Our writer weighs up gym membership options – and gets on his bike instead
From fit to fat: It’s time to don the Lycra and hit the road
I’m in danger of slipping, like I knew I would be. Having come to the end of my Lower Back Fix programme at Dubai Marina’s Iconic Fitness, I no longer have regular sessions booked in and, as my wife and I ponder moving to another home in a different part of the city, it seems ludicrous to sign up with another gym until we know for sure what we’re doing.
The reason gyms here and elsewhere charge for annual memberships is simple: with all the will in the world, people end up not going to them unless they’re actual enthusiasts. So by getting us to sign up to a lengthy membership period, these establishments are being looked after financially when flakes like me start getting bogged down with other aspects of life. And these memberships are not cheap, so it’s prudent to think carefully about any commitment.
And my commitment hasn’t wavered, before anyone casts aspersions. I do actually wish to continue with my regime, which has come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. So, what to do? I live in a high-rise apartment and, as is commonplace, there is a gym on the first floor, so why don’t I use that? Because it’s practically derelict, that’s why. The last time I peeked my head in, all the running machines were unplugged and upended against a wall. The last few remaining free weights were either scattered around the floor or being used as doorstops, while the dank, damp aroma of the place was enough to make me feel nauseous.
So I have exhumed my bicycle from its dusty grave on my balcony. Cycling is something I do enjoy because, rather than simply pedalling into a sweaty mess in a spin class, there’s a sense of achievement that only an actual journey can provide. Only athletes don’t look ridiculous in Lycra, but padded cycling shorts are essential when your bike seat resembles a razor blade. So I do the only decent thing and wear normal shorts over them, so as not to frighten joggers and tourists sharing the Marina perimeter. It’s the least I can do.
The route is simple and deceptively long. Down from my building to the water’s edge takes just a minute, then it’s a left turn and a ride to the far west side, where I have to stop and turn around because there’s nowhere left to go. From here, it’s an entire loop of the Marina that, if it were a straight line, would measure about 15 kilometres point-to-point. My average speed, according to the Map My Ride app on my phone, hovers about 22kph, and the entire circuit takes me about 45 minutes, depending on how many pedestrians are encountered. Timing is critical if you wish to make decent progress.
As for the benefits of this exercise, there’s a significant amount of energy expended – usually about 800 calories, which soon mounts up if the cycling is regular enough. It took me a couple of hours to clean my bike down, oil the chain, pump up the tyres and locate its water bottle – time well spent in my book. And quite apart from the amount of energy burnt off while navigating the walkways around the Marina, cycling is, according to a doctor I spoke to about my sciatica when I first experienced it, extremely good for my back, thanks to the “hunched” position necessary on a bicycle. It relieves pressure on the spine and is a “low-impact” sport, meaning my joints aren’t being battered like they would be if I were running.
At my age that’s an important factor – when a man turns 40, his body begins to transform in all the wrong ways, and certain exercises that younger men work into their gym routines without problem, can do far more harm than good if you’re getting on a bit.
“Even if you’ve been a regular at the gym all your life, once you pass 40, you really do need to change your routines,” says Tom Payne, a personal trainer in Dubai. “You’re more susceptible to muscle tears and areas such as your rotator cuffs, upper arms and shoulders can easily be injured. Stomach crunches can cause spinal problems, so do planks instead, and intense cardio can increase cortisol production and actually stop you losing weight, which is not what you want.” Thankfully, Payne says that my bike-riding regime is perfectly safe, so it’s time to burn rubber and some serious calories.
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