F45 Tottenham Court Road London

What is it?

F45 is a fitness phenomenon that started in Australia, home of fit people (in every sense of the word). Since launching several years ago it has spread internationally, with the a new UK studio opening in London’s Tottenham Court Road. Imagine circuit training but with trendy studios, tonnes of good equipment and upbeat, knowledgable instructors and you get the idea.

My experience:

There are 27 class ‘programs’ available from F45, but I tried Athletica, which promises to get you leaner, faster and more agile in 45 minutes (all music to my ears).

I was a bit wary when I arrived at the press taster class and saw a couple of huge, muscly male instructors, not because I have a problem with big, muscly men – quite the opposite – but because in my experience that tends to mean ridiculously heavy weights, testosterone-fuelled competition and lots of bootcamp-style shouting in your ear, which is meant to be encouraging but I just find aggravating.

F45 Tottenham Court Road London

Luckily, I was completely wrong. In fact, what struck me most about the class was how welcoming and inclusive it was. Sometimes it’s nice to have an instructor who’s cheers you on rather than screaming in your face, and weights that are challenging but still actually lift-able (if I go to one more class where they assume that EVERYONE can run around swinging two 30kg weights off their arms I will scream).

That’s not to say this isn’t hard work. In small groups of three or four, we moved our way round a series of exercises including kettle bell squats, Russian twists, TRX pull-ups, battle ropes and pushing a weighted sled up and down a track. By the end I was about 85% sweat. But there was a fun, upbeat feel to the class and a good camaraderie among the groups, which helped everyone get through the intense exercise (we did three 20 seconds bursts with a short break in between each, before moving to the next exercise).

F45 Tottenham Court Road London

I’ll be honest, the only not so great aspect of this place is the changing rooms. F45 is not alone in this; the problem with lots of studios that offer classes is that everyone hits the changing room at the same time, which means there’s not enough room for everyone to shower/get dressed/dry their hair at the same time. A warning for shy types: the showers at F45 are pretty open (one girl kept screaming to her friends outside “I can see everyone naked, it’s horrible” while I was also in the shower, which was flattering).

However, changing room gripes aside, I definitely recommend this class – it’s a great way to set yourself up for the day and I never felt like I’d deserved a breakfast more!

F45 Tottenham Court Road London

This is the kettlebell I accidentally swung into my crotch. NOT ADVISABLE.

Fitness level:

Average to good, although it’s a really encouraging class so even if you’re crap someone will help push you on!

I burnt:

510 calories (woohooo!)

 

From £25 per class (7-day trial for £20). More info here.

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What is it?

H.E.A.T. is Virgin Active’s “newest and toughest class yet”, lasting 60 minutes and combining sessions on the SkillMill (similar to the treadmill, except powered by your feet) with resistance training and intense cardio on the floor.

My experience:

Having already tried out Gymbox’s “toughest ever class” Flatline, I was looking forward to seeing how Virgin Active’s killer session measured up.

The first piece of equipment I was introduced to was a harness attached to the wall by an elasticated rope. The idea is you strap it around your torso and then run/crawl away from the wall, fighting against the resistance of the elasticated band. About the least kinky use ever for a harness, but it definitely works you hard.

virgin-active-heat-review

Another new piece of equipment I encountered was the SkillMill, which is a bit like a curved treadmill but without the “on” button. Instead, the power of your feet is what drives the machine, with the option to whack up the resistance to makes things tougher.

skillmill-virgin-active

Before the class started, I was strapped into a Myzone heart rate monitor – this beamed by heart rate onto a screen on the wall, as well as calories burnt.

If you’re a competitive type, you’ll love this – the information of everyone in the class is displayed on the wall, so you can see who’s heart rate is in the ‘red zone’ (which I believe is around 90% of your maximum heart rate).

virgin active heat review

As a class we were split into two groups, alternating between the SkillMill and floor work. I started off on the SkillMill. This bit of kit takes a bit of time to get used to – at the start I was worried I was going to fly off the back – but once you get used to it, it’s great.

We alternated between walking, sprints and high resistance training, where you lean forward on the SkillMill and power through with your legs (see below). It was tough, but in a good way!

skillmill virgin active

My favourite bit was definitely the sprints – I feel like I know where I am with a sprint and it’s one way I’m guaranteed to get my heart rate up into that fat-burning ‘red zone’.

Once I was on the floor work, I found it a bit trickier to get my heart rate as high, which was a bit frustrating as I felt like I was working my arse off! The floor work included bear crawls, kettlebell squats, battle ropes, lunges and of course, plenty of work with that harness, providing a real full body workout.

I was very impressed with the range of equipment available (I tried the class at Virgin Active’s swanky new Mansion House gym) and think the class definitely lived up to its goal of increasing cardiovascular endurance and all round strength.

At the end of the class my heart rate monitor told me I’d burnt off over 500 calories, which is not bad going for someone of my weight (some of the bigger blokes burnt off 1,000 – oh the things I would eat if that was me!)

I’d definitely go again, although first of all I need to work on my press-up game – seriously, what is this?!!?!

Fitness level: 

At least a moderate level of fitness, in my opinion.

I burnt:

500 calories

More info here.

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Last Thursday was certainly not your average weekday evening for me – rather than a gym session then dinner in front of the telly (my life is so glamorous), I found myself at the Honorable Artillery Company near Old Street, competing in The Great Row for Cancer Research UK.

The challenge was to row a marathon, 26.2 miles, as a team of six, all the while competing against 13 other teams to complete the distance first.

As well as being a fairly challenging experience, it was also an educational one! Here are 6 things I discovered…

1. 26.2 miles is a REALLY long way to row

An admittedly fairly obvious statement to start with – but I’ll be honest, I hadn’t quite appreciated how long this distance would take to row. Sure, I’ve run the marathon, and I remember it being bloody hard, but I assumed on a rowing machine we’d be done in about an hour and I’d go home to put my feet up (clearly, I hadn’t thought this through).

My boyfriend even said to me when I signed up ‘Errrm, you do realise you’ll have to row about 7k each right?’ and I was like ‘Yeah yeah piece of cake.’ Nope, it’s hard. Luckily the atmosphere at the event was electric, with club tunes pumping out and plenty of encouraging teammates – plus, we were rowing for an amazing cause, which definitely helps you find that extra power!

2. Technique is everything when it comes to good rowing

About the only wise thing I did when I signed up for The Great Row is take advice from Patricia Carswell, who blogs all things rowing over on Girl on the River. She gave me some really good advice on technique; namely, that you shouldn’t be whacking the resistance on the erg up to 10 when you train (it’s not good for your back or technique) and that most of the work should be done by the legs, not the arms.

While we were doing the marathon row, she was great at pointing technical points out to me, such as keeping the length in each stroke (sometimes I tend to get a little frantic), which really helped me up my game rowing-wise.

Since taking her advice, I’ve also noticed LOADS of people are using the rowing machine incorrectly in the gym. I’d say the majority think it’s all about speed and a mega-high resistance, but their technique is shocking and actually looks like they could be doing themselves some damage! If you’re not really sure how to do it properly than I urge you to watch this video Patricia sent me, and educate yourself.

3. I have a weird crush on Dan Walker

Does he count as a weird crush, or a normal one? We were lucky enough to have Dan presenting on the night and I must say he has a certain tall and jolly appeal.

Staring lovingly at Dan with a sweaty ponytail

4. Teamwork is everything

I was SO lucky with my team, especially considering I’d never met any of them before. As well as Patricia, there was also Georgina from Fitcetera,  TV presenter and blogger Olivia Cox, Made In Chelsea’s Akin Solange-Caulker and finally Akin’s lovely friend Devon. Everyone was brilliant – no one had a tantrum and gave up, no one turned their nose up at taking the position of ‘foot holder’, and the whole team was really great at encouraging each other to keep the hell going.

5. CrossFit makes you hardcore

From the start of the rowing marathon, it was clear one time was extremely dominant – the CrossFit team. They finished way ahead of everyone else, whereas we were close to the bottom, which suggests to me that I probably need to start CrossFitting IMMEDIATELY.

6. Cancer Research’s goal is for 3 in 4 people to survive cancer in 20 years

Now here’s something truly important that I wasn’t aware of – Cancer Research UK’s next big aim is for three quarters of those diagnosed with cancer to survive it (currently, it’s one in two). They hope to achieve this amazing feat within the next two decades, but obviously, they require a huge amount of fundraising to support this, which is where you guys come in! Sign up to take part in The Great Row yourself and aim to raise at least £25 per person – more info here. You can even train for free at David Lloyd gyms every Friday in March. Personally, I can tell you it really is a rewarding challenge to take on; I found it tough but the feeling of achievement once you’re done is incredible!

The final sprint to the finish!

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fitness first SHRED

What is it? 

This new Fitness First class promises to burn fat and build muscle with a combination of compound lifting and HIIT training.

My experience: 

As someone who has the muscle strength of a flea and needs to change that, Fitness First’s new SHRED class sounded right up my street.

Firstly, it’s upbeat – I tried the class on a dreary Monday morning, but the loud music and fast pace quickly got everyone smiling and in the mood to push themselves. It probably helped that, since the class was laid on for press, Instagram sensation Zanna Van Dijk was also there, and she was brilliant at encouraging and pushing us as we worked through a series of exercise.

The idea of SHRED is that you alternate quick HIIT sessions – such as jumping up and down from a step or high knees runs – with weights. Given my limited upper body strength I kept the kgs on my bar fairly light, but I could still really feel I was working my muscles, and while some classes (I’m looking at you, Flatline) are all about lifting as much as you can regardless of technique, there was a lot more focus on doing it ‘properly’ at SHRED.

fitness first SHRED

In fact, I’d say it’s ideal for people like me who aren’t thrilled at the prospect of hanging out in the weights section of the gym but still want to incorporate some weight-lifting into their routine. Plus, the stuff you learn here will probably make you more confident when you do hit the gym floor!

The toughest bit of the session was the challenge they gave us at the end. We had to pair up and, while one partner did squats with the bar, the other had to do a standing sit against the wall, before switching. The challenge was how many squats each pair could do in five minutes, and by the end, I genuinely thought my legs might fall off.

fitness first SHRED

I even tried to claim to Zanna, who told me to squat deeper, that I was ‘too tall’ to go any lower, before remembering that this excuse would not wash with a gorgeous 6 ft 1 personal trainer. DAMN.

Unsurprisingly, we didn’t win the challenge, but I did really enjoy the class, and think I definitely got a bit of booty-shaping out of it!

Fitness level:

Anyone, but in particular I’d say it’s perfect for people who have good cardio fitness but need a bit of guidance with their strength training.

I burnt:

250 calories

More info here.

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If there’s one person who knows a thing or two about cycling, it’s Victoria Pendleton. The British sportswoman, best known for picking up gold and silver at London 2012, is one of the UK’s most successful female Olympians, and has recently turned her hand to becoming a jockey (to which I say RESPECT – most people would probably just put their feet up!)

Anyway, Victoria has recently teamed up with Barclays to promote its new Budget Bootcamps, which is how I found myself in the rather serial situation of arriving at the bank’s Piccadilly branch to do a spin class with the lady herself.

Naturally, I got a photo with her before the class so you wouldn’t see how red and sweaty I got, although all the randoms peering through the glass frontage of Barclays during our class did get to witness my descent into sweaty mess!

Selfie with Victoria Pendleton Barclays Bootcamp

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that apart from looking fabulous in photos (apparently she gets those amazing arms through horse riding), Victoria also had some excellent wisdom to share on the best practice biking. 

In fact, despite being a rather seasoned spinner myself, there were a few mistakes I was making that I wasn’t even aware of until the session, so I thought I’d share in case you’re doing the same! 

  1. Pushing your feet too far forwards 

You know those cage style pedals you have in spinning? Well, I always just shove my feet straight to the front of them and strap my feet in as tightly as possible. 

However, Victoria pointed out that these pedals are made for ‘man sized’ feet and that you shouldn’t necessarily have your toe right up against the end if you have smaller ones. 

Instead, focus on positioning the ball of your foot on the centre of the pedal, which could mean a few centimetres of space between the front of your foot and the cage thingy. 

If this sounds confusing, then just look at the photo of Victoria’s foot below and hopefully it will make more sense!

how to position your feet in pedals during spinning

2. Bouncing your shoulders during the sprint

Part of our session involved everyone‘s favourite cycling move, the stand up sprint.

Victoria pointed out that most of us were getting our technique wrong here, bouncing our upper bodies around with gusto as we tried to force the peddles down on each side. 

Instead, you need to try and keep your shoulders absolutely steady and level, and your back straight, as you drive through the legs. Basically top half of body = still, bottom half = going like the clappers.

‘This will work your glutes more’ said Victoria, and I can confirm my bum definitely noticed the difference! 

3. Cycling at one speed for ages 

While instructor-led spinning classes tend to see you do all sorts of things on the bike (I even did a bike rave once), alone in the gym many of us tend to just sit on the bike and pedal through a set distance or time at a steady speed.

I know I’m certainly guilty of plodding along on the static bike for 10 minutes, before sloping off thinking ‘my work here is done’.

However, Victoria emphasized that improving your cycling – and therefore your body – is ‘all about intervals’.

In fact, she said intervals were the number one component of her Olympic training, involving short bursts of high power, high speed cycling interspersed with more gentle sections (I have a strong feeling Victoria’s version of gentle is very different to mine!)

4. Having the wrong attitude to the gears

Ok, say when your spin instructor says ‘Guys, I want you to turn your gears up to the maximum you can manage for this next 60 second sprint’ do you think a) ‘Hmm, it’s quite a long time, I’ll put my gears up but to a level I know I can manage’ or b) ‘YES I’m going to put my gears up so high I don’t even know if I can make it, but I’m going to try’.

If it’s b) then God’s speed, you are a hero and don’t need to read any further.

If, like most of us norms, it’s a), then you need an injection of Victoria Pendleton thinking in your life.

I have honestly never seen anyone so enthusiastic about the prospect of adding another gear. Or, in fact, about the prospect of pushing yourself in general. She proudly told us that her power on the bike used to go up to 1500 watts in training (to put that in perspective, most people can maintain around 200 watts in a spin class) and she re-emphasized the importance of pushing your body in order to strengthen and tone it.

Her enthusiasm definitely rubbed off and I found myself cranking the gears up to a level I wasn’t even sure I could manage – but you know what, I did. And it’s that kind of drive that’s going to give you the GAINS *gun fingers*

Budget Bootcamp classes are open to everyone, and a session will be taking place in Central London, on Sunday 29th January. Enter a competition to win a space through Barclays Twitter (twitter.com/BarclaysUK) and Facebook pages (facebook.com/BarclaysUK).