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Community service

523265299The many hours I have spent surfing the net instead of going to the gym (yes I am a member…) or going for a run have not been completely wasted because I think I have discovered the ultimate New Year’s resolution.

It’s called Good Gym and it is the genius idea of Ivo Gormley, a bright self-effacing young man who had a light-bulb moment when he realised that all the physical effort expended in gyms up and down the country were, in effect, a complete waste of energy.

Treadmills were invented to enable relatively puny humans to combine or lever their strength to build cathedrals and bridges but are now used as individual hamster wheels producing nothing but a modicum of sweat and a huge amount of cash for the people who own them. In a ludicrous distortion of their original purpose we now pay machines to take energy away from us for no purpose whatsoever. Then we go home using as little energy as possible (by driving, taking the bus, not forgetting to take a lift or escalator to save us expending energy climbing stairs) and then pay someone to deliver us a bucket of fat in the form of a pizza or a curry to replace the energy we have spent so much time and money to get rid of on our self-imposed treadmill.

Apart from the questionable value of the improvement to health and appearance of the poor schmuck doing workouts hour after hour, the actual work involved – the miles run, the pounds lifted, the levers pushed and pulled – are just so much hot air in terms of any tangible achievement.

What if, Ivo wondered, all that energy could be put to good use. After all in days gone by men and women’s physical fitness was a by-product of the work they did – not an end in itself. Farmers got strong working in the fields, boatmen got thighs of steel legging barges through tunnels, washer women had Michelle Obama arms because they spent all day using their biceps, and even teachers kept trim scrubbing their classroom floors after school. Now no one is advocating a return to the drudgery of Victorian manual labour, but I do love the idea that if we are going to push ourselves to physical exhaustion it might as well be to some purpose. Good Gym works exactly on that principal – combining people’s need to get fit by harnessing the energy expended to something real and worthwhile. So instead of spending half an hour on a treadmill going precisely nowhere followed by ten minutes pumping iron achieving nothing but a red face and a burning sensation, people get together to run somewhere and then do some useful physical work, and then run home again. Projects on the go this January include painting a children’s youth club, clearing rubble from outside a community centre and turning the compost heap on a city farm.

Alternatively members can pair up with a “motivational coach” – typically people who have time on their hands and kind words to spare but who could do with a helping hand. People like Marie – a retired actress who is trapped at home because her legs can no longer keep up with her life but who still has much to offer in terms socially.

I’m quite taken by the idea – I think I’d feel ten times better about myself after spending an hour clearing rubble than I would spending half an hour feeling fat and puffed out on a rowing machine. And as someone who craves instant results it would be lovely to have something to show for my efforts – even if it were just a clearer garden while I wait for those abs of mine to tighten up…

Good Gym free to join and, as Ivo puts it so clearly, for those of us who want to get fit and feel good about ourselves but don’t really have the time to do either properly why not do both at once, doubling what he calls the “smug factor”. Find out more about the thinking behind Good Gym here and see how you can get involved or why not look at ways to start something up in your area?

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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