Balancing a gym-rat lifestyle and revision is tricky, but not impossibleBeca Jenkins with permission for Varsity

I am typing this entry with mild calluses on my hands, and an inability to lift my arms above my head. My biceps are the same size as yesterday (small), despite bicep curling 4.5kg for six shaky reps. I am, however, reliably informed that this utter lack of progress is normal, and to see progress I will need to be consistent. What the hell.

In my endless procrastination attempts, I asked Noah if I could follow his schedule for the day and join him for a workout. Noah is a second-year gym rat at Homerton, and I knew he would be the best person to introduce me to the gym rat lifestyle. Stupidly, I committed to following Noah’s schedule before checking what time he wakes up.

My day started with three alarms at 6:00 am, 6:18 am, and 6:23 am. No, I don’t care that my alarms aren’t at multiples of 5! Time is a construct, and I will not be held ransom to it. Unfortunately, this same reasoning caused me to press stop on my alarms (not even snooze), promising myself to rest my eyes for “five more minutes”.

Two hours later I woke up, devastated. I brushed my teeth, shameful of my lacklustre grindset, and vowing to embrace the gym-rat lifestyle more wholeheartedly. My renewed commitment followed me to the kitchen, where I realised an egg-white omelette would be challenging to make with no eggs, and settled on a breakfast of a spoonful of crunchy peanut butter. Protein is important, after all.

“I fear I have mastered self-discipline”

The day was supposed to follow Noah’s schedule, which included revision from 8-11 and a lecture from 11-12. Due to my late start, I resolved to revise from 9:30-12, which to be fair, is pretty challenging. I was strong, resisted the temptation to go on Instagram, and only mildly procrastinated by staring blankly at my screen occasionally. I fear I have mastered self-discipline.

For lunch, I ventured over to Peterhouse and had a jackfruit fajita. To my dismay, I discovered that this was not, in fact, a massive source of protein. I continued revising in the afternoon, following Noah’s schedule of revision from 1:30-5:30, fuelled by a flat white and reminding myself that true gym rats push through the pain. I’m not sure if the pain in question normally refers to back pain from a permanently hunched posture, but it motivated me nonetheless.

This is where the day starts to get gym-ratty. I headed back to Homerton, genuinely dreading what was to come. My posture has been described as a question mark before (thanks, ‘friends’), so you can understand why the prospect of me confronting my back muscles in a gym setting wouldn’t exactly be my happy place. This trepidation only increased after I did some journalistic research on the bus home, and found a video of Noah’s typical back day on his Instagram.

To make things even worse, I am normally a firm believer in comfort zones and have never pushed myself until failure. “But out of your comfort zone is where the magic happens”, I hear you cry. It is also where a lot of inconvenience happens. People who go on chilled hikes never end up with chafed nipples and stress fractures in both shins, but marathon runners do. Consequence? I’ll stay comfortable, thanks.

“I’ll stay comfortable, thanks”

I stepped out of my comfort zone reluctantly and headed to Puregym with Noah, where, frankly, the hunger-games-esque pod system to enter was stressful enough. I expected to feel out of place and intimidated, as I have before in gyms. Normally, I feel as if everyone in the gym is staring at me, silently laughing at my form, and judging my ability. Taking up space can be difficult for a woman, especially in a busy gym as a beginner. It was incredibly comforting to enter the gym with someone who knew what they were doing and could show me the ropes. Noah showed me a different side of the gym; he talked about finding community in the gym and using it as an escape from the Cambridge bubble. His friends in the gym were incredibly supportive and offered me advice, encouragement, and reassurance that I didn’t look as stupid as I felt. Noah’s advice, when I confessed that I normally feel out of place, was to ask the biggest people in the gym for advice. While I wasn’t entirely convinced I’d be trying that tactic any time soon, my experience with Noah and meeting his friends did convince me that the gym can be a welcoming and supportive space.

The actual workout itself could be most accurately described as humbling. Unfortunately, Noah’s back is injured and – shockingly – working out his back wasn’t helping. Our joint workout session proceeded to turn into a personal trainer session. I was thankful that Noah was patient as a trainer, if occasionally optimistic about how many reps were physically possible for me. In the name of journalism, I ended up doing controlled negatives, which are like reverse pull-ups. Please take a moment to pause here and picture this scene: I am hanging onto a bar, trying to control my descent with limited success, in front of someone I had my first conversation with thirty minutes prior. I wish the description ended there, but no. This person could also genuinely bench my body weight as a warm-up and was telling me my attempt was only a half rep and to go again. Humbled.


Mountain View

The diary of a Bumps rower

I have never really understood pushing until failure, unlike Noah, who has passed out from lifting so heavy. The workout did push me, and I actually kind of enjoyed finding the limits of my strength, even if finding the limit didn’t take me very long. There was something weirdly cathartic and therapeutic about the experience. It’s important to have different outlets, and I’m really grateful that Noah helped me have a positive experience in the gym. Exam season and extended periods sitting at a laptop make everyone feel fed up at times, and I realised how much I enjoyed the opportunity to sweat, push myself, and move about. If anyone sees me getting ripped next year, mind your business.