s no better feeling in the world than going to see your friends, wearing your comfiest clothes, challenging yourself to a great work out, set against the background of pumping music, encouraging voices, laughter – why, even the complaining is enjoyable.

It’s a total release, somewhere you go and get back to basics, where all you have to focus on is moving your body; work worries take a back seat, your responsibilities are forgotten for just one hour, your phone and social media accounts lie untouched, allowing you to interact properly – fully – with people for just a while.

You come away drained, but somehow replenished, your tank has been emptied but yet your soul feels fuller than ever; indeed, the most appropriate quote I have ever read to sum up that sensation was written about running, but for me applies to gym training as well: “First you feel like dying, then you feel reborn.”

What I wouldn’t give for even a taste of that feeling right now.