“Striking a cordial balance between sweat and beer has always been the plan”Nereece Brazier

Content Notice: This article contains detailed discussion of body image.

The college gym and bar: two places that wouldn’t usually make an appearance in the same night. But for me, this combination made for the perfect evening. As my friends were quick to remind me, squatting a heavy personal best before sinking two pints of Homerton lager seems a nonsensical idea. However, my relationship with strength training is not dictated by strict dieting and intense discipline, and that’s okay. Striking a cordial balance between sweat and beer has always been the plan.

“Thankfully, balancing the gym with an English degree never had to be the failed romance of one or the other”

Like a lot of people, I first developed an interest in the gym at a time when they were ironically closed during the earliest national lockdown. Seeking relief from this eerie wonder of minimised human contact, I bought myself a pair of dumbbells from Amazon and took to the back garden, diving into a variation of lifting weights and gruelling HIIT routines. I even began taking progress pictures of my body, not as an obsession but as a record of future achievement. My mum wasn’t a fan - “you’ll become fixated on your appearance” - yet the intention was to treat it as a sport, trying to reclaim the tangible rewards of football that I’ve had to forsake following an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

Admittedly, I have slipped into episodes of self-scrutiny when confronted by the image in the mirror, believing that parts of my body look unappealing or not defined enough, in spite of my knowledge of the work that I put in. Some days I feel fat and some days I feel good, while in the back of my mind lies the twisted irony that I got into fitness as a means to positively transform my body yet still fall into the trap of exerting a dangerously critical eye. Although this is a situation that I continue to find myself in, recognising that I’m not alone is a fact that offers some resolve. My mates and I have a group chat that is dedicated to the gym, in which we not only share advice but also our own progress pictures. By setting up a safe space that collectively documents personal success, we have been able to offset our respective anxieties with an environment that is rooted in unconditional support.

“The gym no longer seems intimidating once you realise that the space is yours to own”

When gyms finally reopened back in July last year, my friend Mason introduced me to the then unknown territory of serious training - eating more protein, creating a dedicated split for specific muscle groups and pushing exercises to complete failure. Monster Gym, in Cheshunt, became a sanctuary for learning the dos and don’ts of such training, an old-school gym that is summed up by its wise words of “you are here to train, please do not annoy others with your mobile”. Meanwhile, I engrossed myself in the world of bodybuilding and strongman, turning to literal giants like Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman and Eddie Hall for visual tips on exercise selection and correct form, while also having Mason as a knowledgeable training partner. Going to the gym became more than just about satisfying an interest in my own body: it turned into a sociable enjoyment of the sport of strength training.


Mountain View

SU to promote women and non-binary gym hours

Returning to Cambridge for my second year of study, I possessed an outlook that was centred around new challenges, both academic and training-specific. Thankfully, balancing the gym with an English degree never had to be the failed romance of one or the other. The local PureGym is my love interest for eight hours per week, while I’d rather not count the hours of time spent with my sweetheart subject. There are obvious differences between the commercial setting of PureGym and Monster’s bodybuilding background, mainly the fewer machines and grating pop music, but the effect of training stays the same. Walking into a weightlifting environment releases me from the pressures of reality, it becomes a time when, if only for an hour, I can blast my music (‘Till I Collapse’ by Eminem is a personal gym favourite) and forget about everything else, even my Cambridge degree. The weight moves in unison with Eminem’s beat, making me feel indestructible during the course of my lift. Like a starting pistol, “Till I collapse I’m spilling these raps” triggers the projection of my angered focus onto the barbell, and if I reach the point of Nate Dogg’s first chorus I know that I’m doing something right.

The gym no longer seems intimidating once you realise that the space is yours to own. For me, it is a space in which I am entitled to my private escape from reality and no-one can deny me of that. Whether it’s at Monster or PureGym, all that matters is pushing myself to the limits and then marking my return to the real world with a lovely, cold pint.