Have you ever watched Laura Trott or Jason Kenny whizzing around the velodrome on telly and though ‘yeah, I could do that no probs’?

If so, you should probably get yourself down to London’s Olympic velodrome – aka Lee Valley Velo Park – which offers a Taster Session for wannabe track cyclists to find out what it’s really like to reach top speed on two wheels at a 45-degree angle.

I bought the hour-long Taster Session as birthday present for my boyfriend Sam – it was 40 quid each for an hour. We turned up 45 minutes early, as requested when we booked, but were told to wait about 20 minutes before actually getting kitted up. This at least gives you the chance to go and see the velodrome from the spectator seats – it’s a pretty impressive sight!

Next we had to don our gloves and helmets and were given a bike. ‘They don’t have brakes by the way’ the guy told me as he rolled a bike my way. Oh brilliant.

lee valley velodrome taster sessions review 1

I will say now that this activity is not really for the faint-hearted. Before booking I’d read a bunch of reviews online, all of which seemed to be by 45-year-old men, and that was certainly the main demographic when we showed up. A voice in my head said ‘Well this will be fine, I’m obviously one of the fitter ones here’ but as well as strength, you also need nerves – that track feels a whole lot steeper once you’re on it, and on top of that you also have your feet strapped in to a bike with no brakes.

However, the instructor eased us in fairly gently – starting with a pedal round the flat section at the bottom of the track before we gradually moved up higher.

You have to cycle pretty bloody hard to stay up on the slopes – this really is a workout – but once you’re up there it’s an exhilarating feeling.

As for stopping with no brakes – you basically have to slow yourself down as much as possible and then grab the handrail while trying not to fall off. A bit of a test in itself for some of us (yes me).

The entire session is over in an hour, which is really as much as you can manage given the amount of effort that goes in to track cycling. Although I was nervous beforehand, I came out of the velodrome feeling really pleased that I’d given it a go – it’s a pretty unique sensation, and an experience I’d definitely recommend trying!

Oh and you also get a certificate, as modelled by Sam.

sam-lee-valley-velo-park

For more info visit the Lee Valley website.

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In many ways I consider myself a strong, independent woman *sassy finger waggle* but until recently my gym habits were one area in which I fell down massively.

Thing is, I’ve always found the weights section of the gym pretty intimidating, and instead of venturing in there, fell into the typical ‘girl’ pattern of cardio and floor work, steering well clear of that testosterone-fuelled, grunty area in the corner.

Until now.

I’ve been keen to introduce more strength work into my fitness regime for a while (girl gotta get some abs, right?!), and I finally realised that there are only so many kettle bell swings you can do before you need to start lifting proper weights.

It was time to go into the danger zone.

Firstly, I needed to know what to actually do in there. If you are a weights newbie, I urge you not to just hop on over to the squat rack and start ‘having a go’ – it’s really important to get proper advice on technique if you want to avoid injury.

Luckily for me, I had one free personal training session with Fitness First, so I asked my PT, Georgina, to focus on strength training, and show me how to do all the basic lifts and bits of equipment.

With her, I wasn’t bothered about going into the male-dominated area of the gym – her being a PT felt like it legitimised my presence (which is ridiculous, I know). Plus, because she was fetching and setting up all the weights for me, I didn’t feel like a goon trying to work out what I was doing.


The first time I ventured into the weights area alone, however, was a different story.

First of all, there was the panic of trying to work out what to do. Georgina had shown me the techniques, but I had no idea how to actually set everything up. I felt super self-conscious as I fannyed around trying to adjust weights and heights on various bits of kit, partly because some of the guys in there were legit just staring at me (thanks for the offer to help, lads).

Weights etiquette was another area I couldn’t get my head around, initially. I ended up accidentally stealing the squat rack from someone because even though he was nowhere in sight when I arrived, he was still ‘using’ it (apparently I should’ve been able to tell from the fact there were weights on the bar, which is weird because people hardly ever bother taking them off at the end of their session).

Finally, there was the perving. And I know it happened because the place is FULL OF FRICKING MIRRORS. As I lay back on a bench to do a chest press, I was treated to the reflection of a guy who genuinely just stared down my top for the entire 15 rep set. Sigh.

Ok, so my first foray into the weights area on my own was a bit of a disaster, and I spent most of it feeling flustered and embarrassed. But, luckily, things have improved a lot since then.


Part of this is getting into the groove of knowing what I’m doing. After my first solo trip, I recruited my boyfriend to go to the gym with me (poor guy agreed to be seen in the weights section with A GIRL, what a hero). We both did our own thing but it was nice being able to ask him occasional questions without feeling like a moron, and I was soon a pro at sorting out the equipment myself.

I also came to the realisation that actually, the guys in the weights area of the gym are just the normal guys you meet in every other area of your life, but wearing gym stuff. I know it sounds stupid, but I had conjured them up into a special breed of extra scary man in my head, whereas actually, it’s just the nerdy guy from IT but in shorts. Yes, just like in real life, a couple of them will be pervy, but most of them are just nice men going about their own business.

Most of all, my transformation into weights lover came from growing confidence, and the realisation that I had just as much right to be there as anyone else, even if I was squatting 30 kilograms not 300. At first, I felt embarrassed putting my piddly little weights onto the bar; now I feel proud that I’ve finally overcome my fears and am getting stronger as a result. Beyonce booty, here I come.


TIPS FOR WEIGHTS NEWBIES

  • Definitely ask someone to show you the ropes to begin with. This could be a personal training session, a member of gym staff or even just a particularly knowledgable friend. It’s important not to start off with bad habits when it comes to lifting weights, because you want to improve your body, not demolish it.
  • Try a weights class like Body Pump to get the hang of certain moves – such as dead lifts – before lifting weights on your own.
  • If you’re feeling shy, recruit a weights-loving friend or partner for your first few trips to help you build confidence, knowing there is someone to ask if you’re unsure. And don’t be scared to ask people around you for advice – they are just normal people!
  • Unsure if someone is using a piece of equipment? Just ask. If they’re not even nearby and they claim to have been ‘using’ it, they can get stuffed – you can’t claim half the weights section to yourself, mate.
  • Don’t lift the same amount every time – gradually increase it to challenge yourself. Record your progress on your phone so you can see what you lifted last time and hopefully increase it.
  • Start off with moves that use multiple body parts (weighted lunges, squats, dead lifts etc) – you can move on to more targeted work later, if you wish.


In my quest to try every new fitness class that foam rolls into London, I tend to notice when the fitness world is heading in a certain direction, trend-wise.
Until recently, it was all about exercise classes that were ‘the hardest workout ever’, where you had to sign a waiver to say ‘sure, it’s ok if my head explodes during this session’ and muscle-bound men screamed in your face while you attempted to make your wobbly legs box-jump 10 metres in the air.
Perhaps as a reaction to this, there is now a new wave of workouts based on the idea of ‘balance’ and ‘wellbeing’  (or ‘doing nothing‘, as the Mail bills it), with major gyms citing this gentle approach to exercise as an important trend going forward.
In my experience, these classes involve, for the most part, stretching veeeeery slowly and lying down on the floor – I may even have fallen asleep in the child’s pose at one.
Elsewhere, fitness bloggers are assuring fans it’s ‘all about balance’ and ‘listening to your body’, being kind to yourself rather than pushing your limits in the gym, and feeding your body ‘the foods that make it happy’.
And while it’s all a nice sentiment, I have to be honest: if I indulged all my body’s cravings for a day off or stopped exercising the minute I felt my muscles screaming, I might as well just wave goodbye to fitness altogether.
As for feeding my body what it wants, I would be living off chip shop chips and Ben & Jerry’s ’til the day I died.
I have no problem with people taking an hour out to stretch, avoiding injury or having a rest day, and I certainly think it’s dangerous for people to feel guilty if they don’t exercise.
But let’s be honest – if you are in the fitness game to improve your personal performance or change the way your body looks, then all this touchy-feely ‘just give yourself a break’ mentality is not going to get you anywhere.

I’ll give you a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean. When I was at university, I was a ‘runner’ insomuch as I could jog for about 20 minutes round the park without dying. I did this fairly regularly to maintain a decent level of cardio fitness, but I never really pushed myself or varied my routine.
When I hit my mid-20s I joined a running club and suddenly my performance and stamina were taken up to a whole new level. In fact, ‘suddenly’ is the wrong word – it took a crap-load of effort.

At that club I was made to push myself way out of my comfort zone, to the point I would be a gasping, sweating mess by the time we ended a long run or sprint session. It was tough, but it’s what I needed to do in order to start running marathons and getting consistent PBs.
More recently, I’ve realised the pay-off for hard work again. For months – probably years – I’d been tootling around, going to various aerobics or pilates classes but nothing that really pushed me too hard. Again, nothing wrong with this – but I couldn’t really understand why, despite the fact I was working out really regularly, I wasn’t getting any more strong or toned.
Then I started my fitness blog and began trying out some new types of workouts, such as HIIT and CrossFit, as well as doing more weight-training. It was harder, for sure, but – along with cutting out chocolate for a month – it really helped me see some results. Before I’d always said ‘I’m just not one of those people whose body changes through exercise’, but that was b***ocks; I just wasn’t trying hard enough.

Enjoying the facial expression here.

I want to reiterate that I have no problem at all with people having days off (I’m having one right now!), holidays, stretching sessions or easing off from certain exercises if they sense an injury coming on.
But I worry that people who embrace the slightly touchy-feely mentality that’s currently having a moment will be disheartened when they’re not getting any results.
A friend recently asked her personal trainer about introducing gentle mobility sessions into her routine, and his answer was basically ‘Yeah not a problem, but it has to be on top of the fitness you’re already doing, not instead of’.
That’s the key really – you can’t get away from the fact that actually, there is nothing you can supplement for bloody hard work when it comes to fitness (and believe me, if there was I’d be the first to sip Mojitos by the pool while magically forming six pack abs).
By all means don’t kill yourself, but if you really want to see progress…You. Just. Have. To. Work.
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gymclass review london

What is it?

Founded by fitness pro and Instagram sensation Helle Hammonds, Gymclass is billed as ‘a revolutionary high intensity interval and strength training workout, like no other’ designed to ‘torch body fat’. As well as being available in its original location of Holland Park, you can now do Gymclass in the very appropriately named Gun Street in Moorgate.

My experience:

Gymclass’s new studio is down an adorable little side street – but let me tell you the warm up is anything but sweet.

Any hopes I had of being eased in gently at 7am were quickly put to bed as we started a series of intense jumps and squats, which left my legs quivering before the ‘proper’ workout had even begun. But then, looking at Helle Hammonds, who led the class herself, it was obvious we were never going to be in for an easy ride (that lady has one of the most mind-boggling bodies I have ever seen).

After the warm up, when I was already gagging for a lie down, we started the main section of the class, which is basically like circuits, but with hella hard exercises (box jump burpees, pull-ups, wall squats – all those lovelies).

gymclass review london

We worked round the room in pairs, alternating each exercise with a partner (so, for example, while my partner burnt 8 calories in the exercise bike, I would do crunches, and then we’d swap over while I cycled off 8 calories, then switch again).

gymclass review london

It was definitely a great workout, and good for people like myself who get easily bored in a class, but I have to say the best thing about it was Helle herself. Although she looks ripped enough to literally kill me with one finger, she was the friendliest, most upbeat trainer ever – even at 7am. She made me push myself but in a really encouraging way, so by the end I felt like I’d had an amazing workout – and very much deserved the Cheeky Choc protein shake presented to me on the way out!

Fitness level:

Moderate to good – it’s a pretty tough class but very welcoming if you’re a newbie.

I burnt:

480 calories (and according to Helle LOTS of fat-burning later on!)

 

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I’ve read several articles recently about how my millennial generation is totally boring compared to Generation X before us – we workout instead of raving, drink smoothies instead of taking drugs and are more interested in trying to claw our way onto the property ladder than checking out the latest indie band down our local pub.

One thing that’s bound to make the 40-something Glasto-goers roll their eyes even more is the growing popularity of ‘fitness festivals’ – massive get-togethers of like-minded workout nerds, meeting up to try classes, hear fitness ‘influencers’ talking about how they became influential and spend money on the various health foods waggled their way by exhibitors (or, if you’re me, just try lots of samples).

It’s quite weird when you think about it – where once upon a time, exercise was something to be endured and generally got out of the way, these days we’re celebrating it with three-day long extravaganzas. Obviously, I’m the perfect target market for this kind of thing, which is why I found myself at Be:Fit London, billed as the UK’s only health and fitness festival for women.

Be:Fit ran for three days in the Business Design Centre in Islington, and comprised of a huge array of classes (Another Space HIIT, Gymbox Yoga, Barrys Bootcamp and so on) as well as a central floor space full of health brands showing off their wares. There was also a couple of stages where the likes of Carly Rowena, Joe Wicks and Lilly Sabri chatted to eager crowds.

As I was waiting for my friend outside the festival on Saturday, I could tell there was a definite type of person attracted to Be:Fit – I’ve never seen so many twenty-something women in Sweaty Betty leggings assembled before!! However, I was pleased to learn that not everyone there was a fitness blogger – the lady I chatted to while queueing for a yoga class was a teacher whose husband was looking after the kids for the weekend so she could enjoy some “me time” at the festival.

That brings me on to the queues – possibly the main drawback of Be:Fit. Basically, a certain number of spaces in the class can be booked beforehand, and then anyone with a VIP ticket gets automatic access. That leaves anyone with a standard ticket who hasn’t been able to book ahead queuing for half an hour or more to get into a class, and even then, you’re not actually guaranteed access.

To be honest, I can see that this is a situation that’s hard to avoid with an event like this – there are, after all, only a limited amount of places per class. However, if Be:Fit is repeated next year, I would definitely flag to anyone thinking of attending that you can’t automatically expect to get into lots of classes if you buy a standard ticket.

Luckily, my friend and I managed to get into two classes (helped by our press wristbands) and they were both absolutely brilliant.

The first was a core activating workout with Sam Eastwood. I hadn’t heard of celebrity trainer Sam before, but I have to say she is probably the funniest fitness instructor I have ever come across – and that definitely makes a difference when you’re on your millionth repetition of a side squat and your legs have turned to jelly.


Among other things, Sam told us how to pull in our pelvic floors (“Imagine you’re really trying not to wee or fart”) and how to get a really good bum workout during squats (“I’ve just put an egg up your bottom – now crack it!”).

Having been thoroughly toned and formed a long and loving connection with my pelvic floor, we then headed into the Reebok Fitness Studio for BLOK Party, a dance cardio workout. All I can say about this is OHMYGOD it was so good. As the instructors told us at the beginning “This is mainly about having fun, and the fitness comes second” and they were so right. Basically we all danced like Nicki Minaj at her very filthiest for 45 minutes and it was brilliant (my mate enthusiastically complimenting my twerking skills was one of the highlights of my life).

After our classes, we had a wander around the various stalls in the main arena, which offered everything from healthy breakfast bars to healing teas to fitness wear. Personally, my entire home and kitchen are at peak storage capacity, so I didn’t buy any more stuff, but I definitely enjoyed a few tasters (yes, I am every exhibitor’s worst nightmare, sorry).

Had we stayed longer, I would’ve made an effort to go to one of the talks or workshops on offer (there was everything from ‘Building a business in fitness’ to ‘How to have a healthy relationship with exercise’). However, I left feeling satisfied with my visit, which may have been much less cool than a Gen X-style rave up, but definitely left me on an endorphin high!

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