hydro active virgin active review

What is it?

Billed as HIIT in the pool, Hydro Active is a cardio-building, fat-burning workout that also improves your swimming technique.

My experience:

I’ll be honest, I probably should’ve asked whether I actually needed to be a decent swimmer before attending the press preview of Hydro Active. As it was, I rocked up to the very swanky Virgin Active gym in Broadgate with just my basic breaststroke skills in tow and no idea of what lay ahead.

My ineptitude at swimming was mirrored outwardly by my totally inappropriate swimwear. Before I left work that evening, my colleagues helped me decide between a string bikini and embarrassingly plunging swimsuit, and we plumped for the latter, so I was vaguely mortified to find that most of the girls in the class had been gifted Speedo swimsuits – as in proper ones, for swimming, not posey swimsuits designed purely for lying on a sun lounger pretending you’re Elizabeth Taylor (a favourite activity of mine).

hydro active virgin active review

What’s more, most other people in the class could actually swim – oh CRAP! When the instructor announced that we would be doing the whole class in front crawl, I was a tad mortified to tell her that particular move wasn’t actually in my swimming repertoire. Luckily, I wasn’t the only journo there who would probably fail to get their ‘Little Duck Level 2’ swimming badge, so me and my fellow doggy paddlers were put together in the slow lane with a slightly revised version of the Hydro Active routine – one which accommodated for the fact we were all vaguely crappy swimmers.

So I’ll be honest – I think you need to be fairly confident with your front crawl in order to truly get the most out of this class.

However, if you’re a good swimmer who wants to improve, it’s perfect. The class consists of drills, where you mix longer distances with ‘sprint’ swims, plus more unusual activities, such holding a float between you and a partner and both kicking as if your life depends on it to see who can push the other person backwards through the water. 

hydro active virgin active review

Float fighting!

The drills where we were instructed to get in and out of the pool at the end of each length were surprisingly tiring – I did not realise how exhausting it would be hauling my great heft in and out of the water that many times!! 

Overall, I like the HIIT in a pool idea – I normally think of swimming as super repetitive, robotic affair, but Hydro Active breaks your swim up by combining high intensity bursts of energy with more endurance building sessions. I just wish I was better at it…

Fitness level:

As you may have guessed, you really do need front crawl in order to properly participate in this class. It would be ideal for triathletes looking to increase their swimming speed and stamina. 

hydro active virgin active review

Life in the slow lane…

I burnt:

Sadly my Fitbit doesn’t work underwater, but the class promises a 250-300 calorie burn.

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What is it?

SoulBody Barre Unhitched is basically a barre class with a difference. Instead of a traditional barre at the side of the room, you have a 3kg or 4kg weighted bar which you use to perform a variety of strengthening and stretching exercises, with the aim of creating better balance, definition and posture. It’s hopped over to the UK from the US, which, as we all know, is where the best/craziest fitness trends start.

My experience:

I’ve done many a barre class in my time, but Soulbody Barre Unhitched is completely different – and I loved it!

The class basically involves lots of traditional bodyweight strengthening exercises classes (plank, bridge, lunges etc) but made more intense with the addition of a weighted bar (which is a bit like a tap dancing cane in length, but heavier!) and an inflatable ball.

For example, instead of just going into the bridge position, at the same time you would have your feet balanced on the ball and be pushing up the weighted bar repeatedly to work your shoulders.

We also did side planks on one arm while rotating the bar to the side with the other (I am SO glad I have pictures to illustrate what I’m on about here!)

The hardest moves were probably the core work, but since #perfectabs seem to be everyone’s goal right now, that can only be a good thing. LOOK AT THE CONCENTRATION.

My favourite thing about the class was how varied and fast-paced it was; you don’t really have time to get fed up of one set of exercises because you’re quickly moving on to a new area of the body, and the whole feel of Soulbody Barre Unhitched is very upbeat.

I would definitely attend again! 

Fitness level:

Anyone could attend this class, as you can adapt each move to your fitness level.


I burnt: 

250 calories. Not too shoddy.

Let me know your favourite barre classes in the comments below!

Read my review of BarreSculpt by Barrecorre here.

As someone who is probably more likely to become Prime Minister than ever do a proper headstand, I’ve always worried that inflexible types like me shouldn’t really set foot in yoga studios.

Sure, I’ve done yoga at the local leisure centre, where everyone’s over 50 and just touching your ankles is an achievement, or within the non-scary confines of my magazine offices, but I’ve always imagined dedicated yoga studios to be full of incredibly toned and bendy people, who would all fall about laughing at the sight of me furiously concentrating and quivering while attempting to stand on one leg.

Well, I’ll admit I was wrong on this one, because when I visited Frame Yoga’s brand new space in King’s Cross it lovely and welcoming, and I quickly found myself getting into my yoga flow without any self-consciousness whatsoever.

The space is just round the corner from Frame’s main King’s Cross site in trendy Granary Square, and god knows how but I managed to get there in time for the 7.30am class with the gorgeous yogi Emily-Clare, who promised us a “light session” to kick us off for the day.

I’m going to be honest, I think my definition of light (basically just lying down) is very different to Emily’s, because I could certainly feel myself working hard during her class. It was more challenging than many yoga classes I’ve done before because we were holding the poses longer, therefore working the muscles harder and in some cases, really testing our balance! This isn’t a criticism at all – I actually find it pretty annoying when I leave an hour-long class feeling like I’ve done no work, whereas at Frame I could feel all the strengthening and toning goodness that yoga can offer.

Luckily, the exercise wasn’t so hard that I didn’t have time to admire the jazzy surroundings. I loved how light and airy the space was (a stark contrast to my office, where we do yoga in the world’s stuffiest meeting room!) and they have that House of Holland wallpaper that we all dream of owning on one wall.

It’s worth noting that there isn’t a shower in the studio (although there is one at Frame King’s Cross round the corner), but there are changing rooms and cubby holes to leave your stuff in, which saves a lot of faff waiting to access your locker/not having change for your locker/all the other annoying things that lockers entail.

In terms of the class itself, a definite plus point was that the instruction wasn’t waffle-y or full of weird terms that can make you feel like an outsider to some kind of ultra-special, spiritual club with its own language. You know what I mean – when you go to a class and the instructor says “Now take the Um Bongo pose” and suddenly everyone’s balancing on just one elbow and you’re left sitting there wondering what the hell’s happening. Instead, the instructor explained everything in layman’s terms, and slow pop songs replaced the standard ‘sounds of the ocean’ music, which made the class more appealing for non-yogis like me.

It seems being friendly and approachable is what Frame’s all about. In an interview in The Telegraph, founders Pip Black and Joan Murphy say they started the company to coax people who weren’t interested in the boring old gym to get involved with fitness. “Frame has always been very social” they explain. “We didn’t like the idea of going to a gym, plugging in your headphones and staring at the telly on a screen in front of you, because we did that at work all day”. Well, Frame certainly has something different to offer from the hamster-on-a-wheel feeling of many gyms, and I left my yoga class feeling energised and mentally prepared for a productive day ahead. I definitely recommend checking it out if you’re a yoga-loving Londoner, or perhaps just looking to dip a toe into the world of cobras and child poses.


Prices – from £13. You can find the timetable here.

Iron Zuu Virgin Active

What is it? A new 30-minutes class at Virgin Active, combining old school weight-lifting and primal movements.

My experience: As the owner of a distinctly dodgy shoulder, I’m always really wary of lifting weights in case I do myself further damage. However, it’s something I definitely want to do more of, which is why I was excited to try out weights in the controlled environment of Iron Zuu.

Our instructor for the class was Nathan Helberg, an Aussie fitness fanatic who was evidently very passionate about the benefits of ‘primal movement’ and used that to develop the Zuu and Iron Zuu classes (the former is apparently HUGE in Australia, and those guys know a thing or two about getting ripped).

Iron Zuu is a combination of traditional gym-style weights – bicep curls, shoulder presses and squats with the bar – and movement, which basically means bear crawls, frog squats, and a truly horrendous exercise that involves stepping one foot forward and twisting while maintaining a squat position (this was by far the hardest bit!).


Iron Zuu virgin active

The idea of combining weights and movement is to provide a full body workout, active recovery between lifts and to improve injury prevention. Nathan told us that the bear crawls mean you have stronger arms and joints so if you stick you’re arm out when you’re falling, it’s less likely to snap, at which point I had to stop listening and do a bit of silent wretching because ARGH SNAPPING ARMS. It did work though; my enthusiasm for bear crawls was duly renewed.

I was kind of surprised when the class came to an end – I hadn’t realised beforehand that it was only half an hour long. I can imagine, though, that in a standard class where the exercise is continuous, with no breaks to explain the ethos of Iron Zuu, you would be more than ready for it to finish after a gruelling 30 minutes!

Iron Zuu virgin active

Overall I enjoyed it, my only concern being that, for the dodgy-shouldered among us, there was barely any explanation of the weight-lifting moves for anyone who doesn’t normally lift. However, most moves were fairly self-explanatory, and it certainly offers something different from my normal aerobics classes.

I burnt: 150 calories (but it would be more during a non-explainer session).

Fitness level: I asked Nathan if this class was suitable for beginners and he said yes, although the main aim of Iron Zuu seems to be enticing seasoned male weightlifters away from the gym and into the studio (currently it’s around 95% women attending the fitness classes at most gyms). How happy these two groups of people will be to workout alongside each other remains to be seen…

However, if you’re intrigued by Iron Zuu, I definitely recommend trying out a class, even if it’s just to experience the LOLs of other gym-goers staring at you through the glass as you crawl around on the floor like a giant baby.

Iron Zuu virgin active



For those of us who would classify our body type as ‘distinctly bog standard’, Instagram can be a daunting place.

Toned legs, gym-honed arms and stomachs that definitely don’t require tucking into jeans dominate the app, thanks to the rise of Instagram fitness stars, who have gained legions of fans with their exercise tips and beautiful bodies.

But what does it take to actually be one?

Well, I got a glimpse of just that thanks to Lilly Sabri – a fitness trainer, blogger and hugely popular Fitstagrammer – who gave a HIIT class with Whitworths to mark the launch of its new Shots range recently in London.

The exercises included those Lilly does herself four to five times a week, so it was a good opportunity to find out just how much effort it takes to get that dream bod.

The short answer is: a lot. Although HIIT is great for getting solid results in a short amount of time, it is still BLOODY HARD and  despite being a regular exerciser, I can’t imagine gearing myself up to do that intense a workout nearly every day of the week.

We started off with seeing how quickly we could do 40 high-knee runs, 20 mountain climbers and 10 ‘military’ burpees (which is where you lie down on your stomach before jumping up), repeating the whole set three times in an effort to reduce our times. That pretty much set the pace for the whole lesson, which featured 45 second bursts of (sometimes agonising!) exercises interspersed with short breaks.


That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight.

Among the most effective were the ab exercises. Lilly told us ‘try and remember these, as this is the ab workout I do’ as she took us through the moves, so I desperately tried to store everything in my memory bank, because if there’s one thing I want even more than the funds to do all my shopping in M&S Simply Food, it’s that lady’s stomach.

The exercises included twisting from the crunch position using a water bottle as a weight, lying flat on your back and repeatedly scissoring the legs up and down from a vertical position to flat out on the floor, and holding a crunch position with the legs bent at the knees, before gently tapping the toes on the floor.

There was also a Chaturanga-based move, which is where I got completely lost and had to be like ‘LILLY HELP ME’ and she was like ‘I got you’, which shows that she’s a lovely person who still has time for the rest of us despite having perfect abs.

I’ve mentioned before that a lot of press classes are a bit lax, but Lilly’s class was hardcore all the way through. The only respite came at the end when we had a yoga-style relaxing lie down (I think the correct name is Shavasana?) and man, I really felt like I’d earned that privilege.

The take-out was that my muscles hurt for several days, but I finally understood how people get those amazingly honed bodies. I often wonder why – despite doing running, pilates and aerobics at least five times a week – I don’t have one of those sculpted bods, and I think the answer is more targeted, bodyweight-focused exercises like Lilly’s. That and not seeing cake as a God-given daily right, but that could be more of a struggle…

Meeting Lilly Sabri

I know, we’re basically twins…