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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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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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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