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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barrecore signature express lunchtime

What is it?

Perfect for busy people (i.e. errryone in London), Signature Express is a new class from the lovely folks at Barrecore which is designed to give you a fast and effective 45 minute workout in your lunch hour. It’s being introduced into the Mayfair and Chelsea studios in January.

My experience: 

Exercising in your lunch hour can be tricky, especially if you’re an absolute sweat monster like me (see below, post run).

sweaty-selfie

Firstly, there’s the issue of slotting a workout into your allotted hour. Last week, I tried popping to the gym at lunchtime, and only managed 20 minutes on the treadmill before I had to head back to the changing rooms to de-sweat myself before work. 

After a gym session, you’re generally going to need a shower, which for me means an extra 25 minutes washing/drying my hair, applying makeup, reapplying makeup after it sweats off my face, etc.

So what I need is an intense workout that doesn’t involve a massive clean-up operation after. Enter, Barrecore Signature Express.

I’d previously tried BarreSculpt at the same Mayfair studio, and loved it, so I had high hopes when I rocked up for the new lunchtime class, led by the lovely Barrecore founder Niki Rein.

She explained that each of the new lunchtime classes will concentrate on a different part of the body (e.g. legs, abs). We would be doing a class focused on our ‘seat’, as she very politely described it (I guess they could hardly call it the arse class).

Well, let me tell you, my bum left that class feeling like it had been put through an army bootcamp, and then some.

Using the barre, our body weight and a ball Niki led us through a series of intense exercises, each of which you could feel working seriously deep into the muscles. 

barrecore BALL

If you think Barrecore is a wishy-washy pointy toes kind of affair, think again; your muscles will be screaming at points. 

However, if you want a short, sharp, toning workout this is really excellent. Plus, because it’s all about intense moves such as squats and pulses, you don’t get particularly sweaty – PERFECT for lunch hour fitness.

I guess the only downside is that, unless you work right next door, it’ll probably take you more than an hour in total to get to the class, do it and then get back to your desk. But seriously, this workout is worth grabbing an extra 15 minutes for…

Fitness level:

Anyone can try this class – but be prepared to find it tough!

I burnt:

150 calories

More info here.

bikes-gymbox-flatline

What is it?

Labelled ‘the hardest and most dangerous gym class in the world’, Flatline has made headlines for being so hardcore that a paramedic is on hand for those who can’t handle the pace.

The Independent reports that given it’s ‘potentially deadly’ nature, participants need to sign a disclaimer beforehand and fill in an organ donor form.

So naturally, when Gymbox invited me to try it, I went along, hoping I’d still be alive at the end of it…

My experience:

One of the ways in which Flatline nearly killed me was starting at 7.30am in Farringdon – that is one early wake-up call when you live on the other side of London.

I’ve never been to an exercise class with on-hand medical aid before, but when I rocked up, there he was: Keith the ambulance man, standing round in his green uniform, ready to pump me back to life if necessary.

chilling-with-keith-gymbox-flatline

Great.

The class involves working your way through a grid of activities. Here they are, accompanied by my thoughts while doing each:

  • Throwing atlas stones: I can’t even lift this weight off the floor, let alone chuck it over my shoulder.
  • Kettle bell thrusts: Two is too many kettle bells. Can’t lift them above my head as required, so I’ll just dangle them around shoulder height and hope the instructor doesn’t notice.
  • Box jump burpees: I started off so speedy and now I can barely crawl over the box. Think I might be dying. Where’s Keith?
  • High intensity exercise biking: YAY I CAN DO CARDIO!
  • Climbing up and down the rope: I’m sorry what? I’m meant to do this with my bare hands? *sits of floor*
  • Picking up 40kg and sprinting up and down the room: Lies down on mat laughing.

You do each for 45 seconds, and there are four circuits in total, each punctuated by a stop at the ‘recovery zone’ where you can inhale oxygen through a mask if you wish (I didn’t, but this guy was loving it).

oxygen gymbox flatline

Before we started, we were set up with heart rate monitors, the results of which were beamed onto a screen so EVERYONE would know if you were slacking. From what I’d read of the class beforehand, we were also meant to be wearing 12kg weighted vests, but none of these were produced, which leads me to think this is just an optional extra for maniacs.

So how did I find it? Well, to be honest, I don’t entirely agree with the fitness industry trend of focusing on EXTREMELY HARDCORE exercise classes, seemingly at the expense of technique. A lot of the weights were so heavy that I had to contort myself into really weird positions to lift them, which is why I managed to strain a muscle about five minutes  into the class (I can still barely lift a cup of tea up now, which as you can imagine is deeply traumatising).

kettlebells gymbox flatline

Admittedly, I have the upper body strength of a flea, but I’m not alone in that, so if Flatline is going to appeal to a wide audience, there needs to be more of a focus on lifting weights properly, not just seeing how much weight participants can crane up from the floor.

Weirdly, my reaction in the face of ludicrously hard exercise was to laugh, which turned out to be very infuriating for the instructor, who spent a good 50% of the 45-minute session screaming in my face (I think we were friends really though).

flatline gymbox

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the class, and I’m sure if you kept at it, Flatline would help you achieve some real benefits in terms of strength and stamina. There was a great team spirit and plenty of variety if you’re the type of gym goer who gets fed up with the same old exercises.

Plus, nobody died, so that was a bonus.

Fitness level:

Well, I think anyone with at least a moderate fitness level could try it, but be prepared to ask for lighter weights and stand your ground if you know you definitely can’t do something (not just don’t want to!)

I burnt:

An impressive 400 calories in 45 minutes.

More info here.

 

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What is it?
Calm by Candlelight is a new restorative yoga class set to launch into Virgin Active in February 2017, when the fitness chain will completely revamp its yoga programme. The idea is to become more of a ‘health club’, looking at mental and emotional wellbeing as well as giving people buff bods, so the class is all about unwinding and de-stressing – something I’m sure we can all get on board with!

 virgin active calm by candlelight

The Calm By Candlelight room – LOTS of equipment!

My experience:

I arrived at the yoga class frazzled from a hectic day, so the sight of a quiet, candlelit studio lined with mats, cushions and blankets was a welcome one. However, if you’re expecting sun salutations and downward dogs, you should know: this is completely unlike any yoga class I’ve tried before.

The session was led by international yoga guru Patrick Beach, who has helped design Virgin Active’s new programme.  At the beginning, he said ‘you might be holding each pose a little longer than you’re used to’, but I anticipated an extra 30 seconds, not holding poses for five minutes or so each.

And the poses themselves are different. Although I was familiar with postures such as the pigeon or the dragon, in this class you incorporate extra equipment (mainly big cylindrical pillows, which are my new fave thing) into the move, helping you relax into the pose and hold it for much longer.

virgin active calm by candlelight

Not really acceptable to take a selfie at yoga but it happened…

Staying in position like this is simultaneously calming – forcing you into a sleep-like stillness – and helps you very gradually push into a deeper stretch. For example, in one exercise we were lying on our backs and stretching out our hamstrings using a strap round the foot. Normally I find this agony and can feel my whole leg spasming in protest, but a longer session meant I could eventually let the leg relax and stretch much further than normal, giving my poor running muscles the relief they deserve.

And that’s the crux of this class to me. It’s not really a ‘fitness’ session – you couldn’t treat yourself to a Big Mac as a reward – but its a complement to fitness; the big stretching session that you keep promising yourself you’ll get round to but never find the time for at home. Shutting yourself in a room and being slowly guided through the stretches means you just HAVE to do them, and the feeling afterwards is lovely – like you’ve rediscovered muscles you never knew you had, and spent a good chunk of time focusing on your body rather than forcing it to do stressful things!

virgin active calm by candlelight

Fitness level:

Anyone could do this class – the moves can be adapted if you’re lacking in flexibility or particularly tight in one area. However, it’s actually the super-fit people – those who exercise all the time – that I think would benefit the most from this session, as that coiled spring of a body will be completely relaxed and rejuvenated by the session.

I burnt: 

Well hardly anything, but that’s so far from being the point it doesn’t matter!

For more information go to VirginActive.co.uk

 

boogie bounce trampoline class

What is it?

Imagine if I told you that bouncing up and down on a tiny trampoline could actually count as a full-on exercise class, great for burning fat and toning muscles throughout the body.

Well that’s exactly what Boogie Bounce, a new fitness programme based entirely on mini trampolines, is promising. Obviously, I had to give it a go, so when the class – which is available as far afield as the US and Australia – touched down in Covent Garden, I went along to try it out for myself.

My experience:

It’s not often I go to an exercise class and have a ridiculous grin on my face the ENTIRE way through, but with Boogie Bounce it’s unavoidable. I mean, you’re bouncing! On a trampoline! It’s like being 7 years old again, except this time you’re listening to Anaconda by Nicki Minaj and have the trampoline all to yourself.

boogie bounce trampoline class

The class has an upbeat soundtrack and an even more upbeat instructor. I think bouncing all day for a living must make you high on life, and this lady’s attitude and enthusiasm confirmed that.

We went through a series of exercises from more simple side-to-side jumps to full on leaps into the air (luckily the trampoline has a bar you can hold onto if you’re scared of just shooting right off). The routines had really fun choreography and great music – Boogie Bounce is the kind of class where you have to let go of any notion of looking cool and just enjoy yourself! I think the clip below illustrates this:

I could definitely feel the burn in my bum and thighs after all that bouncing, and there was also a quick abs section at the end – turns out balancing on a trampoline while you do sit ups is a good way to challenge your core muscles!

boogie bounce trampoline class
Fitness level:

I think people of all levels of fitness would enjoy this class, although given the amount of bouncing involved, I can imagine it’s going to appeal to a slightly younger crowd! It’s definitely a good one for those people who ‘hate exercise’ to try – like Zumba, it provides something totally new and fun, which makes you forget you’re working out.

boogie bounce trampoline class

I burnt:

150 calories in 30 minutes.

More info here.

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