FIRST thing’s first. I want to make clear I’m an amateur when it comes to fitness matters. An enthusiastic amateur but an amateur nonetheless.

I’m not so much all the gear, no idea, as not much gear, or idea either.

I run to keep in shape for hockey, which is my main sporting pastime, have completed a handful of triathlons, and run (crawled) a marathon.

In training for all these, I’ve stuck to what I know – get the miles in, whether on the bike, the road, or in the pool, chuck in an odd bit of interval training, then hope for the best on the day. Sometimes I even warm up.

Now, at the grand old age of 32 and a half, I’ve realised this approach might not get me round anymore.

For one thing, those lung-bursting sprints up and down the hockey pitch hurt a lot more than they used to.

The Northern Echo:

Stephen McLean of Paragon strength and condition centre

And secondly, a nasty hamstring tear a few years ago (caused in part by me trying to simultaneously do skills while running flat out) has made me try and wise-up about injury prevention.

So when Stephen McLean, managing director of Darlington’s newest gym, Paragon, on Borough Road Industrial Estate, got in touch with The Northern Echo, offering someone the chance of a strength and conditioning programme, I jumped at the chance – not very high though. I’m not great at jumping either.

We meet up at the gym for both of us to get some background information and the first two customers I run into are ex-Newcastle defender Steve Howey and Britain's best groomed man-turned TV presenter, Les Langley, who have been working out.

Both sing the praises of the gym and Stephen, himself a former footballer with Hartlepool United who was forced to quit the game by injury.

After considering various potential careers, he studied for a degree in sports science at Northumbria University, graduating with first class honours.

He had spells working for Bannatynes and Liftestyle Fitness as a personal trainer before deciding to go it alone and open his own specialist strength and conditioning facility in Darlington.

“I don’t think there is anywhere like this that is open to the public to train at elite level,” he says.

“We want it to be for elite athletes and also for first timers and I think we have achieved that.”

He tells me how the popularity of strength and conditioning training is growing, and how it is all about trying to change the way that people think about fitness.

We discuss what I want to get from my training. I say I think I’d like to be more powerful on the hockey pitch, more dynamic in my movement, more resilient to injury, and just improve my all-round fitness.

I book in for a session in five days’ time.