5 ways to get the perfect pandemic body

Lockdown has gnawed away at my fitness levels and I need to remedy this in case we become a proper police state. I don’t want to have Cele’s boys after me and find myself having to stop every couple of minutes to catch my breath. Mind you, they’d be doing the same. It would be the least dramatic foot chase ever. If our rest periods coincided, we could keep going for months. We’d have to go in circles because of the inter-provincial travel ban.

I got more exercise during Level 5 then I do in this latest turbocharged 24-karat deluxe version of Level 3. That’s because we were told that exercise, under Level 5, was not allowed. If you tell me not to do something, you can be sure I’ll do it. My parents realised early on that I was a prime target for reverse psychology. My mother would tell me that under no circumstances was I to tidy my bedroom while she was out. And if I dared do the dishes, there’d be trouble. The house would be sparkling when she got back.

It got worse as I grew up. People would tell me not to binge drink or take drugs. Don’t study journalism or sleep with other men’s girlfriends, they’d say. And never, ever get married. I showed them, alright. Oh, yes.

Then, many years later, someone in China eats a dodgy bat and coughs on someone else and the next thing you know, Cyril Ramaphosa is telling me I’m not allowed to exercise. I am, however, permitted to go to the supermarket should food become absolutely necessary. I would then go to Checkers and do push-ups in the canned goods aisle, sit-ups in the dairy department and jog between the baked goods and fresh produce sections. Take that, government. I’ll see your Level 5 and raise you Level Kiss-My-Ass.

They must have got wind that people were illegally exercising while shopping and subsequently brought us up to Level 4. The moment they said we were allowed out to exercise between 6am and 9am, I lost all interest.

Then came Level 3 version 1.0 and we were told we could exercise whenever we liked. That was the beginning of the end. It was as if they no longer cared about people who could only do something in reaction to being told not to do it.

I was devastated and stayed in bed for … well, I’m writing this from my bed now. I get up occasionally to visit the bathroom and kitchen, but it’s not much as far as cardio workouts go.

The moment I heard we were no longer allowed to buy alcohol, I put in an order with my local bootlegger for seven bottles of gin. I don’t even particularly like gin. It makes me cry. Then again, right now cat videos make me cry. Show me a crippled labrador splashing in a puddle and I’m a mess for days.

But there’s little joy to be found in illicit gin if one is unable to muster the strength to remove the cap from the tonic, let alone find the motivation to refill the ice trays. As for locating a knife sharp enough to slice the lemon that you don’t even have, the less said the better.

Flicking through Facebook with my last functional finger, an advert for a fitness website popped up. “Highly effective core exercises for seniors – no equipment needed.” What? I’m not a … am I? Zuckerberg’s androids must be mistaking me for someone else. Someone old.

Anyway, what exactly is a senior? I might be a little delusional at times, but I do know that I’m not a junior. The picture on the website is of an old man standing on one leg with his eyes closed. Please. I can do that. I did karate when I was a kid. My sensei, who carried a gun in his briefcase, told us the trick was to picture yourself as a tree with roots in the ground. I would practice in the garden at home and my sister would sneak up and water me. That explains why I grew half a metre in Grade 9.

“The core exercises in this article have been tested by over 1000 seniors!” They don’t say what happened after that. Did anyone die? Were there lawsuits?

They give a dictionary definition of the word “core”, which I found unhelpful, and explain how a strong core helps reduce the risk of falling. Thanks chaps, but the ban on alcohol has taken care of that already.

Then it starts. “Pretend I’m standing in front of you. Now imagine I have my hands on your shoulders and I trying to push you away. What would your reaction be?” Well, my first reaction would be to correct your grammar. Then, if you were a bloke, I’d knee you swiftly in the testicles. If you were a woman, I would, like any red-blooded South African man, take it as a sign that you fancied me.

The correct reaction, apparently, is to brace all my muscles and make my body stiff. And that’s what it feels like to engage your core. It also feels like rigor mortis prematurely setting in.

I am told to brace my core while walking, taking stairs, moving objects and picking things up off the floor. That’s ridiculous. I pay other people to do those things for me. Anyway, I don’t have any damn core muscles to brace. That’s why I’m doing this. If there was money involved, I’d ask for it back.

Now we get to the “highly effective core exercises for seniors”. Maybe they mean señors. It’s probably a Mexican thing. Make strong for to Rio Grande cross.

The first exercise is to bring your knees to your chest while standing. Not at the same time, obviously. You are allowed to hold onto a chair, presumably if you’re very hungover. The recommendation is: “x2 sets of x5-8 repetitions”. What does this mean? If I wanted a maths test, I’d go somewhere else. It almost made me give up.

Exercise #2 is basically sitting on a chair, then standing, then sitting, then standing … if you do this in public, men in white coats will come to take you away.

#3 is Heel Raises. In which you raise yourself on your toes. “Once you get as high as possible, pause for one second…” I don’t think anyone’s ever got as high as possible. New limits are being set all the time. Worth a try, though.

#4 is Bird Dog. I liked the sound of this one. Scampering about the neighbourhood, picking up dead pigeons with my mouth and giving them to the needy. Sadly, not. It does involve going down on all fours, though, but that’s where the fun ends.

#5 is Bridges. You lie on your back and repeatedly thrust your hips into the air. I felt comfortable with this one and kept going until I started having flashbacks to my first honeymoon and wound up in the foetal position whimpering like an abandoned chimp.

We are told to do this routine three times a week. Well, that’s ruined it. If they had instructed me to never try it again, I’d be at it all the time.

I felt a little better the next day when I read a headline that said, “Fitness industry on the verge of collapse.” I’m no virgin and I might not be very active, but if an entire industry can collapse without anyone caring, then so can I.


  • This column first appeared in The Citizen on 22 July. More every Wednesday. Subscribe here: https://citizen.co.za/bundle-subscriptions/

Ripped abs and shredded underwear

After months of hard work, I have finally managed to develop an almost classic example of what’s known in the trade as a dad bod. By hard work, I mean minimal exercise, poor diet and unlimited alcohol.
It hasn’t all been downhill. Well, I suppose it has. But the body is a funny thing. Some are funnier than others, that’s for sure. It’s not as easy as you might think to lose all muscle tone and upper body strength and develop a healthy pair of moobs. You don’t just get a dad bod overnight, you know. You need to keep at it.
Here’s what happens. The body is initially delighted. Beer, bunny chows and no exercise? Woohoo! This is the life. Then the brain interferes. Hardwired to focus almost exclusively on ways of ensuring the survival of the species, it knows the road you’re trying to take it down leads to a place where opportunities for propagation are few and far between.
It knows that the only women who might, at a push, find a dad bod anything less than repulsive are the ones who have a mom bod. In almost every case, though, mom bods are more attractive than dad bods. There’s a reason men on dating sites don’t list their body type as “curvaceous”. Or so I’ve heard.
The brain eventually gives up and says, “Fine. Do whatever you want. Don’t get laid ever again. What do I care?” Parts of the body, overhearing this, shout, “Hey! Speak for yourself. Selfish brain.” The brain sighs heavily. “Stupid body.”
With the brain and body no longer talking to one another, you can get on with the job of developing the most perfect dad bod on the planet. No, wait. This is not what I’m meant to be writing about. This was supposed to be about getting into shape for summer. Nobody wants to see your sad dad bod on the beach. It’s horrible.
I went out and bought a magazine for inspiration. I thought I was buying Men’s Health because it had a young half-naked bloke on the cover, but when I got it home I saw it was in fact a magazine called Fitness. The only reason I never took it back, apart from not wanting to do the 30m walk back to the shops after already having sat down, was because it occurred to me that it was more fitness and not so much health that I was after. Health you can get from doctors and pharmacists. Fitness, on the other hand, you can only get from a magazine that sports the photograph of a bronzed god with the most perfectly chiselled torso on its cover.
Sitting here looking at his body, two things occur to me. One, I’m not remotely aroused. Two … there is no two. I’m just relieved that, at my age, I don’t have to start rethinking my sexuality. I’m not even curious about experimenting. But if I was, it certainly wouldn’t be with Cover Boy. I’d take my shirt off and he’d start laughing and I’d have to kill him. While he was asleep, obviously. And I’d need a pneumatic drill to penetrate his chest, which would probably wake him up unless I’d dosed him with horse tranquilisers beforehand, and I don’t want to be going around to vets with a borrowed cat and then asking for 500g of ketamine for my sick pony who’s waiting in the car.
Right, then. Pleased we have that cleared up.
Fitness seems to be a gender-neutral concept so there’s no reason why, if you’re not a man, the advice I am about to glean and share shouldn’t also apply to you. Apart, perhaps, from the feature workout promised on the cover. “Rock hard abs! No excuse for soft abs this summer.” If you’re a woman, simply swap the word abs for willies. You’re welcome.
For a long time, I thought abs stood for automatic braking system. It was quite disappointing to discover that abs are in fact some kind of rare muscle group that disintegrates when you turn 30. When Darwin was dishing out abs, I must’ve been having a smoke in the parking lot.
The cover also promises a “full-body workout in just one move!” Oh, please. I’ve had that one down for years. All you need is a swivel ‘n tilt chair on wheels, a smooth floor and a clear run to the fridge.
Opening the magazine, you’re hit by at least three companies trying to get you to buy their whey. Looking at the models, it seems unlikely they got that way through whey alone. I reckon they’ve been dipping into the curds, at the very least. Little Miss Muffet certainly did more than sit on her tuffet all day long.
The publisher’s name is Andrew Carruthers. In my mind, he was a middle-aged executive who liked to keep fit but who was running a bit to flab as a result of all the meetings he has to attend. Then I turned the page to the publisher’s letter. I’ve had the police, army, ex-wives and hired assassins after me and lived to tell the tale. Having Andrew Carruthers after me is something I’d like to avoid. He looks like the leader of the most dangerous prison gang in the world. I wouldn’t have a hope in hell of out-running or out-fighting him.
In his column titled “Grow your mind, not just your muscles”, he says, “The greatest ideas in history have come from people who were either considered outcasts, insane or mad.” This gives me hope that we could sit down over a brace of tequilas and a couple of whey chasers and discuss the subtle differences between insanity and madness.
Let me flip through the magazine to find ways of developing a beach bod that will blow the girls away this summer. I suspect, though, the only way this might happen is if I strap a bomb belt around my wobbly white waist and detonate in their midst.
I might’ve left it a bit late, to be honest. Summer is in full swing in Durban while Cape Town is still trying to make up its mind. Anyway, it’s rutting season and looking anything better than your worst is best for all concerned.
Alan asks, via email, what to do about stiffness in his joints after heavy lifting. Alan, if you’re struggling to lift your joints, you’re either rolling them too big and too tight or you have the physique of Mr Burns.
I’ve thought of going to gym at different points in my life – most of them were pretty low points, admittedly – but I’ve never known what to wear so I didn’t go. Good thing, too. A gym T-shirt costs R900 and a pair of shorts R749. I can go to a backstreet plastic surgeon and get the fat sucked out of me for that price.
I thought I might learn something from an interview with cover boy Wayne Coetzee. And I did. He says the secret is to never miss a meal, never miss a workout. Excellent. I have 50% of it under control already.
Another memorable quote is, “I always squeeze the muscle with every rep, whether it’s a superset or a max-rep set.” If I ever manage to find out what he’s talking about, I bet I can look like him in no time at all. I was married twice so I’m already familiar with the muscle-squeezing bit.
Oh, thank god. There’s a sultry, under-dressed wench on page 26. Just looking at her is cardio training on its own. Like Little Miss Muffet, she also likes her whey. And I bet she gets her whey whenever she demands it. Her ideal man, apart from having a body like Achilles (without the dodgy heel), is “good with cuddles and booty rubs”. I am the cuddle-meister and I used to rub my army booties until you could shave in their reflection. Call me, babe.
There is also advice on how to biohack your sex life. Biohack? Sex life? What are these things? It’s suggested that you perform “male deer exercises” and eat a Peruvian root that grows on the slopes of the Andes. I miss the good old days of just whipping off your broeks and getting to work without having to first go to South America or prance about the lounge snorting and pawing the ground.
If pain is your thing, there’s a feature on endurance where you can “learn to suffer”. Please. I’ve been married twice. I know about suffering.
“Upgrade your paltry four pack to a beach-ready six pack!” That reminds me. I have to get to the bottle store before it closes. See you at the beach.