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.

Namaste.

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

 

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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.

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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…

Barresculpt from Barrecore
What is it? A new class from ballet-inspired fitness studio Barrecorre, which uses resistant band exercises to build intensity and help you feel the burn in those deep, hard-to-reach muscles.

My experience: A lot of the exercise classes I do as a journalist are fairly relaxed (think lovely rooftop yoga), so I swanned into Barrecore’s studios in Mayfair thinking I would barely feel a thing.

After about 5 minutes, I realised I was wrong – BarreSCULPT is intense. The class is divided into sections targeting individual muscle groups such as legs, arms, abs and back, and by the end of each, my muscles were genuinely screaming for mercy  (and a long lie down in front of the telly). Definitely the sign of a good workout.

For anyone who has previously just messed around with a resistance band for 5 minutes before abandoning it, this class is a bit of a revelation. When used properly, the band helped transform classic exercises such as leg raises and bicep curls, suddenly targeting muscles I never even knew I could exercise (oh hi there, diaphragm).

The ridiculously bendy teachers were great at coming round to discreetly correct people when their position was slightly wrong, and it was reassuring to hear the instructor say ‘I’m hurting too!’ during some of the more intense moves. God knows how they could talk and tell us what to do at the same time!

I left feeling like I’d had a really solid and unique workout. If you’re already a cardio fiend and want to incorporate more toning work into your fitness routine, I definitely recommend giving BarreSCULPT a try.

I burnt: 150 calories

Fitness level: At least moderate, I would say. If I’d gone to this class having never done strength work before it might have put me off for life. However, fitness fans will relish the challenge.

BarreSCULPT launches on 1 September. More info here.

It’s impossible for me to hide the fact that I’m a super competitive person. When I was younger, I would be quietly furious at losing a game of Ludo, and as an adult I spend my mornings jogging round Clapham Common trying to overtake all the blokes in front of me.

You can imagine, then, that a spinning class involving trying to beat everyone else in the room is right up my street.

Virgin Active’s new group cycle class, The Pack, involves three teams (yellow, pink and blue) going up against each other in a series of challenges covering speed, power and steady RPM.

When I went along to try the class at the Mayfair club, I obviously decided which team to be in based purely on which T-shirt colour I thought would suit me best, which of course was a massive error.

What I should’ve done as I entered the room was looked around and clocked which team looked the most goddamn fierce, but still, that is a lesson learnt (victory over vanity, every time).

Virgin Active the pack review

Anyway, the class itself starts off like your standard spin class, with thumping tuuuunes and lots of flashy lights, except in this case you have a big screen at the front of the class telling you what speed to cycle at, plus how long you have left on each track.

Interspersed with these more familiar spinning sessions you have a series of group challenges, which include ‘Sumo’ (where your whole team cranks up the resistance until you can barely push your feet round) and ‘Speed Freaks’ (by far the best – this involves each team racing round the track by cycling as fast as possible).

The entire class is 45 minutes long, with each sweaty second counted down on a clock in the corner of the screen. The name of the song playing is also displayed, which is useful if you want to go and Spotify the crap out of it afterwards.

Virgin Active the pack review

Getting my sweat on

Everyone is prompted to whoop along with their teammates/scream at them encouragingly if they’re not putting in enough effort, and I have to say, the competitive element is very motivating. After all, there’s nothing like a combative spirit to make you push a little harder when you might otherwise turn your resistance right down and chill at the back of the class.

By the end of the session I was sweating my face off and, according to my Fitbit, had burnt off around 280 calories (the monitor on the bike said more, but however much it was, it totally justified my post-workout Ben & Jerry’s).

I was definitely impressed with The Pack, although as I said before, if your an ultra-competitive weirdo like me, you might want to pick your team wisely, because it can be frustrating when you’re trying REALLY hard and still losing. Or maybe I just need to grow up a bit…

Virgin Active the pack review

You can find out more about The Pack here.