I like gyms. No, honestly, some of my best friends go to them. But for a lot of people, gyms - and the pursuit of the body beautiful - represent all that is wrong with society: the mind numbing routine, the pressure to conform, those damn running machines you can never get to work properly. If you are one of the people who rages against this particular machine (so to speak), you may want to get in touch with your inner city soul and try out some of the sports that will be showcased at the London Urban Games next month.
Now in its second year, this "street lifestyle" event brings together the finest skateboarders, BMX bikers and breakdancers on the international circuit - and it's one hell of a workout.
True, dirt-jumping bikes and skateboard flips are associated with young, spliff-toking, baggy-trousered and distinctly lanky boys. While nobody actually takes up boarding, BMX or breakdancing to get fit - participants furiously deny that it is even a factor because, frankly, "fitness" really isn't very cool in these circles - these sports require serious stamina, training and confidence at competitive level. Skateboarders need to be toned, supple and fit enough to endure competitions such as the Urban Games, in which the street skaters go through two qualifying rounds of two times three minutes (trust me, this is a long time on a board) before doing the same again in the final. Ditto for bikers, who need strength, cardio fitness and balance for all those bike-wielding turns and tricks. And while we're on the subject, have you ever seen a 16-stone breakdancer?
"Fitness really helps enormously with urban sports," says Michael Fordham, editor of Adrenalin, the skate, surf and snowboard bible. "The fitter you are, the better you are likely to be, the more fun you can have, and the less likely you are to hurt yourself."
But that's not to say that the unfit - and by this I mean people in their twenties and thirties - can't have a go. "You have two groups getting into these sports," says Wendy Woo, event organiser for the Urban Games, "the teenagers, who are the new kids on the block, and the 20 to 30- somethings, who remember skate and BMX from the Eighties and are getting into the revival. People come along to see the pros compete and just love it, and before you know it, they're down at the local skate park, wearing the labels and living the lifestyle." In fact, the lifestyle is very much part of the deal. "All these sports are about freedom and expression," says Woo. "They're for independent people who are a bit more thoughtful about what they do with their free time."
Being nonconformist and non-organised, urban sports are not easily accessible to beginners - it's not as though you could just ask to …