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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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

 

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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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