What is it?

Combining a number of Time Out-worthy phrases – ‘rooftop’, ‘pop-up’ and ‘morning workout’ – Wake Up London is a Tabata class happening on top of John Lewis Oxford Street throughout the summer and into September.

It’s run by fitness company HEX, aka personal trainers Phil Wilkins and Chris Timmins, who normally operate round my neck of the woods in Clapham, but are taking up early morning residency on top of a shop because, well, why not?

My experience:

Firstly, I have to say it’s pretty bloody exciting walking around John Lewis when it’s still closed – so many neatly lined up things! No other people! (Not that we were allowed to buy anything at 7.20am, obviously).

There were around 10 of us in the class, and we bundled into the lift up to the sixth floor, where John Lewis is currently hosting a rooftop bar/restaurant thing for the summer called The Gardening Society.


Luckily, the astroturfed set-up for the rooftop bar is also perfect for an early morning workout; I had been half expecting a blank concrete wasteland when we got up to the top, but instead there were plants, cute little benches and wooden buildings dotted around.

We started off with a warm up which involved jogging, jumping and crawling our way round the astroturf. Then, we were split into two groups, one of which started with boxing, the second with a series of exercises such as push-ups, weighted squats and V-sits.


My boxing partner was fairly unthreatening looking, so I was shocked when I took the pads and had to catch some pretty ferocious punches. More enjoyable for me was the exercise set; there’s something about doing Russian twists in the fresh air that makes them so much more enjoyable.

In fact, the main perk of the class was definitely the chance to enjoy the great outdoors while getting a morning workout out of the way, although I’m not sure it would be so lovely in the rain (apparently they run the 45-minute classes every Tuesday or Thursday, come rain or shine).



Fitness level:

Definitely any – and it’s a welcoming class to go to alone.

I burnt:


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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.


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.


  • 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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