Around 8 weeks ago, I hated the thought of exercising. Sweating it out in front of a bunch of competitive strangers? 6am bootcamps in the freezing cold? Taking painful, shouty orders from big, burly blokes with giant calf muscles and perky pecks? No thanks. I’ll just take the Dairy Milk.
Like so many, I had always fumbled around the word ‘fitness’. Sure, I knew what ‘fit’ looked like, but I had no idea how it felt on the inside or what it took to feel it. The idea of me becoming a regular gym-bunny with a so-called ‘fit’ physique seemed rather unlikely. Me? With rippling abs and tight buns, working my butt off at least three times a week? I just couldn’t see it.
I didn’t understand how people found that much time out of their busy working lives to dedicate to the gym. And I hadn’t the faintest clue as to how they went about creating a structured routine that they could stick to.
The lingo baffled me, too. Just what were ‘mountain climbers’ and ‘burpees’ anyway? And isn’t a ‘kettle’ a type of crisp?
Figuring out what to wear was just as confusing. The last time I’d checked (and by checked I mean feebly attempted in my living room), doing squats in a pair of skinny jeans and a jumper wasn’t the best idea.
I’d been told the toned and lean females of the world wear stretchy leggings – tiny shorts sometimes – and tight vests and sports bras. Very unnerving. How would a girl who dons trousers and long-sleeved tops on a daily basis find the confidence to show off that much skin?
It seemed the only thing I had on my side was the fact that I was (and still am) a healthy eater. My stature was a plus, too. I have a petite frame, standing no taller than 5ft 1. I’m lucky in the fact that my genes have meant I’ve never been overweight.
In fact, I was a very skinny child and a very thin teenager. It was only when I hit the age of around 22, when my body began morphing into something slightly more ‘womanly’, that I reluctantly had to say goodbye to a tight, flat stomach, super toned arms and skinny thighs.
If I was going to step foot in a gym, it’d be to tone up and regain some of that ‘tight’ shape – not burn a ton of calories in a bid to shift the pounds. Something that I’d secretly wanted to do for years, but never did anything about it out of fear that I’d find the experience too hard, too daunting, and give up at the first hurdle.
But I’d need some help. Expert help. Help that could stand right next to me and guide me through all my huffing and puffing then and there. And that’s where the guys and gals at Sound Mind and Body came in.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
Based in Benton, four miles outside of Newcastle, the boutique training gym is a paradise for fitness fanatics, baffled beginners and those somewhere in between.
Although on the small side, it’s a smart space, complete with a separate studio and packed with some of the best, state-of-the-art fitness equipment on the market – most of which is by leading US-based manufacturer Cybex. Its bikes, by Watt Bike, are the same ones used by the British national cycling team.
It’s a place for all ages, too, from young school-leavers to the silver-haired. Here, it’s not unusual to witness 70-year-olds hammering the treadmill, mid-lifers lifting and school-leavers starting their fitness journeys early.
Helping them all are a team of highly-qualified personal trainers – a small (and non-shouty) bunch of experts fiercely dedicated to the growth, progress and wellbeing of their clients.
Their skills and experience stretch from general personal training and fitness testing, to weight management and nutrition, sports medicine and massage, post-rehab and injury exercise and more.
Together, they’ve helped hundreds of clients improve their health and achieve their personal fitness goals through tailored sessions. Because after all, although our bodies are all designed the same, that doesn’t mean we all work at the same level and in the same way. And these fitness gods (and goddesses) get that.
The exclusivity is what makes this place so special. Unlike many of the council-led and chain gyms around these parts, members aren’t treated like numbers. Everyone’s on first-name terms and there’s plenty of comradery, especially when members come together for group classes.
Expect the occasional smiley nod of encouragement from your fellow pink-faced runners/lifters/stretchers/plankers. Girly compliments such as “ooh, I like your leggings, where are they from?” will make you feel like a cool, sweaty siren.
For me, the easy-going atmosphere was a very welcomed surprise. I’ll admit, I assumed that training here would feel like a bit like competing in a small boxing ring.
I thought that the place would be nearly always be packed. And due to its level of exclusivity – ‘poshness’ if you will – assumed that anyone visiting on the regular, and therefore willing to pay the membership free, would already boast athletic ability and drive. This wasn’t your usual run-of-the-mill gym – this was a place for serious work-out-a-holics. Right?
Wrong. Believe me when I say that Sound Mind and Body is probably as chilled-out as a gym can possibly be. Sure, people come here to work hard and push themselves, and boy do they, but I one thing I’ve found really refreshing is that everyone just gets on with their own work-outs, at their own pace.
Not once during my training have I felt ‘watched’ or judged. And I love that. There’s no pressure to be any sort of athlete or bodybuilder here.
I’ve also never had to wait to use any machines or weights and I’ve never seen the place crowded. I’ve also never got in anybody’s way while training – and no-one’s got in mine. The pace here is very zen.
I’ll also add that it’s a very good-looking spot, which makes working out here all the more pleasant. Sparkling chandeliers provide the light, the floor and mats are spotlessly clean, there’s a fridge stocked with complimentary chilled water and fresh fluffy towels, and there’s plenty to watch on the flatscreen TVs while you’re putting your legs to good use. I once lost a good 20 minutes on the cross trainer to an old, black-and-white movie. Just brilliant.
WHAT DID I DO?
I started by meeting with the gym’s founder, Dominic Bowser, for a chat about my fitness levels, what kind of exercise I’d done in the past (near zero) and what I wanted to get out of personal training.
I admitted I was a total newbie. Aside from dabbling in a bit of at-home yoga over the last year or so, I’d never stuck to a proper exercise routine. I had a few weights at home, which I’d occasionally dig out from time to time, but that was all. And I’d never possessed a gym membership.
And you know what? It was ok. I told him about my goals – what my ‘dream body’ looked like in my head – and talked about how we could work towards achieving this during our time together.
We talked about past injuries and problem areas, such as the near-constant stiffness in my back and shoulders, neck pain and bad posture (all caused by spending my working life hunched over a computer), and discussed how we would address them through certain types of exercises.
One of the great things about meeting with Dominic (also a highly-qualified and skilled personal trainer) was knowing I was in the hands of an expert – and a passionate one at that. Not only does he know his stuff, he gets you excited and really opens your eyes to what you can achieve.
We rounded off the consultation with a chat about digits. I jumped on the scales to discover my ‘start weight’, before Dominic got down to some good old fat measuring, using a small clamp-like device (don’t worry, it’s nowhere near as scary or invasive as it sounds) to measure how much meat I was packing around my arms, stomach, thighs and back. We’d repeat the process at the end of my mini fitness journey and compare the results.
I was then introduced to my personal trainer – the poor soul who’d be putting my limbs, abs, back and bum to work for the next two months.
Her name is Roxy Bugrova – a Russian pocket-rocket trainee with an acrobatic background and bags of dedication.
I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t a tiny bit intimidated upon meeting her, but I’m delighted to report that after two months in her company, she’s actually one of loveliest people I’ve encountered in quite a while. Warm, smiley and incredibly patient and encouraging.
Being paired with a female trainer felt like a good thing – and it only got better as the weeks went on. What can I say, there’s just something about working alongside another woman. There’s a real understanding about how our bodies – and our minds – work.
The fact that her stature resembles mine was also an advantage when training – we’re pretty much the same height and have the same petite frame and slender shape (although, yes, Roxy is more toned and can definitely do way more sit-ups). Who better to put me to work, and understand what it takes to train a petite frame, I thought, than someone who is also on the tiny side?
We decided on three one-hour personal training sessions per week – twice during the week and once at the weekend – during which Roxy would implement an easy-to-follow work-out routine for me to get to grips with.
The exercises would vary as the weeks went on, but the aim of the game would remain the same: to create a fuller, perkier bum, a flatter and tighter stomach and more defined arms and legs. Something that, according to Roxy and Dominic, could be achieved in eight sweet weeks.
I could go into great detail about all the moves I learned while training, how many reps we tackled, and why Roxy chose them, but I fear we may be here ’til the wee hours. Instead, here’s a short round-up of some (but not all) of my favourite, most effective, exercises I did during my sessions:
> Deadlifts (using squat rack) and normal squats with dumbbells. To build a bigger, more lifted bum.
> Leg presses (using horizontal seated leg press). A great thigh-burner.
> ‘Arm lats’ (using lat pull-down machine). To strengthen and build the back muscles and help with my posture.
> Hanging leg raises. This one’s great for the core and the abs.
> Typical sit-ups and crunches (on the mat). Oldies, but goodies.
As expected, I felt a tiny bit jittery during my first session. Even thought I got the chance to show off my new Nike Flyknit trainers (get yourselves a pair if you’re in the market for some new sneaks – they’re super comfy and stylish).
I was bit like a fish out of water. In my head, I was doing everything wrong; I wasn’t completing the exercises fast enough, I wasn’t stretching or lifting hard enough, and my coordination was all wrong. But I quickly learned that those insecurities were nonsense.
According to Dominic and Roxy, my squatting technique was perfect. I cottoned on super quick when it came to learning new exercises – especially on the mat. They were surprised at just how flexible I was and impressed at how much I could lift straight off the bat. It seemed I was a hell of a lot fitter than I thought – who knew? And what a confidence boost?
As the weeks flew by (and they really did), my confidence grew and I slowly began falling in love with the ritual of strengthening my physique.
My gym routine – Monday night, Wednesday night, Saturday morning – became ingrained. We began dedicating sessions to particular portions of the body – one day for the abs and back, the other legs and bum, and the last day for the whole body.
It became a priority in my life; I genuinely looked forward to each and every visit and my confidence just grew and grew, even though some sessions were pretty hardcore and had gulping down water like there was no tomorrow.
I slowly started to see results, too, which I documented through photos on my iPhone and only spurred me on further. Most noticeably my arms, which became defined and more muscly pretty quickly thanks to all the weights I was lifting (we increased the heaviness near on every week). My bum looked perkier and we managed to tighten up some of the skin around my waist.
Overall, I became leaner. My loved ones and work colleagues started to comment on how ‘well’ I looked. My girlfriends gawked supportively at my ‘little’ waist and my enviable behind (aren’t friends great?). I fell in love with shopping again, too, fitting back into those size six jeans I’d always worn as a teenager.
In the end, when the time came for Dominic to measure me up again, we discovered that I’d lost about two inches off my waistline and hips. I lost about 2% body fat in just shy of eight weeks. I’m now around 16% body fat over all – the same as some athletes.
The biggest change, though? My attitude towards fitness. While I realise the whole ‘exercise changed my life’ thing sounds – is – incredibly cliche, I can’t stress how much my experience at Sound Mind and Body has altered my way life and frame of mind in such a positive way.
Like I said, around eight weeks ago I hated the thought of exercise. Today, I love sweating it out. It soothes my mind, boosts my mood, and makes me feel – and look – healthier. Which, after all, more important than just having a round bottom (although that does feel rather good too).
My mini personal training journey ended just before Christmas, but I’m happy to report that as soon as 2017 arrived, I was back in the gym with Roxy, raring to go and ready to pick up where we left off before the sparkly season of minced mies and mulled wine reigned supreme.
I can’t thank her – and the rest of the team – enough for their continued support as I work towards my ‘dream body’. I wouldn’t want to be sweat it out anywhere else. I’ll check in with you all in another month or two to see where we’re at progress-wise – perhaps, if I’m brave enough, with a few before-and-after-pics. Watch this space!
Membership costs £55 per month, giving you the access to both the gym and studio as often as you like during opening hours. Members also have access to the gym’s luxurious lounge area (see pic above), complete with a fully-equipped kitchen, TV and sofas, fitness and recipe books and the latest glossy magazines.
Members also have access to a range of services all under one roof, including physiotherapy services, psychologists and psychiatrists, sports masseurs, hypnotherapists, NLP practitioners and beauty therapists. Discounted rates are available.
Personal training ranges from £10 to £50 per hour, depending on the trainer and speciality. Areas of expertise include injury prevention/recovery, bodybuilding, weight gain/loss and nutrition, general fitness, children’s fitness and training techniques, elderly fitness, mobility, and strength and more.
Fancy getting fitter for 2017? Give the team a call on (0191) 280 9274 or visit soundmindandbody.co.uk