Joining a gym in London isn’t particularly easy. Do you get one near work? Do you pay more for better facilities? Do you want a pool? How busy is it? What does the small print on the contract say? It’s a pretty big decision, and if you make the wrong choice you’ll probably end up tied into a contract, begrudgingly nipping to the gym infrequently until you can finally join one that actually works for you.
Then there’s classes. Where ten years ago you might feel spoilt if your gym had spin, yoga and some sort of aerobics once or twice a day, now you need to speak to a trainer just to understand what the classes actually entail. But that’s a good thing: it shows how popular classes have become over the past few years. Classes make you work harder, they teach you how to actually do exercises, the trainers make sure you’re doing things properly, and the group setting helps to motivate you. They may not be as good as having your own personal trainer, but they’re a step in the right direction and a hell of a lot cheaper. You just need to find the right ones.
Luckily we go to quite a few classes. We’ve tried good ones and bad ones, and by bad we mean classes that are easy, boring or just repetitive formats using the same Eurotrance CD from 1998. So here we’ve picked our favourites. No need to thank us, just buy us a beer or something.
Virgin Active – The Grid
Virgin have been introducing a number of new innovations to their clubs recently, most of which use a range of kit they call “Fitness 5”. These pieces of equipment, made up of Bulgarian bags, battle ropes, TRX Rip trainers, TiYres and Plyo boxes (yeah, there’s five of them) are used to perform a variety of dynamic exercises. It’s a combination of these dynamic exercises, along with more conventional movements and kit, which make up the Grid classes. The “Grid” itself is marked out on the studio floor, reminiscent of some sort of attempt at a futuristic TV game show. People move around the room from square to square, carrying out each exercise when directed.
The format and the atmosphere (think “Laser Quest when you were 12” and you’re getting close) are designed to keep you motivated throughout the session. You almost forget what’s happening as you move around the room frantically carrying out each exercise. By the time it’s finished, as you stand there covered in sweat, you wonder what’s just gone on, which is a good thing as it means the whole class feels like it took about seven minutes.
Price: included in membership
Location: various across the UK
The newest addition to London’s HIIT scene, 1Rebel is like a younger, unruly sibling who just wants to go out partying. If it existed 20 years ago it would have been some sort of underground club for models and celebrities that you’d read about in The Face. Everything about it is designed to be cool, from the sultry, suggestive marketing posters to the leather sofas outside the studios and the carefully vetted playlists. It basically makes your local gym look like an NHS Walk-In Centre from 1987.
But looks aren’t everything. As well as the slick campaigns and New York apartment decor, 1Rebel is a pretty formidable venue. The classes take place across two studios, one an impressively large spin room, the other an all-round training area mixing treadmill workouts with weight and body exercises.
The classes themselves carry on the club ethos with dimmed lights, carefully hand-picked music and attractive visuals. They’re not easy either. Whether it’s a spin class or a full-body HIIT session, you’re going to be worked hard with some well-planned formats.
(Read our full review here.)
Price: individual classes are £20 with bulk-package discounts
Location: Liverpool Street
Equinox – Tabata
Tabata isn’t exactly new. The concept has been used in various guises for over a decade and is one of the fundamental formats applied in a number of HIIT classes. In recent years the original concept has evolved to adapt to the various gyms and studios that use it – however the core theory remains the same: a short, intense exercise (normally around 40 seconds), followed by a very brief rest (about 10 seconds). If Dr Izumi Tabata is to be believed – he’s the man who created it – not only will it increase anaerobic capacity, it will also mean you’re burning calories long after the workout has finished. Oh yeah, and it hurts like hell.
The Equinox Tabata class is one of the best out there. Not only because it takes place in arguably London’s most aesthetically pleasing gym, but also because the structure and exercises are perfectly designed to push your limits while still being enjoyable. Done lazily, Tabata can be a truly horrible experience with trainers making you perform a monotonous series of burpees and squats while you stare at the clock. The key is to keep things interesting and modify the workout, otherwise the motivation will disappear.
Price: included in membership
Like the majority of this list, Project Fit isn’t really anything out of the ordinary on paper. It’s a studio that mixes treadmill workouts with various floor exercises. The main thing that makes Project Fit different is the team that pulls it together. Among the thrall of marketing campaigns and corporate gyms, Project Fit is just an honest down-to-earth studio that cares about the classes it teaches.
With a range of classes focusing on different body parts and training equipment, Project Fit is a perfect all-round fitness venue. For runners it offers an excellent chance to focus on speed training without neglecting upper body muscle groups. Or, for those just looking to lose weight, the fast-paced mix of exercises will mean burning off a lot of calories.
Price: £12 for an express class or £20 for an hour, with prices lowering when bought in bulk
Fitness First – Beat
As you may have guessed from the name, Beat is a class designed around heart rate. As you move around the various exercises ranging from sand bags to box jumps, your heart rate, transmitted from a band around your chest, is displayed on screens around the studio. The colour of the number denotes how hard you’re working, which in turn shows the kind of workout you’re having (low-intensity aerobic to high-intensity anaerobic).
The beauty of using heart rate to measure your workout is that it’s perfectly designed to your body. You may be the fastest or strongest in a class, but if you’re not pushing yourself to improve then you’re probably not making the most of your workout. By monitoring how hard your heart is pumping you can effectively increase or decrease your effort to towards your fitness goals.
Price: individual sessions from £14 when bought as a package
Location: Charing Cross
Gymbox – Bartendaz
If you’ve ever wandered around Gymbox, the likelihood is that at some point you’ve seen a group of people doing a lot of pull-ups with pained expressions. They’re also probably being shouted a lot at to work harder. The chances are they’re doing a Bartendaz class.
There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about Bartendaz, in fact if you stripped away all the gimmicks and bravado that surround a lot of classes, you’d probably end up with something pretty similar. Although the format changes, the basic movements boil down to a simple selection of compound body-weight exercises designed to give a complete workout to all the main muscle groups. So that’s pull-ups, squats, press-ups, lunges and a core session – and an occasional burpee or two to mix things up.
It’s not an easy class. In fact the mixture of strength and cardio elements make it one of the toughest all-round classes you’re likely to find. It’s also competitive, with Bartendaz competitions taking place for anyone who’s good enough.
Price: included in the membership
Location: venues across London