I woke up unable to move and with my arm muscles screaming: what evil atrocity had happened to my person overnight? I did (what they call in the meditation sessions I never get around to doing) a body scan; starting at the toes, moving up to the knees and then the thighs and the hips, noting any sensations in the body pleasant or unpleasant. They were all deeply unpleasant. Pains shot through my calves when I tried to wiggle my toes and I was unable to feel my thighs. It was as though anything connecting my legs to the rest of my body had been stolen away whilst I was sleeping.
I tried to roll onto my side but where there had been (admittedly feeble) core muscles, there now seemed to be none. My brain whirred. Had I unwittingly birthed another baby? By c-section? Or perhaps I had been illegally harvested of some vital organs and this was the aftermath. Hundreds of separate pains were beginning to register around my body – even my head hurt when I weakly turned it from side to side.
And then the horror came flooding back. Operating on a slight delay, no doubt due to the trauma, my mind blinked into action and played a number of nightmarish flashbacks from the previous day. The root cause of all my pains became crystal clear:
I had exercised.
More specifically, I had “boxed”. Or “done boxing” – I’m not sure of the correct phrase here, being unfamiliar with almost all forms of exercise and the appropriate fitness-related lexicon. But I had done something akin to boxing at the very least – I’d had my hands strapped up (in bandages, which sort of felt like a forewarning) and I’d worn the proper gloves and I’d given it my all like only a comparatively unfit forty-two-year-old mum-of-two can.
I say comparatively because with a few exceptions I think I was the oldest participant in the room by almost a couple of decades and I’m not sure, judging by the enthusiasm and vigour with which they all did the jumping jacks, that any of the others had yet to become inconvenienced with compromised pelvic floors.
Now look; I’m not unfit in that I have to huff and puff to get myself up my near-vertical driveway (I can even carry heavy stacks of parcels up it) and I’m also not unfit in that I can easily hike six, seven, eight miles or more in one go and it doesn’t really feel as though I’ve dented my energy that much. However: put me on a rubbery floor and make me do things like “mountain climbers” and “burpees” and anything involving upper body strength and I promise you I will collapse like one of those little push-up puppets with elastic bands threaded through them.
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Why was I exercising? You might ask. I was at a press event for Kiehl’s and the boxing session (at the amazing JAB club in Mayfair) was part of the package. Kiehl’s have launched a lovely new product into their Ultra Facial range; the Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream, and I’m guessing that the “defensive” nature of the boxing class is the link between event and barrier repair product. Although, I have to say, JAB couldn’t have been more Kiehl’s in style if it had tried – it felt very New York cool with its wooden lockers and wall of boxing gloves and the amazing leather punchbags in the mirrored studio.
And as Rebecca, the photographer for Kiehl’s, clicked away at all of the guests posing in the aforementioned boxing gloves, leaning against the aforementioned punchbags, I made the fatal error of assuming that this boxing session was to be “just for the ‘gram” and that nobody would actually be expending any real sort of physical effort.
Which was all fine by me because even as I enrered the locker room I was beginning to question my sanity – why on earth had I agreed to spend a morning doing something so energetic and potentially excruciating when I could have been having hot chocolate with a friend, or browsing John Lewis for a new travel bag (much needed). Or just anything, really, rather than being in a boxing gym with that faint smell of sweat and rubber and – weirdly – ham that’s seemingly always the precursor to intense physical discomfort.
Luckily the JAB crew (instructor and two finely-honed “demo” boxers to keep us all on track with the moves) were all very easy on the eye and as I don’t get out much these days it was all quite visually exciting at first. As we started jigging about on the spot and doing pretend punching I relaxed into the whole thing and suddenly felt quite confident that I’d be able to take the whole thing in my stride. Even as the moves progressed to more energetic ones, ones that saw me having to throw myself to the floor, touch my knee to my shoulder like in some sadistic version of Twister, I felt sort of physically energised and motivated in a way I hadn’t experienced since having to run to catch the last train from Paddington at the end of January 2021. (One of my tendons has only just healed.)
But oh my God. After about ten minutes of pure cardio sweaty exertion and just as I assumed we were about to wind things up to have a little rest, the instructor (and owner of JAB) declared that the “warm up was almost over”. I beg your pardon? Warm up? If this was one of those army obstacle courses then I was at exhaustion level 8: the final swamp crossing. If I was on an army course then at this point I’d be hauling myself through the mud on my knees, doing ugly crying. If it was childbirth (and my babies hadn’t been huge/wrong way up/late) then I’d be at the bit where it’s ring of fire and you have to push through the pain.
Had Mr Jab not been so encouraging, in his tiny shorts with his muscular physique, I would have lain down on the rubbery floor and wept. As it happened, he carried with him some sort of long plastic ruler and now and then gave a gentle tap with it which was actually quite arousing.
Or would have been quite arousing had my pelvic floor not decided to completely give up the ghost which meant I was concentrating on trying not to involuntarily urinate over myself. It was the split jumping jacks that did the pelvic floor in, FYI – manic opening and closing of the legs coupled with intense and forceful high impact landings. It’s gonna do it. You may as well place your undercarriage into that machine in IKEA that demonstrates how violently they test their mattresses for wear and tear. Pound-pound-pound.
Anyway, jesting aside I did very much enjoy myself. The urine stayed where it should be, despite my bladder screeching at me for the entire forty-five minutes, and the first thing I did when I got on the train home was to Google “Boxing Club in Bath”. I felt on top of the world. There was a ferocity and a focus to the session that I loved; it was so intense that it left no room to think. If I’m spinning (on a bike, not just around and around in a room like someone on hallucinogenics) then all sorts of things go through my mind. And I can imagine that – if I had knees that weren’t made of Play-Doh and I jogged – the same thing would happen with jogging. I’d ruminate on work issues, on family life, I’d run through my lists of things that needed to be done.
No space for that during boxing! Or – whispers – Boxercise, which is what I think I’m going to have to do in lieu of proper boxing. Mainly because the proper boxing gyms talk of such things as “sparring” and “mouth guards” and I’m not completely ready to retire from modelling just yet.
And also, I say that Boxercise is what I think I’m going to have to do, but it has taken me five full days to get full movement back in my upper body: I went forty-eight hours in the same t-shirt because I couldn’t bear to lift my arms over my head! So maybe I should stick to spinning (again, the cycling on a stationary bike sort) rather than anything more taxing. Which would mean I’d have to buy an actual clothes horse instead of using the Peleton to dry my clothes, so it’s swings and roundabouts…
A massive thanks to Kiehl’s for inviting me to their Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream launch: I did feel very relevant and youthful in my gym stuff and boxing gloves. And the new cream is just lovely – a great addition to the Ultra Facial line-up, which is renowned for being very calm and gentle. I have two close friends who have used nothing else for years and will use nothing else. The new cream brings extra-potent ingredients to the table for really helping to repair the skin barrier so that it can function more effectively – better skin barrier, less moisture loss and skin that feels more comfortable and soothed. The new barrier cream has a balm texture that’s surprisingly velvety rather than being the heavy, greasy ointment that you might expect. Sits brilliantly beneath makeup (I have it on now) (I realise you can’t see me so that’s a pointless statement) and keeps skin feeling supple and comfortable all day.
You can find the new Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream at Kiehl’s here* – it’s £34 for 50ml.
Photography credit: Rebecca Spencer Photography