Recently LSB has started attending a gym near his work. He’s found himself a PT called Tom, and he’s all delighted with him: it’s all ‘Tom says’ and ‘Tom this’ and ‘Tom that.’ I’ve had to take his shirts to Oxfam and buy him more, as buttons have started pinging off all over the joint since his shoulders have filled out. He’ll deny this, but I’ve caught him having a sneaky look at his new pecs in the mirror. Thrilled with his new physique, he is. I had a session myself with a PT a while ago now, at the Ramada. A sanctimonious twerp he was too: I couldn’t be having him. He lacked all humour and made disparaging comments about yoga. ‘I’ll not be working out with you again you, you prick,’ I thought.
However, of late I’ve not felt at my best. I’ve no waist to speak of, my arms are droopy and I lack upper body strength. I’ve joined the PEC but hardly ever go because I lack the confidence to use the free weights room and I rarely make it to classes. ‘You need a PT,’ says himself, ‘just to get you started.’ I’ve tried going to the gym with him (I mean what’s the use of being shacked up to a running coach if they can’t at least train their wives,) but he has me doing all manner of daft exercises. I end up giving him savage looks which are not conducive to marital harmony. Luckily, my pal Marie-Louise comes to the rescue. ‘Mary-Jo lives up the road from you,’ she says. ‘She’s my mate and she’s brilliant. Off you go.’
Turns out, Marie-Louise is right. I don’t just want to go BACK to Mary-Jo, I want to adopt her. Everyone needs this pint-sized dynamo in their lives: the National Health should make her available on prescription. When I arrived on Wednesday, a frazzled mess, she had a cup of camomile tea waiting for me and took time to chat before heading out to her studio. She took my blood-pressure first, to check I wasn’t suffering from hyper tension and didn’t have a stroke mid-session. ‘Not great for business that,’ she said. ‘Indeed,’ I agreed.
Her studio is compact and bijou: all white with pops of bright colour provided by her equipment. I can see that attention to detail is everything with Mary-Jo. There is a tall bottle of chilled water for my refreshment, and even my glass is beautiful, with a dragonfly imprint. In between exercises I keep shrieking ‘I love that tune!’ and she admits to using Spotify to tailor song choices to her clients’ age. There’s a good vibe in the studio- already I know I want to come back.
She designs a circuit of exercises which work on my legs, arms and core. The benefits of having her beside me as I work through them are manifold. She gently reminds me to engage my core, regulate my breathing and ensure my stance is correct. Having been involved in an accident in my twenties, I am always paranoid about lifting weights, lest I aggravate old injuries. Mary-Jo is sympathetic to my neuroses, (which are many) and knowing that she is looking on, to see I’m not doing any damage to myself, reassures me. I know that weight training improves speed and builds strength for running, but I lack the motivation to it. Having her there to keep count of reps and encourage me keeps me going.
I can imagine though, that after a few sessions, I would quickly gain confidence. Mary-Jo may be sweet faced and softly spoken, but if your aim is to lose weight and change your shape, she’ll channel her inner terrier to get you there. I do the circuit once, and since I’d run 10k earlier, I decline the next two rounds. Her sessions usually involve three circuits with the smallest of breaks inbetween. I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. ‘Course you are; you’re strong!’ says Mary-Jo. For one so mild, she doesn’t even look shocked by the stream of invective I release during a particularly brutal core exercise.
It is also, despite the work out, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. She tells me that some of her clients are so chatty she sets a timer as a means of discipline or they wouldn’t manage to complete their workout. ‘People pay me to get results,’ she says, ‘so they have to get value for money.’ By going to Mary-Jo you get more than value- you get a bit of TLC too. In the warmer weather she will even take her clients outside and serves up tea and dark chocolate as a post work-out treat. I mean, who DOES that?
There are no miracle shortcuts though, and the exercise only works in tandem with a good diet, and exercising portion control. ‘Wine’s a killer,’ she tells me. ‘Don’t drink all your calories.’ ‘Bugger,’ I reply.
In truth, don’t walk, RUN up to her studio for a new step in your exercise journey. The day after my session I meet my friend Martina for a HIT (High Intensity Training) class at Queen’s. I notice that I breathe differently throughout and am more aware of my posture. I see that if I commit to a few more one to ones with Mary-Jo I’ll have the encouragement I need to see results and start using the weights at the gym myself, without feeling foolish and intimidated by the others around me.
A session with a good PT is an investment in your fitness, your confidence and self-esteem. Mary-Jo went to one herself 3 years ago; found a new way to train and was so inspired that she left her job in banking to become one herself. I’m very glad she did.
Here she is in action.
If you need some inspiration for check out Mary-Jo Tunney on Facebook.