By Max Chambers
Who are all these lycra-clad, sweat-drenched, shiny, happy, beautiful people we see wandering around Victoria these days? Where do they come from? How can I be more like them? What Faustian pact must I sign to glisten and glow like the gods and goddesses of SW1?
I get an anonymous tip that Victoria’s newest fitness class studios may be the cause of the escalating smugness. As a local worker, I decide to dust down my trainers and sign up for a class at four of the best.
First up, in the newly re-developed Eccleston Yards, an import from LA that instantly becomes one of the most fun HIIT [high intensity interval training] workouts I’ve had in years. Roughly 20 people running on military training treadmills; another 20 doing floor exercises. Three alternating rounds of each – every one more brutal than the last – and each day’s classes focused on a different region of the body. Today is ‘butt and legs’ day, with our instructor, Izy, providing just the right balance of instruction and encouragement.
Barry’s offers a brilliant workout, especially for those who want to build fitness fast. No breaks between running and floor periods, all active recovery, and the chance to really push yourself to the limit. It’s best not to go off too hard too early on the treadmill, but if you challenge yourself on the hill runs and the fast sprints, you’ll achieve the perfect balance between exhilaration and exhaustion.
The music choices are strong, the lighting dark (and flattering), and the recovery drinks from the shake bar are tasty. With enough showers not to be waiting around, nice toiletries – there is a promotional partnership with brand Beckham – and plenty of gym and shower towels, there is a lot to like.
My Apple Watch reckons I burnt 780 calories in a 60-minute class. Not bad going at all. And while at £20 a pop (unless you buy classes in bulk), Barry’s is not cheap, it’s the kind of class you could add to your exercise regime once a week or a few times a month, and still see real impact.
16 Eccleston Yards
Next up a boxing ‘bags’ class at Manor, just round the corner from Victoria Station. It bills itself as a ‘no gimmicks’ studio. In their own words, “We’re a little more ‘London’ and a little less LA…we aren’t a beauty salon, a café or an edgy backdrop for your Instagram story.”
The serious, stripped-down approach is definitely reflected in the class and the clientele, as well as the facilities. This is a hard workout, for serious trainers. £xx for a class, and you pay extra for your towel, and to rent gloves. I am paired with a Liverpudlian who has been boxing for three years, and is quite forgiving (at least at first) about my terrible footwork and lack of rhythm.
The workout is pretty punishing for a first timer, and comes complete with vigorous instructor Chris, who will pull you up fast for taking a rest or getting things wrong – exactly what I need to push myself. It feels a bit like a dance lesson at first (helping to explain why I suddenly feel so self-conscious) – and then you combine the footwork with hitting a bag, or your partner’s gloves. In between, there are ‘fast feet’, press-ups, burpees and shadowboxing.
Burning around 920 calories in a 50-minute class – I am spent by the time we warm down – it’s a hardcore as well as a full body workout. The pain the next day lets me know it worked muscles I don’t normally exercise. The sign of a really great session.
The changing rooms or showers could be better and I would be more inclined to return if the minimalist approach of the class didn’t (needlessly) translate
to the whole experience of the gym. But the class is full, and clearly the clientele – who are a different crowd to Barry’s – are clearly buying into the ‘anti-brand’ branding.
84 Eccleston Square
The next day, I ignore the aches to head to 1Rebel, a new spinning class in the Nova complex. Here 45 minutes of high-octane, loud and energising cycling await around 30 ‘Rebels’ – complete with pyrotechnics, spiritual cooldowns and perfectly chilled flannels in the changing room.
If you like spinning, you’ll love 1Rebel. And if you’ve never tried it yet, this is a great place to start. The instructors are engaging and clearly command loyal followings (ours knows a lot of the Rebels by name). I burn 680 calories in 45 minutes, but could have worked harder. The classes would be even better with personalised performance data so you can make sure to push yourself to the limit. But it’s hard to be too critical: a great session, friendly staff, spotless changing rooms, free water, towels and spinning shoes, and you can be in and out in your lunch hour. What more could you want?
7A Allington Street
Well, it turns out there has been something important missing from the classes so far and that of course, is Brexit. You see, I used to work for David Cameron in 10 Downing Street, and lost my job along with him after the referendum. So when GymBox in Victoria started offering a class called ‘Brexfit’ – the chance to take out all of your frustrations about Brexit – it seemed tailor-made.
Half an hour of high-intensity training in 45 second sequences: heavy squats, lunges, fast rows and rides – all while looking at a cardboard cut-out of Jacob Rees-Mogg. Then I get to punch a bag with Boris Johnson’s big face on it, and throw a 20 kg ball at Jeremy Corbyn’s head. Now this is what I call motivation. 440 calories burnt in 30 minutes. Anger residing. Mental health improved. Catharsis delivered. I could have carried on all afternoon.
So as well as losing a few pounds this week, I’ve also gained new insight. Other people might not need gimmicks to get them to the gym, but I do. And why not? This is 2018! It’s perfectly reasonable to expect my gym to provide a DJ, a smoke machine and a fridge full of nicely chilled flannels. Thankfully, the fitness studios of SW1 – well, most of them – are only too happy to oblige.
123 Victoria Street