Larry Ryan was no longer enjoying his weekly six-a-side. So he tried out the Alan Shearer fitness regime Speedflex for six weeks. Could he find form? Or even get fit?
It’s almost certainly a mid-life crisis. At best, a window of great existential vulnerability.
Here’s how the trap fell. Catastrophic performance at six-a-side on a Monday night — 6-0 down at half-time, amid consistent personal failure to close down chasmic generation gaps. Second half a parody of walking football.
Opportunistic as ever, Alan Shearer lands in town on the Tuesday morning, trim as the day he knocked a debut hat-trick past Arsenal near 30 years ago.
And swearing by Speedflex, a circuit training caper of which he is brand ambassador and director.
Plagued by his back, knees, and ankles, Shearer says it’s the only exercise that suits him and he takes a class three or four mornings a week, after he drops his youngest to school.
A Monday game aside, and the odd short-lived New Year resolution, I hadn’t trained in six years, since knocking 11-a-side on the head. Not seriously for 15 years, since a centre-half crunched an ankle.
The result is sluggishness, general malaise and reliance on the work of Mr Kipling and Mr Cadbury and their colleagues for daily inspiration. Essentially, in life I’ve already turned the bend for home. And been lapped by all the hordes now out pounding the pavements.
Try this for six weeks and write about it, was the deal.
A short experiment or a last throw of the dice?
Week 1: Where are my socks?
1. Morning visits to the gym en route to the office and a tendency towards last-minute organisation is a combination that will see you spend a working day or two sockless. Or worse.
The Speedflex studio is in the Health Club at the Kingsley Hotel. Assistant manager Mark O’Keeffe takes my induction, which is compulsory for every new Speedflex customer.
I fill the form, step on the scales and strap on the heart monitor. Mark brings me round two circuits of the eight Speedflex machines, demonstrating the correct techniques.
The science bit: There are no weights. The machines use hydraulics and electrical impulses to generate resistance based on the force you bring to the table. So everyone trains at their own level.
And when you perform the traditional military presses and lat pulls (by no means traditional for me) you must apply force back and forth through the entire exercise, not just in one direction.
As Mark explains, it means your muscles are worked only as they shorten, not when they lengthen, eliminating the tearing that leaves you stiff and sore next day.
Oh, except for the squats. You may get little reminders of the squats alright.
I settle on a three class per week routine. And will try to include a 5k Parkrun every Saturday.
First week, I stick to 30-minute ‘Pureflex’ classes. Machines only. Roughly five-minute circuits, 30 seconds intense work, 10 seconds rest.
Each machine can be tweaked to give you any exercise but here’s a sample circuit:
Six-a-side performance: Genuinely pitiful. Crisis-level shambles. I blame the squats.
Week 2: You remember burpees?
Oh yes, about the competitive element.
Everyone in class wears a monitor, which broadcasts their heart-rate on a large digital display, along with a calorie counter and an effort rating, based on their maximum heart-rate.
Shearer reckoned you can burn 1,000 calories a session and others did, but my max was around 750.
Your heart-rate is also colour-coded as you progress through the zones of effort.
The idea is to work your way into the yellow zone (80-89% maximal heart rate) at least, with spikes into the red, before recovering quickly back through green and blue during your breaks.
This visible effort league table is designed to motivate — or shame — the slacker.
This week, I venture into the world of ‘auxiliary stations’, which is probably the kind of euphemism they use in places like Guantanamo.
These 45-minute sessions feature ‘bonus’ bodyweight or free weight exercises between the machines. Out come the battle ropes, kettlebells, medicine balls and power bags.
And yes, the burpees.
With them came traumatic flashbacks to ancient days when Audrey, who appeared on Gladiators with Fash and Ukrika, took us for pre-season training.
It must be a source of great frustration to the fine engineering minds of our time that, for all their sadism, there is no machine known that can produce the distress of burpees.
With no travelator available, Audrey, a known sadist, liked her burpees.
You couldn’t have called me a 110% man, so I never quite offered a tributary to the river of vomit in those days.
But I knew well its rise close to the surface and this week I got back in touch with that feeling. It couldn’t be described as a good feeling.
Mindset: Have come to regard a 30-second plank as a luxurious rest.
Six-a-side performance: No sign of life. Worse, if anything, as touch has gone too. Could it still be the squats?
Week 3: I got this
Without getting too Bressie about it, there’s no escaping the feelgood factor.
Call it endorphins or whatever you like, but I haven’t mulled over the essential futility of the human condition in at least 20 days.
“It doesn’t get easier, you get stronger,” reads one of the motivational posters in the gym.
I was coming from a low base, strength-wise, but there are definite hints of improvement in some of the exercises.
Might it become addictive, as health club manager Lloyd Fitzgerald promises?
I don’t know yet. But there is an odd feeling of restlessness if it’s been 48 hours without a session. What have I gotten myself into?
Mindset: Smug, to an internal soundtrack of Fifth Harmony’s Work From Home.
Six-a-side performance: Still desperate. Possibly ran around a little more, without ever getting near to where I was going.
Week 4: What did you eat before coming in?
They are all very nice people in the Kingsley Health Club, but I have detected two distinct training styles. I am calling them The Wenger and The Fergie.
Mark is in the Wenger camp. A man of my own vintage, his mantra is work with how you’re feeling.
That you’ve done the hard part by showing up at all and that the difference between your worst day and your best day is rarely more than 10%.
You’d like to give Mark that extra 10%, if you could at all.
Young Shane and young Veronica however, seem to be laying claim to that 10%, taking a certain ownership of that 10% as I’d imagine would happen if you were sat in a Fergie dressing room.
This week, for the first time, I have to give up the ghost in a session. Walk out 25 minutes into a 45-minute class, the tide rising dangerously.
I meet Shane after and apologise. He wondered if I’d had breakfast.
It’s Saturday morning so I do an audit of intake since Friday lunchtime: two slices of the wife’s chocolate birthday cake; 2 French Fancies, approx 5 choc digestives, 1 mini chocolate log, 2 bananas, 2 oranges, 1 apple, another slice of cake in lieu of dinner because home from a late shift at 11pm, 1 bowl of Cheerios before gym.
It might be time for a few minor adjustments.
Mindset: Shit got real.
Six-a-side performance: Perspiration without inspiration. Neither Wenger or Fergie would be impressed.
Week 5: Gain with no pain?
The biggest surprise is the lack of psychological resistance. Previous attempts to muster some get up and go have unraveled well before this point.
This has slotted relatively painlessly into the week.
But what about Shearer’s claims of physical painlessness?
The Saturday run lingers in the hips and hammers and knees just long enough for the Monday game to keep the legs complaining through to Wednesday.
But the Speedflex sessions have stirred no extra discomfort into that mix. Even the burn from the squats has eased.
And this week Mark felt we know each other well enough by now for him to tell me he doesn’t like the look of my backside.
Well, the glutes anyway. Way too tight, he says, causing constriction in the hips and hamstrings and back.
He gives me a couple of stretches. Do them morning and evening for seven days and come back and insist there’s no improvement, he dares me.
Reckons, in 12 months, you can, even at our age, knock 10 years off your six-a-side game.
I try to haggle for 15, but he doesn’t have a time machine.
Mindset: Drinking the Kool-Aid, baby.
Six-a-side performance: Definitely chasing back more after losing the ball. Now if only I could stop losing the ball.
Week 6: Where do we go from here?
Time to take stock. After 18 sessions and four Parkruns and six games, what are the changes?
Despite the Speedflex recommendation of a healthy diet high in protein, green vegetables and water not being religiously, or even agnostically, adhered to, one or two discarded trousers are back in circulation, so there must be a centimetre or two off the waist.
Maybe a few pounds lost, though it might be more if I hadn’t started off a false low, due to cheating off half a stone via a vomiting bug/flu combo.
Speedflex doesn’t claim to build muscle, rather to tone and improve flexibility. So I’m on course to be Peter Crouch rather than Peter Lupus.
The 5k time has improved by around three minutes, at least when towed behind a Parkrun pacemaker.
And the experience, overall, has been enjoyable and served as a much-needed kick in the glutes.
But will I keep going?
I’ve signed up to a further monthly plan, offering unlimited classes. But as I see it, another psychological crossroads looms not too far ahead.
At the end of week six, I ran around in a game more than I have in years. Not quite every blade of astro, but a decent shift.
And yet, I was mostly chasing shadows. And making shadows of what my brain was suggesting.
One day, acceptance will have to come.
If the stretches don’t work, would I try to stay fit without the carrot of the game?
Could addiction take hold, like it has for men and women of all ages and sizes I’ve met?
Or will I join the hordes my age finding purpose in marathons and ironmans and sailing to the arctic in a saucepan?
But there’s the knees. And it’s hard to shake the mindset of a lifetime; when running and training have always been for the game, rather than for their own end.
Is there life beyond the game? Too soon to say.
For details about a Speedflex membership at the Health Club at the Kingsley Hotel, visit www.speedflex.com or contact The Health Club at The Kingsley on 021 4800523 or email email@example.com
Speedflex is a results-driven, circuit-based training concept aimed at transforming your exercise regime.
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