Useful work – useless exercise.

Work and exercise as a part of body weight control and positive health.

During a short sharp cold snap one winter ten years ago i had a minor accident that put me off work for several weeks and which then needed weeks and months of rehab ; i had a spontaneous gastrocnemus muscle tear in the cold that morning and an hour or so later the A&E practitioner signed me off for the first 6 weeks. Interestingly i then had to go and see my own GP to get the official sick note, i found that my usual doctor was off doing something else and instead i was seen by a locum doctor who i found out had just stopped being the Royal Marines medical officer and he knew all about gastroc tears having treated many among young RM recruits…..he even said that he’d been carried off Dartmoor with one himself !.

This was just before Christmas and the only way i could start doing some recovery was to join the posh gym/swimming pool and racquet club complex because they would be open every day with good opening hours. For the first few weeks all i was able to do was get in the inside pool and slowly walk around with a lot of my weight taken by being in water – later, with physio advice i made it upstairs to the main gym where one of the trainers gave me exercises to do that would slowly strengthen and re-stabilize that calf muscle ; i remember spending ages on a ‘BOSU’ board wobbling about as one of the side effects of the injury is that my ankle that side became unstable .

All of that was a strange and accidental introduction to the world of the gym and specifically to being trained to use free weights rather than machines – for sure i’d used gyms several times before but apart from a quick show around with an instructor i’d never been ‘trained’ consistently by someone who knew what they were doing. Cue two years of being obsessed by my own fitness, mainly as a result of training with free weights, some running and of regularly swimming for a stretch and cool down. One funny part of all of that was that i never thought about or worried about food as i could eat whatever i liked and i was still losing body fat plus i seemed to be putting muscle back on – i know now that a lot of my gains were ‘beginner’ gains but i felt great.

When i think of that time now i was probably the strongest and ‘gym-fit’ that iv’e ever been in my life but that came at a huge cost in time as getting to and from the place, changing, training, changing again to swim and then eventually eating there…..the whole routine could easily swallow 3 hours and what that meant was that i had to be there every day when i wasn’t working and that i couldn’t train on a work day except for a quick session before i started in the morning. Although i’d become ‘gym’ fit i’m not sure that it translated as well to real world fitness or in my terms an ability to do heavy and hard work like for instance ‘rucking’ a heavy load of firewood up and out of the valley below where we lived. I often thought that of my time spent pressing weight, on the treadmill doing a fast mile and a half or up and down the pool that the really effective training i did was simply with a heavy weight on my back and struggling up a steep and loose slope with it.

Now…..i don’t go anywhere near a gym partially because i can’t access one within reasonable distance, and yes Covid rules apply, partially because i can’t afford the monthly fee of a gym with a pool and partially because i think i can do exercise in the form of useful work – useful that is in the way that heavy work like scavenging, carrying and processing firewood or moving large amounts of heavy wet soil around has a visible and tangible outcome. Iv’e just finished reading Beau Mile’s enjoyable book ‘The Backyard Adventurer’ and one of his comments about exercise in the form of useful work that ended up with a hole in the ground or a pile of wood ready to use…..that all had an immediate resonance.

At 63 i don’t know how much value i would get from going to a commercial gym, that is how much more value i would get than my daily ‘ruck’ and a few sets of push-ups cranked out on the kitchen floor. Having nearly failed at doing a push-up for the first time in my life just a couple of weeks ago i’m now on a good challenge to get up to a hundred a day again and a bit like Beau Miles and his marathon distance run over 24 hours i don’t feel the need to get my hundred as though i was doing reps and sets in the gym ; today for example i just did forty in sets of ten in between doing jobs around the house. The pile of scavenged firewood is looking better by the day though and even at just one good piece a day it slowly mounts up but more than that it feels like useful work, and exercise, to have done.

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