One of the unexpected pleasures of living in Brittany is that every morning – well almost – I can go to my private gym. I walk down the garden and in seconds I am sitting in front of my first piece of exercise equipment and ready to start. This is the story of that gym, its creation and the pleasures it brings. But first, the background.

2007. On the day of my retirement I joined the local gym in Richmond; from then on exercising each day, save at the weekends, became part of my life. Apart from helping me keep fit, I saw my 20 minutes on the treadmill each day as a diet aid that would allow me to indulge in a croissant for breakfast – well that was my pre-retirement dream. 

2018. During this year I decided to correct my stoop. As a result of my poor posture I had, since my early twenties, lost almost three inches in height. Now I hoped to do exercises to straighten me up again (See A Tall Order, 9th December 2018).

With the help of a patient and attentive personal trainer, I learned stretching exercises for my spine, and strengthening exercises for the muscles in my shoulders, neck and upper-back. Jubi told me how doing these everyday should “do the trick”, and indeed they did! After several months of hard work I was once again close to my former height. 

Doing the exercises each day was easy, but now I was worried that if I were to stop some of them the stoop might return. In France, although I could flex and stretch anywhere, strengthening exercises require complicated and expensive equipment which I did not have.

2019. Six months later at the start of our next stay in France I tried in vain to find a local gym where my exercises could continue; some were closed for the holidays, others didn’t do short-term membership. If I was serious I would have to build a gym of my own. 

Plans for the gym were soon hatched. For the site I could use our garage; a large wooden shed that is empty during the summer when the car is parked in the front drive. Weights too were easy; I could use buckets filled with stones. For the equipment itself the challenge was more difficult; somehow I would need to pull loads at different angles. My solution was to use a series of pulleys, ropes and hooks and these I soon found at one of the chandlers nearby. Within a week the system was ready for use and after breakfast each day I was able to exercise once again.

2020. This summer, when we arrived back in France, I drove the car out of its winter quarters and my garage gym was just as I had left it. Due to the pandemic my gym in Richmond had been closed for months. In Treguennec, exercise was once again possible.

Gyms evoke feelings and mine is no exception. In my first year, I was made to feel awkward. Some friends and neighbours were praising but amongst the others I, as the builder, was seen as cranky. Much worse was the fact that some also saw my workouts as the antics of a “sweet old man”. Then there were those who took exception to the grimier side of the gym. While it didn’t worry me, there was certainly a lot of rubbish and dust on the floor, while on the walls and ceiling there was an abundance of spiders and their webs! All in all, the gym experience that first year was not a wholehearted success.

How different it has been this year. Why things have changed is not clear; however, doing my stretching exercises as I look out over the orchard through the open gym (garage) doors is now a delight. Feeling the warmth of the axe handle of ash that I use to pull the rope down from the pulley in the ceiling is so much nicer than pulling on the ‘clinical’ steel bars and rubber handles in the gym in Richmond. Hearing the pulley wheels squeak as they take the strain of buckets loaded with 35kg of stone gives everything an earthy feel. And there are certainly advantages of being alone and so spared the grunts (and smells) of the occasional serious body builder.

That I have been able to correct my stoop by doing special exercises comes as a welcome surprise. Moreover, after a shaky first year, I now see that building my gym in France as a success. As for my idea that exercise might help me lose weight – there is, so far, no convincing evidence that the the amount I do makes any difference. 

The illustration shows a photograph of the ‘weights’ in my Tréguennec  gym. Each bucket contains stones weighing 35kg. Through a system of ropes and pulleys they provide the workload equivalent to that of my exercise equipment in the gym in Richmond. Here the handles are set to pull horizontally towards the centre of my chest.

For helping me with this blog I would like to thank Jubi, Rohan and Vivien.

13 thoughts on “A Gym of My Own

  1. Bravo Joe. Quelle résilience et quelle ingéniosité ! De mon côté, je fais ma gym devant mon écran de télé relié à Internet. Pas de poulies dans mon salon!

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    1. Dear Thierry, Thank you very much for your kind comments. You say you exercise in front of a computer screen, are these exercises for stretching or for strengthening? You may not have ropes and pullies, but you probably have weights. Amitiés, Joe

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      1. Cher Joe,

        En effet, j’ai quelques haltères que j’utilise de temps en temps mais, en ce moment, je fais plutôt du yoga, du pilates et du Tai Chi. Même le yoga permet de se se muscler! Et bien sûr, c’est très bien pour améliorer la souplesse.

        Amitiés,

        Thierry

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        1. Cher Thierry, Merci beaucoup pour tes commentaires. Prenant en compte totes les chose que tu peux faire Facilement chez toi, je me demande pourquoi j’ai construit une salle de sport. Amitié, Joe

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        2. Bonjour Thierry, Merci beaucoup pour tes commentaires. Prenant en compte toutes les choses que tu peux faire facilement chez toi, je me demande pourquoi j’ai construit une salle de sport. Amitié, Joe

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  2. Hello Joe, as always you’ve found a creative way to do what you want to do and this time to keep fit!

    A few questions, how do you know there is 35kg in each bucket and… would you like me to send you a tin of 3in 1 oil or do you like the sound of the squeak?

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    1. Dear Carolyn, Thank you for you kind comments. The weight was an informed guess – I knew exactly what 35 kg felt like when I was doing my exercises in the gym in Richmond so, when I established the gym in Tréguennec I added stones till it felt the same. I feel confident that it is very close. I have often thought to oil the pullies but rather like the noise! Love, Joe

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  3. Dear Joe,

    As always I loved your blog- what ingenuity- best gym ever! Did you take before and after pictures of your posture -shorter Joe and taller Joe?

    Love

    Robin

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    1. Dear Robin, Thank you for you comment. Sorry, no photos taken showing change, but if you get a chance to read the hyperlinked article you can see that I was once again one of the tallest people around when I was standing in the crowded underground train. Love, Joe

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  4. Remarquable! Heath Robinson n’aurait pas fait mieux
    Un dessin permettrai de comprendre mieux comment marche ta machine à exercices surtout avec les poulies et ta corde à l’horizontale !?!?
    Plus tard un film de toi style Harry Potter faisant les exercises sera utile avec le grincement des poulies et les toiles d’araignée comme décor.

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  5. Bonjour Sauliac, Tu as raison, ma salle de sport est très Heath Robinson. Une invitée l’année dernière à roulé un film et si tu passe par chez nous tu peux le regarder. Les cordes, les seaux, les poulies et les grincements sont évidents mais les araignées – non. Bises, Joe

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  6. Dear Joe,
    Last year when I visited I was privileged to see the gym in action and I too was amazed at your quirky ingenuity. I am so happy to know that it has been more successful this year – perhaps our experiences of 2020 have given many of us a deeper appreciation of simpler things and a better understanding of that old adage “make do and mend”. Who needs expensive, designer, high-carbon-footprint equipment when there’s a Joe around to think outside the box as you always manage to do? And you highlight some of the other benefits of getting your connection-with-nature fix looking out of the garage over the orchard, feeling the natural materials of the equipment – and perhaps even studying the variety of arachnids keeping you company?! Continuing health, happiness and an upright posture to you, Joe. Love, JJ Fruitbat XX And of course love to Rohan too XX

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    1. Dear JJ, Thank you very much for your encouraging and generous comments. As I said in my piece, making my gym was a lot of fun and gives lots of fulfilment. Living outside the box seems to be my normal position. Love, Joe

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