From fat to fit: Getting started with the first workout

Our lifestyle writer is on a mission to shed a fair few kilos and get fit in his 40s – but his first day of training doesn’t go quite to plan

The programme involves a range of different exercises. Getty
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Since the horrendous findings of my physical examination, I have been feeling two distinct emotions: shame and determination.

I knew I was out of shape and that I'd packed on weight over the past few months, but the scales and the tape measure tell no lies. According to my BMI, I am not just overweight, but obese.

This is a wake-up call. I need to sort this and not because of vanity. According to my trainer, Hannes Loubser, I'm in a "high-risk" health category.

My next session at Dubai's Iconic Fitness, where I've enrolled in the Lower Back Fix programme, is something I've not been looking forward to. I try to get plenty of sleep the night before, but that plan is thwarted by my 2-year-old son having worked out not only how to escape from his cot, but also how to turn on his bedroom light and open the door, all in the same night. So at 3am I'm being poked in my face and told: "Nose. Ears. Head. Eyes…" Brilliant.

Nevertheless, I get up at 6.50am after about three hours of shut-eye, and head to the gym. Loubser can tell by my appearance that I've had a rough night and promises the session won't be too tough.

I'm part of a group of four, each one of us on the same programme, but at different stages. One man has been doing it for months, repairing his back after a serious injury. He's lifting weights that I'd need a crane to move.

In another part of the gym, a CrossFit class is under way. I spy a man who looks about my age – silver hair and beard giving the game away – but he’s ripped to shreds, as they say. Loubser knows exactly what I’m thinking. “Forget it,” he smiles. “Ex-military.”

Still, the fact that he is still in the kind of shape that would shame most Hollywood actors proves that you don't have to go to seed once you hit 40.

Loubser says that I'll be doing a series of therapeutic mobilisation exercises that will help get my spine and back muscles moving again. I'm soon on the floor, on my back, with a hard rubber "peanut" at the base of my back.

I'm told to roll back and forth on it, then move it up my spine to three more positions and repeat the process. This feels uncomfortable, but not painful, and is stimulating the muscle tissue, helping blood flow and providing Loubser with information about what my pains are caused by.

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This is quickly followed by the glute smash, which involves more rolling, this time with a small ball under the base of each buttock. “Tell me when it hurts,” says Loubser. When the pain does come, it’s excruciating. Apparently this is all down to me not moving enough and, as the pain sears through my lower body, I begin to wonder why I’m putting myself through this. Ah, yes: no pain, no gain – the mantra of every personal trainer and gym enthusiast.

More exercises follow, with me using rubber bands, ­kettlebells and other instruments of torture until the inevitable push-ups. I've been training for 40 minutes by this stage, and I'm told to do 10 of them and take my time. A quick break, then it's time for another 10. By the fifth one, my arms starts to give way and I feel a wave of nausea sweep through me. I'm going to be sick, I tell Loubser, and he fetches me a glass of Sprite (Diet, naturally). My mistake? Doing all this on an empty stomach. I should have had more sleep, woken up earlier and had something to eat before training.

Loubser says the colour that had drained from my face has returned. "We got off to a good start," he tells me. "You will be sore tomorrow, but it's all part of the adaptation process. We didn't train above your means; we simply trained harder than you are used to. I was impressed with your Bulgarian split squats on the bench, the balance was good, and those push-ups that were ultimately your downfall started off well."

Far from leaving deflated, I'm actually proud I did this. Each journey begins with a single step and that's exactly what I've taken. Although if I ever refer to this as a "journey" again, by all means feel free to have me euthanised.

It’s a start.